I feel like I should issue a Yelp-style disclaimer that we didn't obsess about the food at Sweet Basil, simply because the company was awesome.
Vail is not really known for its dining destinations, I think for several reasons. First, and probably most importantly, the town's year-round population of something like 5,000 is not enough to sustain a bunch of temples to fine dining. And then the places that are there don't have to try that hard to attract people during the on season, because the choices are limited and the tourists are mostly captive.
Sweet Basil knows this. Our service was friendly and competent, though, but there were some dated touches and a couple of indicators that the restaurant might be resting on its laurels just a tad. Not to say the restaurant was bad, because it wasn't.
Maybe I should just stop babbling and show you the food.
Sweet Basil works oddly. The entire menu is set up to make restaurant-goers order a $42 (good deal, for the area!) prix-fixe. You can add sides, which are largely unnecessary because all the entrees seem to come with vegetables, for an additional $7. We bucked this request and ordered 5 apps and 3 entrees between the four of us.
The wave of appetizers began with stuffed calamari a la plancha; merguez sausage, swiss chard, de-hydrated tomato, olive oil fried bread, puttanesca sauce.
This was OK. And strangely, our server was aware that it might not be up to par. "I've been getting some complaints about the calamari tonight," he said. "Do you guys think the sausage is undersalted?"
It was. The rest of the dish was fine. The dehydrated tomato sauce had a good bit of acid tang, and the greens had a good chew. Just not a standout.
Next, "pig, peas, and carrots"; lemongrass glazed pork belly, puffed pork cracklins, sesame pea tendrils, carrot mousse, carrot cardamom juice.
I enjoyed this, though the overall effect was rather sweet. The pork belly was a little too chewy, but the texture of the mousse was nice and creamy. The juice had the healthy, vegetal taste of raw carrots and made me think of summertime and juice bars, but with the pork belly piled on top probably wasn't that good for me...
Asparagus and spring greens; lemon ricotta, pickled shallot, preserved lemon, pumpernickel, mustard tarragon vinaigrette.
Overall, a really good salad. Creamy cheese tempered by pops of acidic lemon, grounded by earthy pumpernickel and...
beets. We'd asked our server to tell the restaurant to cook the beets separately on one of our entrees, because one of us doesn't eat beets for dietary reasons, and they obliged. But there was no mention of beets being in this salad, and the server didn't tell us when we ordered it, even though we let him know about the beet difficulty. AND they were hidden under the salad. Kinda weak there, Sweet Basil - when people make you aware of dietary restrictions or allergies, you really should work with them.
Artichoke veloute, butter poached shrimp, green garlic pesto, tarragon, citrus powder.
The shrimp sat, luxuriating in a pool of luscious artichoke puree enriched with cream and spiked with hits of bright springtime garlic. LOVE. Everything here came together really well, and I didn't even mind the fact that it was poured tableside in a presentation that I find a bit twee yet intimidating (do I clap, or give a thumbs up, when the server successfully completes the pour? I always feel like an ass).
But this dish was beaten out for table favorite by:
Chive Gnocchi and Morel Mushrooms; asparagus, garden peas, iberico ham, one hour egg, parmesan brodo.
Y'know I love me some gnocchi, but it's often overtoasted or overworked or underworked or served in a weird greasy butter sauce (I'm looking at YOU, every gnocchi I've eaten so far in Austin). This was none of those things.
Yes, the gnocchi was toasted, but not overmuch, and this simply added to the texture of the dish. The parmesan brodo was light, but with a terrific richness of flavor, and an egg? Makes everything better. The peas and asparagus grounded everything in spring. So nice.
On to entrees!
Confit rabbit and hand cut pappardelle; king trumpet mushrooms, tuscan kale, anson mills farro, thyme, olive oil.
WAAY underseasoned. Pasta gummy. Farro underrepresented. Nope.
Sous-vide leg of lamb; fingerling potatoes, cipollini, beets, bagna cauda, pistachio gremolata, goat cheese vinaigrette.
This was the dish where we requested beets on the side. They were golden and roasted and delicious. The lamb was a bit on the dry side and I thought the potatoes were a little undercooked - but maybe they were supposed to have a bit of resistance to the teeth? The goat cheese vinaigrette was a great idea and made the whole shebang taste a bit more Greek.
My favorite: mushroom dusted wild alaskan halibut; crushed pea tortellini, pea tendrils, cured orange, kohlrabi, peas, roasted fennel puree. Mmm, anise and citrus and SPRING!
So light and fresh and nice! I could have demolished this dish on my own, but my companions selfishly wanted bites of their own. NOT cool. Grrr.
Because of the way the prix fixe worked out, we were able to choose three desserts from the menu of tried and true standbys, where chocolate cake vied with bread pudding and panna cotta. I tend not to be a big dessert person and sat this discussion out. We ended up with sticky toffee pudding cake, bourbon bread pudding, and goat cheese panna cotta. None of them really stood out, probably because we were talking more than focusing on the desserts, and we actually only have one picture of any of them.
Lucky it happened to be my favorite.
Goat cheese panna cotta, wild berry salad, strawberry and wild honey soup. (you can see the other desserts if you peer in the background.)
I dunno, I just wasn't feeling the desserts. The panna cotta was nice, with good berry flavor and thick creamy goodness.
Final impressions? We enjoyed Sweet Basil. They're trying some interesting things with the food there, and they tend to get most of them right. Though there are certainly some missteps on the menu (the rabbit confit pasta springs to mind) there are some really great dishes, too. Just be super-careful if you have dietary restrictions or allergies!
Sweet Basil is at 193 E. Gore Creek Drive in Vail. 970.476.0125.