” Steakhouse” clientele doesn’t deter Estes Park executive chef from ramping up the menu
When driving into Estes Park from Boulder, the first glimpse of the wonderful Stanley Hotel, a National Historic Landmark, is always a welcome sight, because it means,”We’re almost there.” The approach view was lovelier before a strip shopping center was built into the lower lawn on the east side of the hotel, but it costs money to restore and maintain the grand old hotel (built between 1907 and 1909), and development of some of the acreage was inevitable. In truth, you see the parking lot and the stores as you arrive from the east, but once you get closer, that 20th century commercial intrusion is out of sight and out of mind.
The sparkling white building with its welcoming red roof and signature coupola, generous veranda and grand staircase bespeak the elegance of a previous age. Sightseers come into the Stanley to look around to see the place that inspired Stepehen King’s The Shining and perhaps have a casual bite or an ice cream in the ground floor, but the lobby retains a traditional appearance. Guests pass through it to the Whiskey Bar, perhaps stopping for a vintage cocktail, and diners continue into the Cascades Restaurant beyond. Estes Park in general attracts visitors with steakhouse tastes in food, and the restaurant accommodates with several Colorado beef dinner entrées as well as seafood, some Italian specialties and other dishes beyond the meat-and-potatoes repertoire. Mountain town visitors in the 21st century tend to be dressed considerably more casually that guests a century ago, especially those who come to the Stanley just to sightsee, but as food and beverage director Mark Ortell puts it, “We serve the masses and the classes.”
Now, executive chef Richard Beichner, whose resume includes such fine-dining restaurants as the Sonnenalp and Vail Cascade, both in Vail, and Michigan’s Grand Traverse Resort, is reaching beyond with new dishes. I was among a small group of food bloggers invited to sample these dishes that were gracefully plated and lovely to behold. The food was worthy of the Stanley’s traditions and timeless style and yet totally contemporary.
Shame on me. I somehow managed to neglect taking pictures of the entrée course, a lovely delicate veal loin roasted with preserved lemon and rosemary with fresh corn polenta, orange-scented carrots and red wine demi-glace.
The sweets that followed included nutmeg brown sugar donuts, gold-flecked flourless chocolate cake, roasted grapefruit with vanilla bean gelato and grapefruit salt caramel, and an assortment of small sweet bites simply called by the delightful French word, mignardises. Their “portraits” appear below. The wine was a wonderful Canadian ice wine from Iniskillin.
Price check: At dinner, starters $8-$16; salads and soups, $6-$11; “signature entrées”, $16-$35, plus steaks, $29-$45.