It features not just local microbrews on tap and exhilarating snowboarding videos running on a loop, but an overhauled menu that’s gone distinctly upmarket, in a rustic eatery remodeled last season with recycled barn beams.
Where there used to be greasy pizza, there’s now ahi tuna with pineapple and radish relishes and wasabi aioli, roast beef arugula salad with candied walnuts or designer sausages. And all at reasonable prices. So there’s no attempt to make you think that you’re not in Colorado.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Going to Alpino Vino for dinner, I got the distinct impression that they were pretending that we actually were in Italy. Some bits of that attempt worked, while some didn’t.
What worked best was the attempt at creating a romantic atmosphere. At 11,966 feet, Alpino Vino is the highest restaurant in North America — and it’s got to be one of the smallest — so the lucky diners who have snagged a reservation for one of the two evening seatings of no more than 26 people each are taken up the mountain in a tracked vehicle that chugs upward at an alarming angle.
The relief upon arriving at the top safely escalates quickly into a magical euphoria. I stepped out of the vehicle to be greeted by a waiter handing me a glass of chilled prosecco outside the tiny wooden chalet restaurant, surrounded by a wooden fence lit with dozens of candles.
With the crunch of fresh snow underfoot and nothing around except the silhouette of pines against a starry sky and the candles glowing in the crisp air, I experienced the fairy-tale feeling that so many places try to create (and certainly advertise), but that so few actually manage to make come true.
The log fire indoors, the delicately cooked bass with preserved lemon, the Italian wine pairings and the tiramisu cooked according to the recipe of the chef’s 100-year-old grandmother (still alive and kicking back in their village near Turin) all worked beautifully, too.
Where I drew the line was the silly Alpine peasant music and the even sillier Tyrolean outfits — let’s just call them costumes — that the waiters were wearing, even down to little felt hats and colorful Alpine wool vests, with edelweiss-print neckties. I almost broke into a chorus of “It’s a small, small world” in a Disney-doll voice. These details certainly didn’t spoil an enchanted evening, but I think that the key sometimes, when going “theme,” is that less is more.
Telluride’s aim in all this gastronomic innovation is to give the resort the kind of buzz you need when, famous and adorable as you are, you’re a small town near the southern end of the Rockies in a box canyon on a road to nowhere, where the celebrity count is considerably lower than the ski bum count (except during the film festival) and the nearest interstate is many miles away.