Many establishments in Vail Valley claim to be "European style," but truth be told, very few deserve such a description. The grand Sonnenalp hotel is one that does. The moniker applies not just to its appearance, but to its accommodations, ambiance, food and, most of all, service.
The hotel's signature restaurant, Ludwig's, is not only a venue for heavenly à la carte dining experiences, but also for memorable group events such as weddings and special dinners.
My review is not about Ludwig’s à la carte dining, but a group experience.
Recently, we hosted a "Round the World" themed dinner for 39 at Ludwig's. It was a culinary extravaganza Executive Chef Florian Schwarz crafted from his own experiences working across the globe. The setting for the dinner was the glass wintergarten known as "Ludwig's Terrace" off the restaurant. In summer, it is a beautiful way to feel as though you are dining al fresco next to Gore Creek despite the chilly evening mountain air. In winter, with green lights strung on bushes shining beneath a blanket of fresh snow, it is an enchanting experience hard to match anywhere in the valley.
Long rectangular tables were set with stemware for six courses and wine pairings. Given Valentine's Day is coming, the hotel placed centerpieces of beautiful red roses on the tables. Roses also adorned the rest of Ludwig's dining room.
Food & Beverage Director Christoph Kuch and dining room manager Ibrahim Ozerkan deserve huge shoutouts! Christoph helped us organize the dinner and, with Ibrahim, oversaw the impeccable service that proceeded at a pleasant, unhurried pace while plates unobtrusively appeared and disappeared. Sommelier Jarrett Quint perfectly paired each course. Christoph even found a wonderful jazz group that braved horrible winter weather to come up from Denver to perform during dinner.
Since it was such a special menu, I can't help but share it. Anyone considering Sonnenalp for a special event (banquet, wedding, party) should know that the combination of Chef Schwartz and Jarrett Quint can yield imaginative, unique menus. There was no "so so" course. All were over the top in taste, presentation and creativity.
Amuse (Japan): Sushi rolls with tuna, pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce paied with Junmai Sake, Hakutsuru, Kobe, JP.
First course (Portugal): Lobster Salpicon - Lobster salad with egg, tomato and onion in the most featherlight, delicate puff pastry I've ever had. It was paired with chardonnay (Sorry, I can't find my notes on the exact one we had).
Second course (Sweden): Mille Feuille from Foie gras. This was an extraordinary combination of three disparate flavors and textures: foie gras, eel and apples that were perfectly layered to create an exquisite taste sensation.
Third course (Spain): Salmorejo of Cordoba. Cold tomato and red bell pepper soup with garlic, sherry vinegar, chorizo and almonds paired with garnacha, Abruzo, Carinena, SP 2012. Who knew such simple ingredients could be blended to create such a delicious soup to pair with this lovely wine? I make romesco sauce often and it contains all these ingredients, except the Chorizo. This soup definitely transcended the sauce.
Fourth course (Colorado/Japan): Akaushi Beef Tenderloin with braised bok choy, celery puree and ginger sake sauce paired with Cabernet Sauvignon, Ladera, "Stile Blocks", Howell Mountain, Napa, CA, 2010. There was a steak knife on the table, but it really was superfluous. My fork cut through the rare beef bathed in the ginger sake sauce as though the fork was hot and the meat was butter. Usually, rare beef is a bit stringy and it's a hard sell to some. Not the case with this meat. Fabulous.
Dessert (Austria): Apple Strudel paired with Moscati d'Asti, Ca' del Re, Piemonte, 2012. This was the second appearance of apples in this meal. Not your granny's apple pie. Way beyond that. Austrian Pastry Chef Bernie Oswald would have made his own granny proud with his incarnation of classic apple streusel. Each plate had a moist slice of streusel carefully placed on the bottom side of a circle of golden spun sugar that resembled a halo for this heavenly dessert. A swirl of creme anglaise with a stream of chocolate through it and a white and dark chocolate cup with whipped cream (I think) and a strawberry finished the confectionary work of art. The moscato was the perfect, light fresh pairing for this last dish.
Sorry for the long review, but I thought both people considering where to part with large chunk of change on a special event as well as diners looking for a great experience, would enjoy reading the details.
Also, I included two pix I shot in the summer on Ludwig's Terrace to show how it looks with the roof open.
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