We were in Boston a few years back and Junior was seriously bummed by my failure to buy tickets to the Red Sox season opener from a scalper, which is illegal in Boston and was well beyond my ability to pay in any case. This was after we’d waited in line at the ticket office for an hour or so in hopes of snagging a legal ticket, only to be turned away in disappointment. My inadequacy was compounded in his mind by sharp memories of my failure the previous fall in precisely the same location to secure tickets to a World Series game.
We had twice been outside Fenway Park together, but had not yet made it inside. By Junior’s count, that was two strikes against the old man.
We were able to meet up with Marta, and walking back from Fenway toward the center of town we stopped to eat lunch at an Indian restaurant. That’s where the mood shifted – over saag paneer and lamb korma, comfort food – and after lunch we found ourselves wandering about central Boston, where the Boston Marathon was wrapping up. It was one of the first warm days after a cold winter and people were out enjoying the sunshine. Marta couldn’t come right out and say it, but she was obviously glad Junior and I had not made it into the ballgame.
We’d been listening to Lou Reed and Marta got an ohrwurm, as they call it in Germany when a tune is stuck in your head: “It’s just a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you….Oh, what a perfect day….”
And that’s how memories are formed, often with a meal (or a song) as a pivot point.
Friday was Junior’s last day in Telluride before he was scheduled to head back to school. When I called to ask if he’d like to ski a few runs with me, he went beyond indulging me by saying he was just about to call me to ask the same thing. I chased him and a friend down Mammoth a couple of times, and we got to ride the lift together, which for a kid who has grown up in Telluride represents some kind of timeless ritual. We agreed we are glad that Lift 9, “a perfect locals’ lift,” Junior said, is slow.
That night, Marta and Junior and I ate at La Marmotte, a date I had carefully booked with Junior a few days earlier to make sure he didn’t make other plans. He is at the stage of life when friends always come first.
And this is the point at which I thank La Marmotte for the memory. We won’t soon forget chef Mark Reggiannini’s new menu item, a plateau de fruits de mer.
Quietly, under the ownership of Reggiannini and his wife Mairen, La Marmotte has emerged as one of Telluride’s most consistent restaurants. Their formula – chef-owned, fine dining – perfectly fits the intimate space, a long-ago converted ice house, and Reggiannini’s bistro menu hits all the right notes: French onion soup ($12, more on that in a moment), a goat cheese and onion tart ($12), roasted beet salad ($14) – all highly recommended starters – and, among the classic entrees, a coq au vin ($25), a grilled hangar steak ($30), and a veal paillard ($34).
On more than a few recent occasions, when I’ve been home alone – Junior off at school in New York, Marta visiting her mother in Minneapolis – I’ve sat at the La Marmotte bar and have made it through the lonely-guy evening thanks to red wine by the glass, onion soup and hangar steak, rare. At the risk of calling everything I eat “comfort food,” I can confidently declare that this menu and this setting are highly comforting when you’re alone and don’t feel like opening a can of soup (and even when you’re not).
When he was younger, Junior and I made a tradition of ordering French onion soup whenever we eat at a place that serves it.
“This one almost wins,” Junior said as he dug into Reggiannini’s, which is described on the menu as “creamy.” Junior’s qualification – “almost” – was not because he remembered a better French onion soup, but because La Marmotte’s is so untraditional that the comparison isn’t fair (to the other guys). The creaminess comes from only a little bit of cream, and mostly from being blended so that the cave-aged gruyere is, as Junior noted, “gooey bits.” Traditional French onion soup is messy to eat, what with stringy cheese and floppy onions landing on your chin, and that is what inspired Reggiannini to blend it.
Suffice it to say that this is a worthy signature soup.
La Marmotte has prospered by creating standards like this and presenting them on a prix fixe menu. But everything good evolves (even Lift 9 may someday be upgraded, in which case Junior has already instructed me to be sure to acquire one of the chairs), and the current menu still offers the prix fixe option (three courses for $50), but also many a la carte choices, providing more price points from which to approach your meal. This includes three shared bistro items, a charcuterie plate ($18), a cheese fondue ($23) and that aforementioned plateau de fruits de mer (in two sizes, $72 or $36).
What could be more celebratory than a plateau of chilled shellfish and one that feels as majestic, in its way, as the Colorado Plateau itself? “Plateau,” in this context, is a deliberate double-entendre precisely meant to evoke scale. At La Marmotte, it consists of oysters on the half-shell with a mignonette sauce, a half a lobster, cold shrimps (aioli on the side), a mussel salad, and marlin tartare. You might be in Paris or New York, as if La Marmotte in Telluride weren’t romantic enough. But it is, and it helped the Cagin-Tarbells memorialize Junior’s holiday break of 2008-09.
Marta and I are home alone now, and she’s lobbying for the smaller sized plateau de fruits de mer for dinner one of these nights, after a beet martini, a specialty of bartender Nurdan Buist, wife of Franklin Buist, who shares La Marmotte’s front-of-the-house and sommelier duties with Mairen Reggiannini and who brought us the perfect crisp wine to accompany the seafood (the Hirsch Gruner Veltliner).
Someday, believe it or not, the great recession will be over. Lift 9 will be upgraded. Junior will have a career, a wife, and kids. And I will think back to the day Junior and I skied a few runs together under a blue, blue sky on creaky old Lift 9 and then Marta joined us and we went to La Marmotte where we savored the briny oysters and sweet lobster on the plateau de fruits de mer.
Oh, what a perfect day.