On the Conference Center Plaza, Mountain Village, 970/728-1117
Standing on the Conference Center Plaza in Mountain Village, outside the new Village Table restaurant, there would be no possibility of mistaking your location for any other village, like, say, Greenwich Village.
But from the inside, you just might be able to imagine you are in a hip urban enclave, where local residents take for granted mid-range, high-quality restaurants, with a dash of international savoir-faire.
On a recent Monday evening, there was strong evidence that the Mountain Villagers are already appreciative, with most tables occupied at 7 p.m. And this was a Monday, before Bluegrass, the unofficial start of the summer season. The appeal of casual but sophisticated dining in Mountain Village is clear, and longtime local chef Johnny Gerona is helping to fill that niche with aplomb. While the restaurant describes its cuisine as “global soul food,” most of the items on the menu have a Mediterranean slant, as one might expect from a chef with roots in France, Italy and Spain. (Gerona’s totally fluent English gives lie to the fact that it was his third language.) The signature dish, for example is a bountiful paella, laden with mussels, chicken, shrimp and fish ($24 for one, $46 for two), but the portions are large enough that they can be split among more people if – as recommended – you start your meal with tapas.
How does Gerona get the rice perfectly tender, paella made to order, at high altitude?
“He worked to figure that out,” his wife Janice confided when she stopped by our table.
You can get that tender saffron rice in a vegetarian version as well ($22 for one, $42 for two), but either way, traditional or vegetarian, you will be transported instantly to Spain. The flavors, and especially the crunch of rice where it has crisped at the bottom of the paellera, or paella pan – an element of paella so essential that like the pan it’s cooked in it has its own name, socarrat – is both authentic and deservedly popular. The fact that you can now get real paella in the Western San Juans would be reason enough to highly recommend The Village Table.
Because sometimes, almost everyone – at least everyone who has ever had one – craves a soulful paella, right?
If you’ve been in the Telluride region for a while, or have visited frequently over the last couple of decades, you have probably already tasted Gerona’s cooking, at the Pacific Street Market, which he and Janice operated for ten years starting in 1987, or at La Marmotte, where he wore the toque for three years in the late 1980s, or in recent years at an event catered by his Bread and Roses Catering business.
All of Gerona’s experience is brought to bear at the Village Table with delicious results.
A popular tapa is albondigas (meatballs, $8), ground lamb and beef, served with a red wine reduction. Boquerones (white anchovies, $9) are another Spanish flavor, so unadulterated it might have arrived from the Costa del Sol via overnight delivery. There are another twenty or so choices – ranging from olives ($4) to Spanish essentials like pan tomate ($5), several croquetas ($8) and jamon Serrano ($12) – or you can opt for assorted tapas for one ($22) or for two ($44).
There is a lot more to explore among the entrees, organic roasted chicken served with harissa, for a taste of Morocco ($17 for a quarter, $22 for a half), and a slow braised lamb shank in a curry sauce, to name two intriguing items.
All this and chocolate bread pudding with bourbon sauce ($8) or a tarte Tatin ($8) for dessert, and a wine list with lots of bottles under $40, and any nostalgia for someplace else that The Village Table might remind you of is instantly supplanted.
SIGNATURE DISH: Traditional and authentic Spanish paella comes in generous portions of saffron rice loaded with seafood and chicken. Go to The Village Table for paella and you’ll be enticed into returning to sample other items.
VIBE: Modern, casual and warm; a taste of the Mediterranean.
LUNCH TOO: The Village Table offers a dozen or so sandwiches in the $10-$12 range, to eat in or eat out. On a beautiful Mountain Village day, take one out for a picnic on a plaza.
Open Wednesday through Monday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.