The nighttime experience at the European-inspired Alpino Vino takes diners out of this world, almost literally, beginning with the half-hour ride in what’s probably the world’s most luxurious snowcat – another 1,000 feet up the mountain from the gondola’s 10,500-ft.-high San Sophia Station, its midway point between Telluride and Mountain village.
Daytime visitors to the Gold Hill side of the mountain have probably seen Alpino Vino’s quaint, pitched-roof mountaintop hut already, and maybe even stopped in for its delectable lunchtime fare that begs to be paired with a glass of wine. Think charcuterie, fine cheese, panini and hot soup of the day. For the living-in-ski-boots set, a midday repast at Alpino Vino can quickly become a regular event for the winter (rumor has it Jerry Seinfeld stopped in for lunch almost every day in its early years, when he and his family spent most of the winter here). And yes, its European-style lunch is worth returning for. But it is in the evening hours that the Northern Italian culinary work of Executive Chef Nicola Peccedi is most memorable, at one of the two nightly prix-fixe seatings where getting there is almost half the fun.
See Forever at Dusk
Excited because we’d heard so much about the Alpino Vino experience, Torie and I got to San Sophia early for a magic-hour look at the alpenglow from Allred’s, perched above the gondola stop. With about 45 minutes to spare before our 5:30 p.m. pick-up, we marveled at the view from the bar of the east end of the valley, with a couple of Dark and Stormy cocktails. Après ski at Allred’s is the perfect end to a perfect ski day, but for once, it marked the beginning of a night to remember.
With our fellow first-seating diners – a pair of locals, four visitors from California, a family from Central America and a couple celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary – we settled into the slow-moving snowcat for an unforgettable ride up See Forever under darkening skies, a sensation mostly reserved for late-night trail groomers.
“Is this your first time?” asked Richard, from Southern California, who winters in Telluride, as the cat lurched forward.
“First time,” I confirmed.
“We love it,” he said. “We try to go as often as we can. We can’t get enough.”
The 30-minute ride up See Forever lengthened when we persuaded the driver to stop midway so we could commemorate the experience with a photo or two of the La Sals off in the distance, glowing in the low evening sun. It meshed nicely with the cocktail buzz as we settled back into the cab of our kingly transport for the last leg of our uphill journey to the rustic restaurant. There, our warm welcome was amplified with glasses of Prosecco – and the chance to catch the last of the alpenglow on the deck, in the setting sun.
A Rustic High-Alpine Italian Setting
While the glowing overhead heaters kept us toasty, our small party of diners shot a few more photos –this time of Wilson Peak, part of the jagged gold-pink skyline in the background, before heading indoors. With seating for just 28 diners, the fairy-tale-cottage style of the restaurant heightens its intimate charm. Originally built as a private home (on a historic mining claim), it opened as Alpino Vino in the winter of 2008/2009, designed to invoke the high-alpine setting of restaurants throughout the Dolomites of Northern Italy. The small building features hand-hewn beams, stone floors and a cozy wood-burning fireplace that makes for a rustic yet comforting feeling. Sturdy furniture – some of it made from repurposed wine barrels – adds to the Italian ambiance; side-by-side seating at a table in front of the fireplace proved the perfect romantic setting for a couple celebrating their anniversary.
After making sure we were all comfortable, the waitstaff started their many trips downstairs to the tiny ship’s galley-style kitchen. The first course of Peccedi’s five-course meal was about to be served.
A Dining Experience Worth Sharing
For $125 per person, Alpino Vino offers a prix fixe dinner you could find in Northern Italy (for another $60, it’s paired with a generous sampling of wines).
A crisp Prosecco complemented our “Sardine in Sapore” first course – a smoked sardine fillet with roasted-pepper relish served atop toasted, fresh-baked ciabatta.
Second up was a handmade radicchio, poached pear and caramelized shallot ravioli, served over a creamy Vidalia onion velouté with roasted tomato vinaigrette. The hand-rolled ravioli, cooked al dente, was sensuously thick, and perfectly highlighted by an accompanying glass of a vibrant 2011 Arneis.
Next came a light tomato soup served with a Parmigiano cheese crisp and perfectly poached quail egg, paired with an impressive 2011 Pinot Grigio, a combination that had our taste buds alive and purring.
For the main course, we had to choose. Would it be grilled petit rack of lamb and eggplant Parmesan with mint basil pesto (paired with a 2009 Valpolicella Ripasso)? Or the poached-then-grilled sturgeon, with a sauté of yellow squash and zucchini, savory fish broth, capers and lemon confit, dressed with micro greens (and paired with a 2010 Fruilano Bianco)?
Luckily, there were two of us. Torie’s lamb, perfectly rare, was robust and full of flavor. My fish delivered an assortment of flavors that were surprisingly subtle, yet complex. We shared. What dish would I get, offered a second chance? Frankly, I’d have to go back twice – once for the fish, and again for the lamb.
Once again, it was decision-making time, this time, with what to have for dessert the question. Here, Torie and I think alike. We both chose the cheese plate featuring an assortment of cheeses, dried fruits, nuts and truffle honey. After it came, conversation was minimal. For what seemed like an hour, sipping our port pairing, we forgot ourselves. Did I mention there was truffle honey?
Diners at other tables seemed equally absorbed by the chocolate-espresso mousse, made with fresh Chantilly cream and berry sauce, and paired with a 2004 Vespaiola Torcolato.
From the ambiance to the food to the service, the entire evening was like being invited into the living room of a good friend who loves food and wine in equal measure and lives in some far-off, magical place – maybe the mountains of Northern Italy. It felt like a vacation.
The trip home began with a gentle ride in the dark down See Forever, basking in the glow of Mountain Village to our left and Telluride to the right. The mood in the cabin was quiet, its occupants still riding high on the holy trinity of great food, great wine and an at-once stimulating and relaxing atmosphere. I began to think of all the friends and family I have to bring up to Alpino Vino. It’s an experience that must be shared, and it’s one I hope to have time and again.
It reminded me of something, I thought sleepily; it reminded me of how I feel about skiing and snowboarding in Telluride.
And that’s what Alpino Vino is, finally: the perfect complement to the unparalleled mountain terrain that Telluride Ski Area is known for.
Visit tellurideskiresort.com for more information or call 970/728-7446 to make a reservation.