West of Denver up into the Rockies, through the Eisenhower Tunnel, the food scene appears to be dominated by Chef Thomas Salamunovic. He is the chef/owner at Restaurant Avondale (Avon), Larkspur Restaurant & Market (Vail) and Larkburger (Edwards).
Salamunovich is both a graduate of and instructor at the California Culinary Academy. He started his career in San Francisco under the leadership of Jeremiah Tower at Stars and Wolfgang Puck at Postrio. On a year-long French tour he worked and learned in the kitchens of Michelin rated three-star restaurants Paul Bocuse in Lyon and Lucas Carton in Paris, two-star restaurant Elysee Lenôtre in Paris, and world-famous Poilane Boulangerie.
In 1993, Salamunovich moved to Vail to become the Executive Chef of Sweet Basil. He designed and opened Zino Ristorante in Edwards a few years later. In 1999, he and his wife, Nancy Sweeney, opened Larkspur at the base of Vail Mountain and just a few months ago, he opened Restaurant Avondale.
Larkburger, which opened in 2006, puts Salamunovich on a long list of fine dining chefs making the move toward more casual food. Hubert Keller's burger joint in Las Vegas arguably started the trend. The chef of the high end Fleur de Lys in San Francisco opened Burger Bar at the Mandalay Bay in 2004 and hasn't looked back. And the trend isn't showing any signs of stopping. Fine Dining overlord Thomas Keller is in the process of opening two burger joints, both named Burgers and Half-Bottles, in Napa and Vegas at the same time (look for them by the end of 2009).
Larkburger's decor is very simple and clean. It is after all a fast food restaurant. It does however have a very pleasing design aesthetic. Monterey cypress wood panels, reclaimed by Live Edge from urban forests in the San Francisco Bay Area, line the walls of the restaurant. There is a similar emphasis on green eating. All frying oil is recycled and used as automotive oil. The paper products are made with unbleached pulp. The cups and salad containers are 100% biodegradable and the utensils are made from potato and corn starch.
The menu is very simple. Diners have a choice between black angus beef, turkey or a portabella mushroom burger. There is also a grilled cheese option. On the day we were there, the restaurant was offering a tuna burger and chili as well. A few limited sides round out the list - fries and truffle fries, edamame, and a garden salad. Salamunovich also offers up a $5 milkshake made with Breyer's ice cream, sodas, beer and wine.
For photos of the restaurant, decor and food, click here: http://nochoiceatall.blogspot.com/200...
We started our meal with an order of the day's special, a bowl of chili. For a fast food joint, they put some real love into their chili. It is too bad it isn't served every day. There is a real depth that you just don't get at most other restaurants. This "bowl of red" must be "scratch" made.
Both the burger and the tuna burger are excellent. To put the beef burger in proper context, you have to think of it more like fast food than fine dining. For example, David Myers' burger here in LA at Comme Ça is fine dining, which is why it comes with a $16 price tag. The Larkburger ($5.75), on the other hand, is better judged against, say, a double-double from In-n-Out. Both Comme Ça's burger and the In-n-Out burger have legions of fans, rightly so. They just should be judged on the same level.
The tuna burger wasn't really a "burger." It was more a tuna steak sandwich, but that doesn't take away from the flavor. The tuna steak is served rare on a fresh baked roll with a wasabi-ginger aioli (I think), red onion and fresh greens. I didn't taste it so I can't vouch for the flavor, but the coworker who ordered the tuna burger said it was the "best she ever had."
Let me come right out and say that the truffle fries are worth the extra dollar. The regular fries are very good, but the truffle fries are even better. Fried with the skin on, tossed ever so lightly in truffle oil and then sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, the fries come out crispy, earthy and delicious. A note about the size, since we had the chili, one order of fries was enough to split between the two of us. On any other day, however, I am sure that I wouldn't have any problem throwing back an entire order of these fresh, hand cut Idaho potato fries along with a burger.
What really impresses me about this place is the pricing. Giving Salamunovich's reputation in the Eagle Valley, he could get away with charging much, much more. I mean regular fast food burgers like the Carl's Jr. $6.00 series are almost as expensive as the offerings at Larkburger. For $5.75, you get a 1/3 lb. cooked to order (rare if you want it) hamburger made with Coleman Black Angus beef served on a fresh baked roll with lettuce, tomato, onion and a house-made special sauce. There is no excuse not to try this place. Unlike Restaurant Avondale and Larkspur, Larkburger isn't out of anybody's price range.
With this successful launch under his belt, Salamunovich is looking to expand the Larkburger brand out onto the Front Range. The Vail Daily reports that a Boulder Larkburger will open just after the first of the year and another could open at the Tech Center in Denver as early as March. And for what it is worth, the manager on duty that day at the Larkburger in Edwards said Salamunovich was looking to eventually expand all the way to LA. Here's looking out.
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