With a new management team settling into place at Mountain Village’s Inn at Lost Creek, it was refreshing to see, on a recent evening, that it hasn’t taken long for 9545’s Executive Chef Gary Pagano to create a relaxed, flavorful menu that coincides with the restaurant’s newly relaxed atmosphere.
Deploying explosive flavors derived from the cuisines of Texas, Mexico, Central America and New Mexico, 9545 Restaurant and Bar is now a spicy adventure with each dish fun, full of flavor, full of thought and colorfully presented.
For starters, leave the tri-colored chips and salsa behind and get right into the better stuff: scallop ceviche ($9 half/$14 full) made with bay scallops, lime, purple onion, tomatoes, and coconut milk, awakening the palate in anticipation of things to come. You’ll be glad you ordered the tender buttermilk fried calamari ($12), served on lettuce in a fried tortilla bowl – an elegant spin on a taco salad – with both a chipotle lime sauce and an agave aioli for dipping. Be sure to stab a fork into the chopped salad resting below the calamari. 9545’s menu of entrées provides plenty of variety. Traditional items like enchiladas with red chili beef ($20) or green chili pork ($16) are filling and flavorful but there are other dishes where Pagano shows more inventiveness. The seared ruby red trout tostada ($23), albeit messy to eat, has depth of flavors and textures. The perfect, lightly flavored trout comes layered in a tower of crispy tostadas with a prickly pear glaze, tomatillo relish and Spanish rice. There’s a fantastic sear to the trout, which adds own flavor and texture to the entire dish. When asked where the subtle hint of sweetness in the dish comes from, Pagano smiled and said, “I’m glad you caught that. It’s the tomatillo relish. It adds a nice twist to the dish.”
The blue corn chicken ($24) is a reverse chili relleno: a chicken breast cutlet is rolled and stuffed with Serrano ham, Anaheim chilies, jalapeno jack cheese, and relleno sauce. A duo of duck breast and duck confit stuffed poblano pepper ($28) is served with quinoa (Yes, quinoa!), black bean and corn pilaf and tomatillo jelly. Against the yin of the duck confit stuffed pepper, spicy enough to produce beads of sweat on the forehead – not a bad thing on a snowy Mountain Village evening – is the yang of sweet tomatillo jelly on which the duck breast rests. To finish a meal off give mama’s flan ($9) a try. Instead of a traditional light custard texture, this dessert is creamier. Imagine a flan-flavored cheesecake, rich and satisfying. Judging from the cheer at a large, nearby table the essence of Pagano’s fun and flavorful menu is contagious. If 9545 once seemed stuffy, it’s not anymore. It’s chili-infused fine dining unbuttoned a notch.
VEGETARIAN?: 9545 doesn’t just offer a vegetarian dish because it has to. The grilled eggplant and vegetable mignons with chipotle parmesan ($19) comes with tomato cous cous, crimini mushrooms and ranchero sauce. It’s a dish that’s not an afterthought but, rather, a gem on the menu.
GRAB A BURGER: 9545 has always been known for a great burger. Under the new regimen the tradition lives on with an 8-ounce patty ($13), grilled red onions, avocado, chipotle aioli, and cilantro.
$$$ Open daily for breakfast from 8-10:30 a.m., lunch from noon-2:30 p.m. and dinner from 6-9 p.m. 9545’s bar is open from 3 p.m. until close.