At the Inn at Lost Creek in Mountain Village, 970/728-6293
Asked how his new Talay Grille in Mountain Village differs from his immensely popular Siam in Telluride, now already in its sixth year, Jeff Badger says that whereas Siam is a traditional Thai restaurant with fusion elements, Talay Grille is a fusion restaurant with Thai influences.
“Although I prefer calling it ‘contemporary’ as opposed to fusion,” Badger added, noting that Thai cuisine is fusion to begin with (curries from India, noodles from China) and “because I’m beginning to believe that all good cooking is fusion.” Which is to say that talented chefs are always finding new ways of combining flavors, ingredients and techniques from all over the globe.
As the Thai would say, Badger explained, ruminating on the difference between Talay and Siam: “It’s the same, same, but different.”
Entirely the same are the small plates, “Thai tapas,” mostly savory fillings wrapped or folded inside edible soy paper, leaves of bib lettuce or Chinese style rice buns, in the $5 to $8 range. Hard to go wrong whether you choose a filling of marinated shitake mushrooms or pork belly.
There is no Pad Thai on the Talay menu, and only one noodle dish (Khao Soi, $19.95), but as fans of Siam we were on a mission to focus on the different rather than the same so we didn’t miss the Pad Thai (much) and avoided the one noodle entrée on the menu in favor of a exploring what our waiter called Talay’s “main event,” which is the rotating fish menu, served, in direct homage to the late, lamented Bluepoint Grill in Telluride, where chef-owner Jake Linzinmeir gave fish a steakhouse treatment, which is to say, choose your fish from a list of the evening’s offerings, pick a sauce, and add a side or two to share with the table.
With the world’s oceans in a crisis of overharvesting and pollution and because he serves fish simply grilled in a manner that can’t mask its flaws, the fish at Talay must be impeccably sourced, Badger said, and can’t be provided cheaply, because inexpensive, high-quality, sustainable fish is a contradiction in terms.
On the night we were there, the fish choices were yellowfin tuna, Maine lobster tail, fried calamari and octopus, shrimp, and Florida mahi mahi, ranging in price from $19.95 to $22.95. The barbecue shrimp may be a great example of Talay’s contemporary concept, fusing chef Adam Pace’s sense of tomato-based barbecue sauce (he hails from Tennessee) with Badger’s Thai spices, to delicious effect.
Similarly, the Bangkok “chowdah” on the menu ($6.95, $13.95) is a nod to Badger’s origins in Maine, although it’s a take on Manhattan not New England fish chowder, tomato base inflected with bacon, and the coconut milk and chilies of a traditional Thai Tom Yum. A delicious and utterly original mash-up, which you might find addictive and which, all by itself, more than repays a visit to Talay.
There is, also, what may be Badger’s original mash-up, Thailandaise sauce, which is a traditional Hollandaise, made with whole egg instead of yolk, lime instead of lemon and coconut cream in addition to butter, just one of five sauces to go with fish ($3), all Thai (or Asian) inflected; the names sound as delicious as they taste: Brown Butter Ponzu, Choo Chee Curry, Thai Sweet Chili, Wasabi Pepper. Among sides, grilled asparagus with Thailandaise can’t miss ($7) but the standout side could be Yellow Curried Portabellas ($7).
Talay occupies the ski-in, ski-out space at the Inn at Lost Creek that formerly housed 9545, but has been expanded and dramatically warmed up. The décor incorporates metal, stone and wood and the setting is spacious and calm, and Talay takes reservations, all qualities that mark a difference from Siam. (Very deliberately, Badger agrees, Talay :: Mountain Village as Siam :: Telluride) So if you find yourself waiting in line at Siam some busy week, and crave the same, same, and are open to the different, it might occur to you to call Talay for a reservation and hop on the gondola, if a reservation can be had.
The crisp, clean, cool flavor of artisanal Saki imported from Japan pairs beautifully with the curried flavors of the cuisine.
THE VIBE: Cool, modern Asian, relaxed and gracious, less the prototypical, quasi-urban ethnic restaurant of it’s sibling Siam in Telluride and a step toward “fine” as in fine dining.
DON’T MISS: Chowdah, and if that puts you in the mood for another mash-up, check out the Thai Shepherds Pie ($16.95), with smashed, Frangelica parsnips in place of potatoes, curried beef, carrots, and ginger and cilantro seasoning.
ABOUT THAT SAKI: You can read all about the beauty of artisanal Japanese Saki on the menu, but reading about it can’t compare with tasting it. This is not your typical mass-produced American-made Saki that is served warm, according to the cognoscenti, to mask unpleasant odors and flavors. This is served chilled!
In addition to dinner seven days a week, 5-9, Talay serves a breakfast buffet ($12.95) from 7:30 to 10, lunch from 11:30 to 3, and après ski with live music by Mike Pale, 3-5, featuring a $5 Mimosa.