With its steep and deep reputation, lively Main Street, and topographical bounty, Telluride has plenty going for it even after the powder melts. Increasingly, the best reason to visit off season isn't the bluegrass, grass, or even the views; it's the restaurants bringing gourmet innovation to 9,000 feet.
Chefs here have come from all over, bringing influences from culinary capitals like New York, New Orleans, and Napa, and from such notable restaurants as Nobu 57, Galatoire, and Jean Georges' Mercer Kitchen. These transients may come from all over, but they've got a lot in common: They use locally-sourced products whenever possible, tend to speak a bit of French, and are uniformly eager to work with game meat.
Arguably Telluride's most notable stop is the little white house at 221 South Oak, where Eliza Gavin's talents and reputation earned her a spot on Top Chef Season 10. Nearly the entire menu is homemade, from the pastas and breads to the sausages and ice cream. On a menu full of tempting dishes, the Ski In Ski Stout marinated bison hanger steak with sweet potato mash and huckleberry port reduction defines Rocky Mountain game meat done right – thick, tender, and flavored with craft beer.
Not too far away, at fusion-forward Cosmopolitan, Chef Chad Scothorn plates lobster corn dogs and a fish stew of halibut, prawns, sea scallops, and crab in a contemporary European setting. Scothorn's studies took him to Ecole Lenotre near Paris and the CIA in Sicily, but the traditional cherry wood bar at the front sets the mining town vibe. It's a distinct Telluride juxtaposition – Old West grit meets Old World sophistication.
Nobu-veteran Andrew Tyler's there, an inventive Asian tapas and cocktail joint, takes a more modern approach: The main menu choices are as simple as they come – tostadas, steamed buns, lettuce wraps, and more – but the presentation and content variety create a more complex flavor. The eclectic setting pairs iron saddle bar seats, pressed tin ceilings, and decorative cartography with a drinks menu devoted largely to sweet jam cocktails. The place is distinctly different from La Marmotte, which is – at 20 years old – the grand dame of local eateries. But they strive to create similar dining experiences: They're intimate without being quiet. In true western fashion, they don't confuse quality and decorum.
Ultimately what recommends Telluride as a place to ski is also what makes it a great place to spend a long weekend eating: The lines aren't that bad, the people are friendly, and the product is pure. Chefs come because they want to be here and diners can almost taste the contentment in the kitchens.
More information: The hotel scene in Telluride isn’t far behind the dining. Mountain Village’s Peaks Resort has the best view in Telluride through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Palmyra Restaurant, itself a worthy spot for a well curated meal. In downtown, locally-owned Hotel Columbia is ideally situated next to the gondola and steps from Main Street.