Worth the Drive: Matsuhisa Vail

February 15 2012, 10:30 AM

What began as Nobu Matsuhisa's flagship restaurant in Beverly Hills, now has two outposts in the mountains. While the Aspen location came to be in 1998, Vail's rendition of Matsuhisa opened in August.

Vail's menu is typical of the Matsuhisa brand: Finely-tuned Japanese cuisine touched with Peruvian influences—and it's stunning. Where at most sushi restaurants I hardly glance at the main menu, here I find myself fixated on it. There are dozens of don't-miss items, but my current obsessions include the tuna miso chips (pictured). This one-bite—two if you're judicious—starter combines a salty, lacey waffle chip with a lump of jewel-like tuna tartare topped with spicy miso sauce and garnished with cilantro and sesame seeds. All this makes the appetizer sound gimmicky but its just plain good.

And then there's the ever-popular baby spinach salad with umami-rich dried miso, grilled shrimp, and Parmesan. I know what you're thinking: It's a salad…but this composed dish is so much more than tossed greens; it's a balance of texture and a luxury of flavor.

Follow that with the scallop with jalapeño salsa. This dish sounds so simple and spicy, but it's neither. For one thing, the scallops (order at least two, even at $10 apiece) arrive on sautéed Brussels sprouts leaves and the whole dish is dressed with a beguiling salsa that offers the flavor of jalapeño but none of the fire. It will leave you wondering how Nobu does it.

I was curious enough to search for the recipe in Nobu: the Cookbook. It was then that I realized in a moment of stupidity or absent-mindedness (or both), I gave my copy away. While kicking myself repeatedly, I did manage to find the dish here.

Sips: Round out the meal with a glass of the beautiful and unusual 2010 Adelsheim Auxerrois from Willamette Valley.

141 E. Meadow Drive (in the Solaris), Vail, 970-476-6628