KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
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Summit County, Colorado

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April 4, 2009
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New Frisco restaurant mixes it up

Three chefs opened Vinny's in Frisco a few weeks ago as a chef-owned, chef-driven restaurant. The idea: to present fine world cuisine at a local, affordable price.

Their revolving menu changes weekly " and sometimes daily " because chefs Anthony LaRosa, Kenneth C. Hughes and Vincent Monarca love playing around with different recipes.

In addition, Douglas Hall, who is working on his master level certification as a sommelier through the International Wine Guild, is building a wine list of 50-60 reasonably priced wines from around the world. Hall plans to offer wine classes and paired dinners at Vinny's.

"We're just food and wine geeks, and we're having fun," Hall said. "We're like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory ... every night, Kenny has different chocolates out for us to taste."

In fact, Hughes' flourless chocolate cake " a rich, pure-tasting-chocolate, divine experience " has won the Chocolate Fantasia Contest in Summit County, and his white chocolate bread pudding won awards at the Taste of Breckenridge.

But before jumping to dessert, let's focus on starters, soups and entrees.

I'm usually not a big appetizers kind of person, but at Vinny's, the starters are a must. Beyond crisp and tasty Caesar and house salads and soups that include thick and creamy black bean corn chowder and a lighter golden potato and leek with basil oil droplets, the starters range from wild mushroom strudel (with frisse and champagne butter sauce) or tenderloin steak skewers with Cabernet demi glace and soft polenta to sweet potato gnocchi and an eggplant tower.

So, let's just focus on the ingredient that completely blew my mind: the tomato sauce on the eggplant tower. You see, I'm a Chicago girl at heart when it comes to Italian food, because I grew up there. Since I've lived in Colorado, I've searched and searched for Chicago-style pizza and sauce. About 10 years ago, I gave up, reducing my standards to "decent" sauce (and pizza), but I regularly visit Chicago specifically to eat (OK, I see relatives, too), so I haven't forgotten what tomato sauce should taste like.

Vinny's has it completely dialed in, and I don't say that lightly. I begged Vinny to open a pizza place next door, or add pizza to his menu. Between his homemade dough, which wraps the sweet potato to make gnocchi, and his sweet sauce (complete with fresh herbs, not dried), he has the makings of a great Italian restaurant. But I diverge. His other food is amazing too.

For example, the rich and filling sweet potato gnocchi blends sweetness with just the right amount of garlic, sage and tarragon, topped with truffle oil. The buttery polenta, which accompanies the tenderloin steak skewers, is the best I've tasted. And the soups are extremely satisfying.

Entrees, served with vegetable and a choice of starch, include meat, seafood, pasta and veggie offerings, such as grilled tofu and portobello with roasted peppers. The rigatoni is made from a family recipe (and did I mention Vinny knows how to do Italian right?), the shrimp linguine is prepared spicy (unless guests request it not as hot, it's about a 7 on a scale of 10), and everything is created with the freshest ingredients available.

The crispy duck leg confit and the roasted prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin are local favorites, Hall said.

Prices range from $4 to about $9 for starters, $4-$5 for soups and $15 (grilled tofu and portobello) to $28 for "first spring run" Alaskan halibut. Most entrees fall in the $18 (shrimp linguine) to $25 (veal and lamb) range.

And, when Frank Sinatra or other ambient music isn't playing in the background, Leon Joseph Littlebird performs " specifically, from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday evenings.


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The Summit Daily Updated Apr 4, 2009 08:44PM Published Apr 4, 2009 08:44PM Copyright 2009 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.