Steamboat Springs When Brian Vaughn calls his new downtown Steamboat Springs restaurant a "Rocky Mountain bistro," he's talking about more than its location.
Vaughn, who along with Kevin Caparrelli opened bistro c.v. on Tuesday, said the restaurant purchases as much of its food as possible from Colorado farmers.
"I think it's important to support local farmers as much as possible," Vaughn said. "They have a much nicer product in general."
In addition to taste consideration, reducing "food miles" is part of a broad national movement to help lessen the environmental damage wrought from food being trucked, shipped and flown vast distances to get to market. Also, Vaughn said the restaurant purchases from farms that employ sustainable agriculture practices.
These practices sometimes mean bistro c.v.'s food costs a little more and that the menu changes from week to week as Vaughn hears from his farmers what is available and what tastes good.
At 345 Lincoln Ave., bistro c.v. is taking over a location that has housed two restaurants in recent years - Tobiano restaurant and most recently Chelsea's. Chelsea's closed in February after only eight months.
Vaughn rejected any notion that those restaurants' closures had anything to do with the location. Andy Benjamin, who owned Chelsea's, agreed.
"It didn't really have anything to do with location," Benjamin said of his restaurant's failure. "That's the premier location in Steamboat, without a doubt."
Instead, Benjamin blamed poor business decisions and becoming overwhelmed with "the allure of owning a restaurant in Steamboat." Benjamin still owns the original Chelsea's in Oak Creek. "I made a series of mistakes when I kept on pushing forward instead of taking my time," Benjamin said.
Tracy Barnett, director of Main Street Steamboat Springs, said bistro c.v. has all the ingredients for a thriving restaurant, and its success will depend on how well it is run as a business.
"That's the trick - if they're good businesspeople," Barnett said. "Anyone can cook."
Benjamin said one of the difficulties of the restaurant's location is its cost. Vaughn wouldn't reveal how much he and Caparrelli are paying in rent, and neither would Michael Craig-Scheckman, owner of the restaurant's space. Benjamin said his rent was $7,000 a month, with common area maintenance fees of $1,600.
Craig-Scheckman acknowledged that rents are on the rise in downtown
Steamboat but said he believes bistro c.v.'s food is very creative and that it will be successful.
Vaughn and Caparrelli grew up together in Louisville, Ky., and moved to Steamboat in 1995. They have gained experience at several local restaurants including Harwig's. Both have been away from Steamboat for some years. Caparrelli was an executive chef at a Boulder restaurant and Vaughn moved to Miami to work for celebrity chefs. Both hoped to move back to the mountains and they returned in April to open their own restaurant.
Many of bistro c.v.'s practices come from things the two learned outside Steamboat, including the use of local food. Vaughn said that while working in Miami, fishermen from the Florida Keys would deliver fresh fish daily. Vaughn also learned the sous vide method of cooking, which will be used at bistro c.v.
Sous vide is French for "under vacuum." Food that is cooked using this method is vacuum sealed in plastic and then cooked in water at a low temperature for long periods of time, sometimes days. Meat may be combined with vegetables or seasoning inside a single vacuum-sealed bag.
"It really infuses flavor into a product," Vaughn said of the method.
Caparrelli said that while sous vide is gaining in popularity in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, he believes bistro c.v. is the only restaurant in Colorado that uses it. It is a costly technique; Caparrelli said the vacuum sealer cost $5,500 and the immersion circulator, where the food is cooked in water, cost about $1,000.
Sous vide has previously come under scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture for safety concerns. Chefs who use the method have to walk the line between cooking at a low enough temperature to protect taste and cooking at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
Caparrelli said bistro c.v. plays it safe with sous vide, cooking everything at at least 160 degrees. Caparrelli said the health inspector has viewed the technique.
"We cook everything in safe zone," he said.
Fine and simple
Bistro c.v. has limited hours; it opens at 5 p.m. for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday.
"I didn't want any of the product to suffer at night," Vaughn said. "I didn't want the dinner menu to suffer because we were struggling to put out lunch."
The idea of doing a little, but doing it right, is seen throughout the restaurant, from the emphasis on one meal, to the beverages available at the bar.
"All of the products, even the wine list, are based on simplicity," Vaughn said.
Craig Bistrong, front-of-the-house manager, said bistro c.v. is a wine-oriented restaurant. The restaurant has only two beers, Guinness and Pilsner Urquell, on tap. The restaurant's 50 wines come from places as disparate as Oregon and New Zealand. Bistrong said he wanted to introduce customers to smaller, more obscure wineries while still providing the comfort of big names such as Chateau St. Jean. Like the food menu, Bistrong hopes the wine menu is constantly changing. The current list varies in price from $23 to $98 a bottle.
"Wine in Steamboat is a big deal," Barnett said. "He's got a really good list."
Bistro c.v. is a white-tablecloth restaurant with soft lighting and decorated with photographs by Steamboat photographer Sunshine Divis. The photographs are taken from a variety of Colorado farms, a reference to the restaurant's commitment to buying close to home. Foam is installed in the restaurant's ceiling to absorb sound.
Bistrong said servers wear blue jeans with black button-down shirts, an effort to "keep it Steamboat" and provide relaxed, but fine, dining.
The restaurant is currently looking to hire front-of-the-house staff such as servers and bussers.