Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

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October 15, 2008
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Snowmass restaurants work to open by ski season

SNOWMASS VILLAGE " On a sunny day last week, several skiers and snowboarders on a photo shoot traipsed around Base Village at Snowmass in full winter gear, as if waiting for the green slopes to whiten.

But behind them, another group worked frantically against the snow. Crews of workers dressed in hard hats loaded furniture in through condominium balconies with a forklift, readied The Sweet Life ice cream-and-sweets shop for inspection and frantically prepared to pour concrete. A landscaping crew carried enormous aspen trees in wheelbarrows through the courtyard.

The vast majority of the first phase of Base Village is scheduled to be open on or before Thanksgiving Day " Snowmass Mountain's scheduled opening " but in the intervening month and a half, a lot of people have a lot of work to do.

And for those Base Village restaurants and bars scheduled to open in December, Liquid Sky, Junk and the newly announced Buchi, there may be more time, but there is even more construction work.

"We're coming screaming into December on this one," said Scott DeGraff, owner of Liquid Sky and Junk.

At the Snowmass Club, the core staff of Sneaky's Tavern has created a kind of "war room" to prepare " since the tavern itself doesn't even have a floor yet, much less a working kitchen.

Computers line the outside of the room, papers cover the tables, and dozens of index cards are taped to the window, each scrawled with a potential food item: curly-cut fries, pulled pork, "mac'n'cheese."

The staff said they were "locking in" recipes, a process which involves a lot of cooking and eating. This day, they've produced two pulled pork sandwiches (smoky and Italian), two kinds of open-faced turkey sandwiches (one with a cranberry aioli on the sandwich and one with a cranberry sauce on the side), pizza Margherita on focaccia and flatbread, and hamburgers made with meat provided by various local distributors.

As he explained the tasting menu, executive chef Tico Starr pointed to a particularly juicy burger, guessing it would have the best flavor.

"On the grill, the meat just looked better," he said, but then wondered aloud about problems with the company's delivery.

Figuring out the food, staff members said, is partly a matter of figuring out the recipes. And partly it is making decisions about what meat " or tomatoes or buns " are best.

Today, the pretzel bun is a hit, and everyone agrees that the focaccia bread holds the tomato sauce well. The marinara sauce and the apple coleslaw were locked in yesterday.

The Sneaky's staff have the rest of October to experiment with food, they said.

Then the wine tasting begins.

The corners of the Worldwide Fun LLC headquarters in Aspen are scattered with purple and orange fabric, and teak and tile samples. The metal pin-up boards are covered in design ideas. Perched on a chair, a sheet of corrugated cardboard displayed a collage of sample eco-friendly to-go cups and take-out boxes.

The number of product samples in the office might only be outweighed by DeGraff's ideas.

Sitting on a zebra-print couch, he animatedly pored over maps of Junk and Liquid Sky, explaining where the pit of colored fire will be, or the cauldrons of smoke.

Intermittently, he jumped up to find pictures of the seven-foot tall Italian showers or the 800-pound giant tiger that will greet people at the entrance.

"It was very critical to us that we brought Vegas sizzle here, but we 'mountainized' everything," said DeGraff. "I mean I live here, I care about how things look."

Grabbing an advertisement that will run in upcoming Aspen magazines, DeGraff said that one night he woke at two in the morning and scribbled down a list of words that epitomized what he was trying to do at his Snowmass establishments. Shortly thereafter, he decided to run the list as a two-page spread, to explain Junk and Liquid Sky to the uninitiated.

In the middle of his explanation about his advertising, DeGraff switched gears and picked up some Ball jars. The jars, he said, can handle hot and cold liquids, are very difficult to break, come in four sizes and are "cool and strong." At Junk and Liquid Sky, they will be used to serve everything from drinks to shrimp cocktail.

"These are the perfect vessels for this concept," he said.

Then he picked up his plans again. Motioning excitedly with his hands, he began to explain how patrons will be able to cook 15 to 20 types of S'mores at the bar, and how he's been testing all the different options with his children.

"My kids are spoiled now, because when we're cooking at our house, I come up with all these S'mores, anything I [can] find," he said.

If anyone should have a handicap to opening, it's Jeffrey Klein. The co-founder of Matsuhisa (which he stepped away from in 2001) announced this week that he'll be opening two restaurants at Snowmass. Buchi will serve coastal Japanese and South American food in Base Village, and The Office at the Cirque will serve burgers and sandwiches at the base of Fanny Hill.

The Office at the Cirque is scheduled to open in 41 days.

"No problem at all," said Klein, pointing out that he built Matsuhisa in Aspen in 90 days and has since developed many other restaurants.

Unlike most restaurateurs, who lock down their space first, he said he's been building these restaurants off-site for at least two months. He's already decided on a menu and a staff for both restaurants, as well as vendors, kitchen equipment and custom details.

And he's not adding much at the Cirque, he said. There won't be any construction, but he'll spruce it up, make sure it's very clean, and put in a Nintendo Wii game and a DJ booth.

As for Buchi, he's relying on his experience and his Aspen roots to pull him through.

"I've been building and working on Japanese restaurants for last 10 years now. I think I've put together a concept that will work," he said.

Klein has already hired back some of the original Matsuhisa chefs, he said, as well as other staff members with whom he's already worked.

Now all he has to deal with is the matter of an incomplete building.

"I'm going to attempt to try " with all the city issues and construction issues " to get it open before Christmas," he said.

kredding@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Oct 15, 2008 07:54AM Published Oct 15, 2008 01:10AM Copyright 2008 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.