| AspenTimes.com

Bar Talk: Stark’s Alpine Grill

With a spritz menu fit for its relaxed slopeside patio and classic cocktails prepared to match a more sophisticated vibe inside, Stark’s Alpine Grill seems to be outfitted to please a crowd of varied interests.

I recently found myself tucked into one of the restaurant’s cozy, curved, velvet booths alongside the ATW’s fantastic food correspondent Katherine Roberts to craft a pair of columns focused on the food and drink offerings laid out in front of us.

Stark’s Alpine Grill, located in the less-than-a-year-old Viewline Resort in Snowmass Village, bills itself as a casual yet cozy space with seasonal American cuisine, a cross between a steakhouse and a contemporary supper club. 

Kathrine and I were there on a Thursday, which during summer in Snowmass means a bustling crowd on Fanny Hill enjoying the free Thursday night concert.

The patio was packed. Its location on Fanny Hill is positioned in perfect view of the concert and crowd below, and with beer prices starting at $6 and cocktails ranging from $14 to $16, it seems like a good alternative to hauling your picnic blanket up the ski hill if you’re looking for a new Thursday night concert perspective.

While Kathrine and I didn’t get to experience the patio scene firsthand, we did get to hear the music from our indoor spot.

I decided to start my evening off with a spritz, as if I were outside.

Stark’s has four spritzes to choose from, all $15. Initially, I was intrigued by the Chandon Garden Spritz, a cocktail consisting of Chandon, orange bitters and herbs and spices, but when my dining and drinking companion for the evening inquired about what the herbs and spices were, the employee told us the drink was premade by Chandon, and the description was just what the bar was given.

As a drink columnist, I was looking to try a drink bartenders would mix themselves rather than just crack open and pour into a pretty glass, so I went with the Sunset Breeze spritz, made with Lillet Rosé, prosecco, Fever Tree grapefruit soda and grapefruit.

The cocktail was an attractive pale pink and yellow – it looked exactly like the shell of a grapefruit Jelly Belly. It was served in a classic and good-sized spritz goblet.

The Lillet and the Fever Tree cut through whatever tart acidity might have been present from the grapefruit, making it easy to sip and pair with just about anything on the menu.

Kathrine also ventured into the spritz menu during our dinner, albeit for her second cocktail of the night, opting for the Picture Perfect made with St. Germain, sparkling rosé, Fever Tree soda and basil.

After one sip, she declared it a “porch pounder,” and I crowned it the most well-styled drink of the night, despite the fact that it was perfectly clear. The “glass” (it was actually plastic) was unique and fit the supper-club feel of the space. It truly was picture perfect.

I enjoyed our smattering of apps – skillet cornbread, smoked trout spread and pink pepper crusted elk carpaccio, which you can read more about in better detail than I’m capable of describing in Kathrine’s food column.

To pair with the entrée course, I chose the Spirit in the Dark, $16 from the signature cocktail menu, purposefully looking for something a little more herbal and spirit-forward to accompany the burger I ordered.

The Spirit in the Dark, one of Stark’s Alpine Grill’s signature cocktails.
Rose Laudicina

Speaking of the burger, the Tavern Burger at Stark’s is now in the running for my favorite burger in the area. The wagyu beef tastes of quality, and whatever special sauce they put on the burger takes the flavor up enough to sit in my top burger spot. The burger also comes with fries, which are crisped to perfection and instantly conjured up memories of the salty golden goodness that comes out of the McDonald’s fryer.

But back to the drinks: The Spirit in the Dark is made from The Botanist gin, genepy (an herbal aperitif), lemon, thyme and blackberry. It checked the spirit-forward box, but the herbal component was mostly just there in aroma, not taste. The blackberry gave it a nice juicy flavor and feel, in addition to providing the beautiful berry color the drink sported.

There are two more categories to the cocktail section of the drink menu: the classics for $14 each and a non-alcoholic list for $9 a glass.

After my experience at the Boisson dinner (read more about my zero-proof experience in “Bar Talk: A Sober Approach to Drinking”), the three non-alcoholic drinks caught my eye. I’m excited to see a restaurant like Stark’s dedicating a section to creative mocktails for patrons.

At first glance, the menu and various settings at Stark’s Alpine Grill seems to be at odds with each other – does it want to be a casual American eatery with a party patio or an intimate supper club? However, after settling in and exploring the menu, I believe Stark’s makes the case for itself to be all the above. Instead of conforming to one vision, the restaurant lets customers choose their own adventure, with drink and food options to compliment whatever that might be.

The Picture Perfect cocktail lives up to its name at Stark’s.
Rose Laudicina

WineInk: There’s a new list in town: Las Montañas Wine Program

If you follow the Aspen restaurant scene, then you likely know there is a new kid in town. The much-anticipated opening of Las Montañas, the latest Aspen creation of Austin, Texas-based MML Hospitality, took place last week in the location that formerly, and famously, housed Jimmy’s — An American Restaurant and Bar for nearly a quarter century.

While it’s not quite the same as the long ago beloved La Cocina, which packed them in for enchiladas for 33 years (can it be that it has been 17 years since the Lebbys left town?), just across Hopkins Avenue from where Las Montañas stands now, the Tex-Mex cuisine the Austinites are serving up is a welcome addition. Especially if you have the coin for pricy but prodigious fajitas consisting of, say, lobster and/or rib-eye surf and turf, that flirts with three-digit territory. No, this ain’t 1972.

While LaCo, as locals called it for so many years, was lacking in fine wines, Las Montañas’ predecessor Jimmy’s, under wine director Greg Van Wagner (who is now a part of the PARC Aspen team), had an extraordinary wine program. The wines competed for attention alongside Jimmy’s stellar selections of mezcal and tequila, which generated worldwide buzz long before mezcal and tequila were as buzzworthy as they are today.

Part of the challenge for Van Wagner, even with the wine friendly modern American menu served at Jimmy’s, was ensuring that the wines were as much a part of the draw as the Mexican spirits. He succeeded in spades. For many Food & Wine Classics in Aspen, winemakers and wine connoisseurs from around the globe came to talk tequila while they sipped hand-selected Burgundy from Van Wagner’s artfully curated list.

Now, that challenge has been made even more difficult as the Las Montañas folks try to put together a wine program for Tex-Mex cuisine, which cries out for margaritas, both frozen and fresh, and cerveza.

But as we all know, Aspen is a wine town, and Austin-based Patrick Olds, wine director for the 20-plus restaurants that MML Hospitality operates (including Clark’s Aspen), is proving that he is up for that challenge. Olds plans to create a unique and exciting program featuring wines that will both capture the attention of the well-heeled diners and enhance the wine-and-food-pairing experience.

“We have learned from our time here at Clark’s that Aspen has a degree of wine sophistication that is at a really high level. It’s a wonderland of sorts, with curious wine people who love going on wine journeys,” he said.

He’s got that right, both literally and figuratively, as Aspen’s wine folks travel by both Bombardier and in the glass to global wine regions.

Behind the green door at the newly opened Las Montañas, guests find an upscale Tex Mex dining menu to go with the wines on the evolving list.
Kelly Hayes

“In Austin, we also have an open-minded clientele with people who are really receptive to trying new wines. It’s just so much fun to find new wines and new regions for our guests,” Olds said with enthusiasm as a passionate wine professional.

In his initial foray for the still-evolving wine program at Las Montañas, Olds, a certified level III advanced sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers, has created a fun and enticing list that features well-chosen prestige wines from some of the usual suspects, combined with trip-worthy wines from Spain, Argentina and, yes, Mexico. And it is this element, the “surprise wines,” that look like they could make Las Montañas unique in a town filled with great wine lists.

During the media heavy “soft opening” last week, I had an opportunity to pair, at Olds’ suggestion, a Palafox “Pionero” Chenin Blanc from Baja California, with a bitingly fresh octopus aguachile dish. The wine was as fresh as the food, and the dry blend of chenin blanc and chardonnay could have been an iteration from, say, South Africa, or even the Loire Valley. There are many great palates and educated wine pros in this valley, but I’d bet money not one would have picked “the heart of the Antigua Ruta del Vino, South of Ensenada,” as the source for this Chenin Blanc.

I was schooled. I had been in Las Montañas for less than an hour (OK, I did have a Maudie’s Famous Frozen Margarita with a tamarind sangrita and house tajin salt rim before dining), and I was already learning a lesson in wine from Olds, in a place where I had been taught a lot of lessons by both Greg Van Wagner and Jimmy Yeager in the past. It was fun. There were four other wines from Mexico on the list, and I look forward to trying all and learning about the emerging new region.

“We will be trying other wines from Mexico and hopefully adding them as we move forward,” Olds said.

It fits the old wine proverb about drinking the wines of a region with the cuisine of the region.

The next hour or so was spent perusing the wine list that, as I mentioned, was peppered with familiar wines. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon from the likes of Heitz Cellar and Mathiason were both under the $200 price point, while a 2017 Harlan Estate Red Blend topped the price list at $3,400 for the mega spenders. The Alden Alli, Hitching Post and Tyler Pinot Noirs all resonated as inspired choices, as did a pair of whites, a Martin Woods Gruner Veltliner from Oregon and a Godello from the Columbia River Gorge produced by Analemma.

Also impressive is the compact but diverse “By the Glass” offerings that Olds selected, which includes 19 wines from six nations.

“One of the things I love most about this job is that I get to select wines by the glass for over 20 outlets. We have over 600 by-the-glass selections at our various restaurants,” Olds noted.

It was good to see, and taste, the “Barda” Pinot Noir from Bodegas Chacra in Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina. This is a project with local participation (Aspenite Tony Mazza is a partner) and an outstanding example of the versatility that is possible in the global production of Pinot Noir.

The Palafox Winery, just south of Ensenada in Baja California, is a modern winery in an exciting new Mexican wine region. Its Chenin Blanc is on the “by the glass” list at the new Las Montañas in Aspen. Courtesy Palafox.
Palafox

Olds said that this list is just the first step in an evolving process, and while he will be coming back regularly, he is counting on longtime Aspen wine pro Pete Cheroske, who is MML’s wine director at both Las Montañas and Clark’s Aspen, to introduce the community to the new wines.

“First and foremost, we want people to drink great wine,” Olds said about putting together a wine program that works with both the unique high-end Mexican cuisine that is the calling card of Las Montañas and the expectations of the Aspen wine market. “Trust is key to that, and we want people to be able to pick two or three dishes and then ask our staff to recommend wines that pair well with those dishes.”

Yes, it is a challenge to find wines that seamlessly pair with spicy and complex Mexican dishes that typically include chilies, beans, avocados and cilantro. But by searching for wines from countries and regions that are indigenous to that kind of cuisine, the pairings become not just easier, but also robust and exciting. Las Montañas and Olds are well on their way to providing a new wining and dining experience for Aspen.

Even if it’s not LaCo.

Under the Influence

Ver Sacrum Gloria “Los Chacayos”

I have included a number of wines from Argentina in this space lately (maybe it’s time for a southern sojourn?), but the majority of them feature Bordeaux grapes like Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon.

But this one from the Uco Valley of Mendoza is from a producer, Ver Sacrum, that is producing wines from traditional Rhône varieties. This wine, made from Grenache grapes or Garnacha, as they call it in Spain, is rich, jammy and just a touch sweet. I found it a perfect accompaniment to my grilled steak fajitas. And there is an Aspen connection here, as well, as the founder of Ver Sacrum, Eduardo Soler, is a noted climber and skier who has spent seasons patrolling on las montañas of Aspen. Oh, and Ver Sacrum translates to “sacred spring” in English, and the wine features a photo of Gloria Swanson, namesake of the wine, taken in 1924.

So now you know.

 

 

Ver Sacrum Gloria “Los Chacayos.” Photo courtesy of Palafox.
Courtesy Palafox
Inside Las Montañas.
Las Montañas
Las Montañas’ bar.
Las Montañas
A portal allows diners to get a glimpse inside the kitchen at Las Montañas where the chefs prepare high-end Tex Mex cuisine and homemade tortillas.
Las Montañas
The menu at Las Montañas highlights Tex Mex specialities sourced from the freshest ingredients that pair perfectly with wines from Spain, South America and Mexico.
Las Montañas

WineInk: An American Winery

A Special Event

What: An Evening with Patrimony Estate

When: 7 p.m. July 27

Where: Element 47 (The Little Nell Hotel)

For Reservations: Contact Element 47

Join Daniel Daou for a special four-course tasting menu at Element 47 and indulge in some of the world’s finest expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends.

“We’re excited to have the rare opportunity to host and showcase what I feel is a gold standard producer that is making huge waves on the global luxury wine landscape,” said The Little Nell’s wine director Chris Dunaway. “Patrimony is viewed by many as a ‘First Growth’ wine in California and emblematic of what’s possible, given the perfect combination of terroir, talent and ambition. Daniel and Georges Daou have truly created magic in the rolling hills of Paso, and they will be present at the dinner to share firsthand their experience and journey of creating these truly remarkable wines that have great depth and complexity.”

Every July as we approach Independence Day, I endeavor to celebrate an American winery in this column.

By now, Daou Vineyards, the collaboration between brothers Daniel and Georges Daou in the Santa Lucia Mountains, needs no introduction; it has become perhaps the most famed and widely distributed wine from the popular Paso Robles wine region. But still, the story of a pair of Lebanese immigrants who have persevered and prospered in the world of wine is one that resonates, especially this week, when we celebrate America.

Now, technically, any wine grown in American soil qualifies as being American. But beyond that literal definition, the Daou story embodies a bit of what the American dream means as we near the quarter pole of the 21st century.

“I personally believe that America is the only country in the world today to have the dream that exists here,” said Georges Daou from his local home in the High Aspen Ranch above Missouri Heights. “As far as I am concerned, the cornerstone of the American dream is the consumer. If the consumer is open to change, it creates opportunities for entrepreneurs.”

Since 2007, the Daou Brothers have tapped into the American consumer’s demand for a well-made, luxury wine at an approachable price point. In a short period of time, just a decade and a half, the company has become a stalwart on American wine lists. Its Daou Cabernet Sauvignons can be found on lists ranging from the famed French Laundry in Yountville, California to high-end steakhouse chains like Morton’s, Maestro’s and Ruth’s Chris across America.

The wines have also set a standard for quality Bordeaux bottlings produced in Paso Robles, a region previously pegged as a producer of Rhône varieties.

“We see the Nielson stats,” said Georges, who oversees the company’s marketing, referring to the organization that tracks wine sales, “and we are the fastest growing winery in the luxury sector. We never entered this space with the idea of ambition. We just wanted to make great wines for our consumers. But I believe that today we are a true unicorn in this space.”

The consumer experience is a critical component of the Daou Vineyards culture. Here, guests can partake in a picnic surrounded by the dramatic views of the property.
Courtesy Daou Vineyards

The Daou’s success as American vintners had unlikely beginnings. Georges and Daniel Daou were born to comfort in the late 1960s in Beirut, Lebanon, known at the time as the Paris of the Middle East. But on May 3, 1973, their world changed forever.

“I remember we were playing on the balcony of our home. I was wearing a tie-dye shirt,” Georges said with emotion. “A rocket launched by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) landed in front of our house. Danny had shrapnel wounds in his face. I was shot in the liver and the lungs. My sister and mother were injured. I remember vividly walking down the staircase, holding onto a granular wall to find a car to go to (the) hospital.”

For a time, survival was the only goal. But the family persevered and eventually moved to Paris.

Both boys were studious and ambitious, and America beckoned. Following college (first Stanford and then UCSD for Georges) the pair founded a technology company in San Diego called Daou Systems, which they grew into an engineering powerhouse. They took it public before retiring with the means to make dreams come true. Daniel’s passion was to make wine, so they searched for a vineyard.

“We looked at Napa, Bordeaux and Mendoza,” Georges told me back in 2014. “But then my brother called and said he had found the perfect place: Paso Robles. ‘Where’s that,’ I asked, ‘Texas?’ When he told me it was a couple of hours from Pebble Beach, I was in.”

Proximity to golf aside, the selection Daniel made — a mountain that sits at 2,200 feet and possesses the calcareous soils that would be instrumental to the quality of their wines — was kismet. In 2007, they purchased their first vineyard and then supplemented that with an adjacent parcel in 2012, the Hoffman Mountain Ranch. It’s an epic property that had been called “a jewel of ecological elements” by none other than iconic Napa enologist Andre Tchelistcheff.

When I asked Daniel why Daou has been so successful, he answered, “Well, hard work, of course,” and then launched into an extended, detailed discussion of the effect that the calcareous soil (ancient soils formed by the residue of sea and limestone that contains calcium carbonate) has on the wines. It is clear he considers the earth the creator of his wines.

As Daou began to grow and it became apparent that the wines would meet their expectations, they built a world-class, Mediterranean style tasting facility atop Daou Mountain with expansive views. They created an impactful social media presence, built a wine club and worked to establish relationships.

“We wanted to create an aspirational and experiential environment for our customers. The consumer is the celebrity, not the other way around,” Georges admonished as he focused on why he believes that Daou has a special place in the hearts of its customers.  

In addition to their initial offerings of Daou wines, Georges and Daniel have created another tier, a top tier, of wines under the Patrimony label. Meaning “from the father,” the Patrimony collection includes a Cabernet Sauvignon from the best vineyards on the Daou property (just in front of the houses that Georges and Daniel call home), a Cabernet Franc and a blend that they have dubbed “Cave des Lions.” These are important wines that stretch the imagination of what Bordeaux style wines from the Central Coast of California can be.

“We don’t look at these wines in terms of competing with Napa or Bordeaux,” Georges explained with a shrug. “We just wanted to make wines that reflect the earth and embody our families’ love of each other.”

While he is a businessman who values his customers first and foremost, Georges is also a bit of a philosopher, as well.

By way of explanation of the relationship with his brother Daniel, he said, “The best thing I can tell you to describe it is a quote from Pablo Picasso who said, ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift,’ and Daniel has done that as a winemaker. ‘The purpose of life is to share that gift,’ and I have been able to do that. Together, we have been able to create a mosaic that brings consumers the opportunity to dream (through wine) of a better life.”

What could be more in tune with the American dream than that?

Born in Lebanon, the Daou brothers (left, Daniel; right, Georges) have achieved the American dream by following their passion to produce and market wine.
Courtesy Daou Vineyards
Under the Influence: 2019 Daou Estate Soul of the Lion

The 2019 Soul of a Lion.

This is the flagship wine of the Daou Estate Collection, and it is named, fittingly, as an homage to the Daou brothers’ late father. The boys revere the patriarch of the family and noted that a “lion always defends his pride.” In a book they commissioned on their father’s life, he is quoted as saying, “One day, my children will know that I was a candle burning for them my whole life.”

This wine carries on that legacy for the family. While still just a baby, this 2019 vintage wine, which was just released on April 7 (the lion’s birthday), shows the quality of the terroir from which it was created. Intense dark fruits explode on the palate, mingling with a smoky sweetness. The tannins will soften as it ages, but even now in its youth there is a balance that makes this wine a treat to drink today. For those who rate wines, this will generate both high scores and enthusiasm. For those just looking for the pleasure of a great California Cabernet Sauvignon, it delivers in spades.

Flavor beyond words

At Kenichi Snowmass in late May, embarking on what would be the first of three Japanese dinners at owner Brent Reed’s local restaurants in the span of a month, I scribbled notes almost as much as I ate.

Chef Justin Lightsey told us of “light, bright, vibrant colors,” and the way “you eat with your eyes.” (The plates are works of art — some Jackson Pollock painterly, others Andy Warhol pop-art pristine.)

The dynamo and greentail rolls at Kenichi Snowmass.
Kaya Williams

He shared his own culinary journey, from a kid picking up eggs and learning about farming to experiences in Yellowstone, Hawaii and Carbondale (he previously worked at Kenichi Pacific in Kona and at Izakaya in Carbondale).

He spoke of camaraderie, support, collaboration and experimentation in the kitchen. Regarding guest philosophy, he said the team aims to “treat our customers with the same respect and kindness we treat each other with.”

I relished in the conversation as much as the flavors of savory boar gyoza, scallops with a fresno chili sauce, greentail and dynamo sushi rolls that brought a spring-on-summer warmth to the palate.

Scallops at Kenichi Snowmass.
Kaya Williams

At Izakaya Carbondale, I still made plenty of markings in my notebook, though they focused more on flavor than narrative. Our waiter regaled us with stories of his childhood in Hawaii, where his father would return from the water with fish fresher than anything I’ll possibly ever taste, unless I catch it myself.

Agedashi tofu at Izakaya Carbondale.
Kaya Williams

“I had no choice but to be a foodie,” he said, making a convincing argument for the robust dinner of pub-style Japanese bites that filled our table.

I was hatching a gimmick to link menu items to the essence of the calendar months I thought they most embodied. Yellowtail sashimi, bright but not overwhelming, was the first warm day in June; soy-yuzu tuna nachos, weighed down by sauces, seasonings and seafood atop the crispy chips, had to be August; lobster bao buns, richer, heavier and rounder, were October.

Sashimi at Izakaya Carbondale.
Kaya Williams

But at Kenichi Aspen, little happened in the way of pen to paper. The flavors at the flagship location were so exquisite that I experienced a rare disconnection between my writing brain and my eating one. My eyes went wide with flavors and textures I had never experienced before; the cogs stopped churning over clever turns of phrase, and I succumbed to the sensation of surprise and satisfaction.

On the flame-torched A5 wagyu beef, served on a bone with the marrow still in it, the rich, dissolving fattiness overcame me. Just about all I could conjure for the page was that classic product slogan, “I can’t believe it’s not butter,” and even that was derivative from dinner partner Henry’s comment on its butteriness.

Because I am nothing if not committed to a bit, I also scribbled down “December.” Those decadent bites seemed to embody the luxurious, velvety texture of the meat that had sent me to a place of holiday meals, and of nights curled up on the couch, wrapped in a fur blanket, watching the snow fall.

Then, again overcome by the crispy surprise of tempura shishito peppers stuffed with lobster, I found myself writing down little, if anything at all. All I wrote in my notebook was “August,” underlined three times, before I let myself yield to the flavors within.

Kaya Williams is a writer for The Aspen Times and The Snowmass Sun who acknowledges the month of August can represent both tuna nachos and the best tempura she’s ever had. She ate her way through a few other months, too, but succumbed to the experience before she could write much down. Email her at kwilliams@aspentimes.com.

Soy-yuzu tuna nachos at Izakaya Carbondale.
Kaya Williams
Lobster bao buns at Izakaya Carbondale.
Kaya Williams
Flame-torched A5 Wagyu beef served on a bone with marrow at Kenichi Aspen.
Kaya Williams
Lobster-stuffed tempura shishito peppers at Kenichi Aspen.
Kaya Williams

Jimmy’s – An American Restaurant & Bar

In a town where restaurants come and go, Jimmy’s – An American Restaurant & Bar, has stood the test of time … and for good reason.

Located in an upstairs spot overlooking Aspen’s Restaurant Row, Jimmy’s is king. Proprietor (and namesake) Jimmy Yeager says the key to success is good food.

“We’ve changed the menu over the years, but we’ve never changed our commitment to serving the freshest food, prepared in the best way, to our guests,” he says.

And now there’s even more reasons to visit this cornerstone of Aspen’s culinary scene — when Yeager closed down Jimmy’s Bodega at the end of summer, he moved the team and many of the coastal-themed menu items to Jimmy’s.

It’s a blend of styles chef Mario Hernandez has seamlessly melded into two visions: “I like to stay true to our menus, but also make the changes we need to keep it fresh — and with having both the Jimmy’s and Bodega styles at our fingertips, it’s been a really great process,” he says.

On the appetizer and soups/salads menu, for example, Jimmy’s Famous Crab Cake and the Mad Dog Ranch Salad — longtime favorites — are listed side-by-side with Bodega offerings such as Clam Chowder and Salmon Crudo.

Moving to the entrees, you can never go wrong with staples like Rocky Mountain Ruby Red Trout or Bodega’s Sablefish a la plancha or one of several steak offerings (our recommendations: The Colorado Tomahawk, or pair a Blackened Petite Filet with a broiled New England lobster tail for a surf & turf like no other in town).

Of course chef Hernandez is

never satisfied. On this winter’s menu are items including an organic seared salmon, vegan roasted Portabello mushroom and sides like maple and bacon Brussel sprouts that he has tweaked to perfection.

“The way I work, I just keep trying new things as I get an idea,” he says. “Sometimes they are inspired by something I’ve tried, but often it’s the result of what’s freshest, what’s unique, what can we bring to the menu to create new experiences.”

Want more experiences? Jimmy’s is now home to Bodega’s Raw Bar and its mouth-watering selection of Seafood Plateaus. Pair any or all these items with a choice from Jimmy’s wide selection of wine and cocktails and you’ll see why Jimmy’s remains a local favorite.

clockwise from top: Salmon Crudo with jalapeño emulsion, lemon zest, shallots, cilantro, radishes, housemade potato chips; Seared Organic Salmon served over a green apple & chestnut purée, sautéed brussels sprouts, turnips & bacon, brandy gastrique, paired with a Japanese gin and tonic; Roasted Chicken served with sautéed wild mushrooms & spinach, crispy fingerling potatoes and salsa verde.

Woody Creek Distillers

The minute you walk into Woody Creek Distillers tasting room, one thing is clear: Mixologist Christian Wilhoft loves his job.

“How can you not be psyched to create craft cocktails when you’re working with some of the best spirits around,” says Wilhoft, who has transformed WCD’s cocktail menu into one of the most innovative and sip-worthy ones in the midvalley. “But it’s more than the drinks, it’s the whole atmosphere.”

Indeed, the sign behind the bar does seem to say it all: “Drink Happy Thoughts.”

And what a happy process it has been for the locally owned business. Woody Creek Distillers was established in 2013; since then, the company has grown exponentially. Currently its products are available across the country. And the distillery has received numerous recognitions and awards for its two different kinds of vodka and its rye whiskey (WCD also produces a gin and a rum).

But the crown jewel of Woody Creek’s portfolio has to be its distillery and tasting room, located in Basalt’s Mid-Valley Design Center. Rustic, yet modern, the tasting room invites visitors and locals to see how the distillery operates, while also enjoying the fruits of those labors.

“We want people to come here and feel at home,” says tasting room manager Tracey Snow, noting that while there is no food service at the distillery, guests are welcome to bring in their own cheese platters, dinners, or whatever takeout they like. “It’s a unique experience to see where the spirit in the cocktail you’re drinking is made.”

In fact, Woody Creek Distillers makes nearly everything in-house — the spirits, the infused spirits, an array of bitters, syrups of all stripes, even its own tonic water.

“Really, our cocktail menu is worth the trip to Basalt; you will not find anything like it anywhere else,” says Snow. “Or, you can always just enjoy a flight to get a taste of all that we offer.”

For example, a small tasting of any three spirits is just $12; fleets are also on the menu. And, the distillery is also home base for sales of its bottled spirits and gift boxes, which range in price from $40 to $150 (custom gift boxes also available).

“We like to think that we do more than just make spirits,” says Snow.

Spend some time at Woody Creek Distillers and you’ll see why she’s right.

Prices: Spirit tastings and cocktails, $8 during happy hour, 4-6 p.m. daily; bottles of vodka, $6 to $120; bottles of rye, $27 and $49; bottles of gin, $23 and $35; apple brandy and pear brandy, $49. Tours by appointment ($10 for tour only; $30 for tour/tasting trio/specialty cocktail).

Ambience: The tasting room combines rustic warmth with state-of-the-art architecture and design for a relaxed vibe.

Signature drinks: The Orchard, with muddled apple, Woody Creek Vodka, all spice, ginger, lemon juice; Madame Butterfly, with muddled tarragon, Woody Creek Gin, ginger, anise, lemon, butterfly pea flower extract; and classics from Old Fashioneds to Manhattens to Sazeracs.

Riviera Supper Club and Piano Bar

Want to enjoy the whole dining experience? The Riviera Supper Club and Piano Bar will provide patrons with a multifaceted combination of cuisines, libations and entertainment all in one setting.

“The unique thing about this place is that in 1947 it began as a supper club; we are still following the model as a supper club today,” co-owner Jonathan Gorst said.

Open seven nights a week, the Riviera provides free entertainment from piano players to a Broadway show every three months.

Gorst and co-owner and chef Travis Owen focus on the on the whole dining experience.

“Jonathan and I have put everything we are into this restaurant,” Owen said. “The Riviera has become the culmination of our paired visions of exquisite cuisine alongside incomparable musical talent.”

Having traveled throughout the country and the world, Gorst, a former “Phantom of the Opera” musical director, brings his flair for entertainment and showmanship to the supper club.

“I love having people take in an evening at the restaurant,” Gorst said.

Owen and Gorst’s mission since taking over the Riviera in 2016 had been to locally source food.

“We’ve been building partnerships with different companies, farms and suppliers that are local,” Gorst said.

“You’ll find that our kitchen is a very complex blend of artistry and local ingredients.”

Owen’s path to the Riviera began 28 years ago next door in what is now CO. Ranch House and was then Tony Rosa’s Peppo Nino Italian restaurant.

“I fell in love with the bustle, the noise, the havoc, and the magic of the kitchen,” Owen said.

For Owen the science of food and flavor is an intriguing combination.

“I get excited how odd flavor combinations that don’t sound like they should be complementary are because of the molecular makeup of the ingredients,” Owen said. “I love that a seaweed extract can be used to create pearls of different liquids that look like caviar; that a special tapioca maltodextrin can absorb oil to the point it becomes powder but returns to a liquid once it touches one’s tongue.”

The Riviera menu is always evolving as chef Owen brainstorms new ideas to bring to the restaurant’s patrons.

“I have a notebook on me at all times where I can jot down ideas,” Owen said. “Our Boozy Burger was the byproduct of a four-in-the-morning dream I awoke from and wrote out what I was eating in the dream.”

With the fall menu they are doing a beef wellington, a very traditional dish that you don’t find at many places in the valley.

“We like to kind of dabble between moving forward in the American cuisine and holding onto some of the traditions,” Gorst said.

Along with the nightly live piano, the restaurant is also known for hosting murder-mystery dinners, and their quarterly Broadway-inspired meals.

The Broadway series is the marquee event at the Riviera, including a seven-course dinner inspired by the show, or from the region it is set in.

Gorst plans to reprise a production of “Les Miserables” in January.

Prices: Mid-range. Ambience: This iconic restaurant, originally established in 1947, features a refined, relaxed dining experience with live entertainment seven nights a week. Signature dishes: Avocado toast, gravlax and bagel and mussels with Thai red curry broth.

Venga Venga

Best Place to Après Ski,” “Best Patio,” “Best Margarita,”and “Best Happy Hour” in The Aspen Times Best of Aspen Snowmass awards. Need we say more?

Situated slopeside at the end of the Snowmass Mall, Venga Venga’s patio is a place where imbibers and families alike can coexist to the sounds on busy days under the Colorado sunshine. The patio overlooks the slopes and features an indoor-outdoor bar, where après-ski deals provide a delicious sampling of the restaurant’s modern Mexican cuisine and tasty margaritas. An inside dining room offers a more elegant dining option popular at dinnertime.

The après and cantina menu, from 3 to 6 p.m. daily, offer a great value, and there’s live music during Happy Hour Thursday through Saturday. Classic margaritas are $8, but my favorite was the hot-pink prickly pear-blueberry version for $8 — with Sauza Blue tequila, prickly pear, blueberry-infused tequila and fresh citrus. It paired perfectly with the al pastor pork tacos in corn tortillas with fresh pineapple — just $3 each or $9 for three during après. Many other appetizers and tapas are half-off during après, too.

Modern Mexican cuisine is a theme at many of chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval’s establishments, but each place does it a little differently. Chef de cuisine Eddy Chimal said there are a lot of creative twists on many classic dishes at Venga Venga, but much of the inspiration is from traditional Mexican food.

The chicken zarape features tender grilled chicken breast topped with smoky bacon and three sauces — chipotle adobo, chipotle cream and tomatillo sauce, served with creamy cotija rice and refried black beans. It’s a comforting, hearty dish, great after some powder turns at Snowmass.

The more traditional al pastor tacos come with adobo-marinated pork and pineapple topped with onions and cilantro like you’d find at a street cart in Mexico. Roasted pork carnitas and carne asada served with chimichurri sauce are other big hits.

On a warm, sunny day, opt for the stuffed avocado shrimp salad with greens, citrus-adobo shrimp, corn relish, cilantro pesto and pickled onions — full of vibrant colors and flavors.

Chimal stresses that just about everything is made in-house. From the creative sauces to the pickled onions, the ingredients are fresh.

Guests can customize their guacamole, prepared tableside, with as much citrus, onion or hot chili as desired.

Listen to the live music happening daily, and belly up with a margarita at one of several patio tables with fire pits while the kids roast marshmallows and build their own s’mores. Venga Venga has managed to achieve an atmosphere that truly welcomes people of all ages.

Prices: $12 – $26 Ambience: Mountain-side causal with great patio. Signature dishes: Chile Relleno, Shrimp Enchiladas.

Market Street Kitchen

Mawa McQueen had no intention of building her booming catering and locals’ favorite Aspen restaurant business, but the forces behind the Element Hotel in Willits wouldn’t relent.

And, recognizing the potential to share her culinary philosophies — fresh, healthy offerings with little foodie fanfare attached — to a new market, she finally embraced the offer. And like all things Mawa, she charged forward with passion, professionalism and a knack for pleasing the palate.

“This place chose me,” Mawa says. “And why not? It’s been a chance to branch out a bit.”

With that statement, Mawa — an Ivory Coast native who was raised in France and opened her first Aspen business in 2007 — took her signature cuisine and changed it up.

“Healthy and fresh, that’s my ingredient for success in everything we do,” she says. “But here I decided to do more of a street foods thing.”

Indeed the menu — from breakfast to lunch to brunch — is rooted in themes of Mexican and Parisian food stands.

Cases in point: the “Tacolicious” menu of tacos ranging from roasted cauliflower and Portobello mushroom to pork “mojo” and braised beef shortib.

And then there are the crepes.

“These are not your ordinary street crepes — these are healthy, rich and delicious crepes,” says Mawa, who attributes her ever-expanding culinary prowess to her continued travels abroad. “For breakfast, lunch, whenever … crepes are great food.”

On the must-taste list at Market Street Kitchen (and we’ll let you do the guessing on what treats lie inside): the Parisian, an Argento and, of course, Mawa’s Green; try them in the organic, buckwheat — and gluten-free — variety for an extra two bucks.

Enjoy all of this, and more — from rice bowls to guacamole tastings — in the sleek indoor seats at Market Street with a fine glass of wine, aqua fresca or housemade mimosa and you’ll agree Mawa made the right move by branching out to the midvalley market.

Prices: Breakfast, $9.95 to $13.95; lunch, $5.95 to $15.95; brunch (Sundays only), $9.95 to $17.95 Ambience: Modern, clean café with inviting patio and bright indoor seating. Signature dishes: Mawa’s Green Crepe, with avocado, baby spinach, basil pesto, fresh mozzarella and a free-range egg sunny side up; fresh mango with chili-lime salt; “In Guac We Trust,” freshly made guacamole in various variations, served with corn tortilla chips; watermelon chia aqua fresca, with watermelon, chia, lime and mint.

The freshest food, including an array of crepes and unique breakfast dishes, make Market Street Kitchen the perfect place
to start your day.

The Red Onion

In a town where the dining landscape seemingly changes overnight, the historic Red Onion is the place you can count on — for lunch, apres-ski, dinner or late night.

“We might be one of the last places in town that’s truly local,” says co-owner Brad Smith. “And we like that; we aren’t changing our philosophy of serving good food at reasonable prices in a fun atmosphere.”

And while you might think you already know The Onion from its nearly 125-year reputation alone, think again. Yes, it is one of Aspen’s oldest establishments, famous for its historic red-brick building and original back bar, but did you know that as far back as the mining era The Red Onion was one of the town’s three fine-dining restaurants? People came to The Red Onion for a genuine Aspen dining experience, not just a beer at the bar.

Of course, a beer at the beer is part of what’s kept people — locals and visitors alike — coming back as Aspen transformed from a sleepy mining town to a world-class ski destination.

“We’re real people here — our bartenders are local ski celebs, our servers are longtime locals — and we think that’s what keeps our customers coming back night after night, year after year,” says co owner Mike Tierney. “Just look around at the history on the walls here.”

But The Red Onion’s legacy hasn’t fully developed yet. Today, Tierney and Smith, along with chef Ricardo Madrigal, formerly of the Roaring Fork Club, want to reintroduce Aspen and its visitors to local eatery with a thoughtful menu of elevated American fare that goes far beyond typical bar food.

“I am inspired to serve food that goes beyond wings and fries,” Madrigal says. “So I will be taking some of our big plates and making them stand out a bit more; refining our traditional dishes to make them a little better.”

For example, Madrigal has reinvented two mainstay main dishes: the trout and the schnitzel; this season’s version of the trout has it served stuffed with crab, while the panko-crusted schnitzel is now a chicken dish.

Of course you can’t stray too far from tradition at this iconic Aspen eatery. The Red Onion burger — one of the best in town — is still a hearty half-pound of Angus beef, served on a Kaiser bun with cheese and all the trimmings; choose from more than six side dishes, and it’s truly a classic.

Also classic Red Onion (and a rarity in Aspen): the entire menu is served throughout the day in both the dining room and bar, with a total of 100 seats.

Plus, the bar at The Onion boasts one of Aspen’s most extensive selection of whiskeys, as well as a full cocktail menu, wine list and beers both on tap and in the bottle (yes, even PBR still has a place at the Red O.)

“We’re old-school Aspen,” Smith says. “A cowboy mentality in an upscale town — it’s a mix that seems to work well.”

Price: Appetizers $3.50 to $12.95; soups and salads $5 to $16.95; burgers and sandwiches $14.95 to $19; entrées $23.95 to $30.95. Weekday $9.95 lunch specials. Ambience: Casual, family-friendly, an Aspen classic. Signature dishes: Baked spinach and artichoke dip; the Red Onion cheeseburger; crab-stuffed Rocky Mountain trout; green chili and cheese grits; Mexican chocolate cake.