| AspenTimes.com

Where to find fresh, locally grown produce in the Roaring Fork Valley

Produce stands and farmers markets are a universal way to connect with seasonal, local food and meet the people who grow it. Even with the farming challenges of our mountainous locale, the Roaring Fork Valley has a farmer’s market for almost every day of the week. Tempting selections of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs, cheeses and prepared foods make creating a meal-of-the-moment or picking up good food to go a breeze. And, as you wander the stalls, don’t be surprised if you bump into your favorite local chefs, as many get creative inspiration from seeing what’s fresh.

If you would rather have a selection of local, farm fresh ingredients curated for you, investigate local CSAs. “CSA” stands for community supported agriculture. CSAs work by having people become members, which means you are purchasing a share of vegetables, meat, dairy and more from a farmer or collection of farmers for the growing season. As such, you receive a box with an assortment of their freshly harvested products on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. While requiring a summer-long membership of weekly pick-ups is standard, it’s well worth the commitment, not only for the quality of the food, but also for the adventurous ‘mystery box’ aspect to it.

Local Markets from Aspen to Glenwood Springs

  • Aspen Saturday Market. Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. – This market has been going strong since 1998. Every Saturday from mid-June to mid-October customers stroll the U-shaped market from Hopkins to Hunter to Hyman street shopping and catching up with friends, while enjoying live music. In addition to Colorado-grown produce, meats and cheeses, there’s Colorado-made bread, skin-care products, art and more. In fact, having a Colorado connection is a criterion for selling at the market, which does over a million dollars in sales during its 17-week run, according to Kathy Strickland, market manager.
  • Basalt Sunday Market, Sundays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. – The Basalt Sunday Market is part market, part casual community gathering held downtown on Midland Spur. You can purchase produce and meats from local farms like Rock Bottom Ranch, enjoy live music, grab a snack, and pick up one-of-a-kind offerings from local vendors. They even have arts and crafts for kids.
  • Carbondale Downtown Farmers’ Market, Wednesdays, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. – Get a burst of mid-week dinner inspiration at this eclectic market set up in the middle of downtown. With a focus on local farmers, producers and artisans, not only can you buy wonderful products, you’ll be supporting the community goal of sustainable business practices.
  • Glenwood’s Downtown Market, Tuesdays, 4–8 p.m. – Enjoy a different kind of happy hour at this lively evening market, located just off of Grand Avenue. In addition to being able to buy goods from local farmers and makers, you can pick up dinner and enjoy live music.
  • Glenwood Springs Saturday Famers Market, Saturdays, 8 a.m.–3 p.m. -Established in 1986, this market focuses primarily on fresh produce, although there are some crafts and prepared foods, and live music by the Farmhand String Band. It’s located at 14th and Grand Avenue.
AREA CSAs

In addition to going to your CSA to pick up your weekly share, some will deliver or have drop-off spots throughout the Valley. Be aware that offerings vary throughout the season. Check with the CSAs to inquire about membership availability.

Erin’s Acres

Snowmass, facebook.com/erinsacresfarm

Farm Runners Cooperative CSA

Hotchkiss, farmrunners.com/csa

Happy Belly CSA

Paonia, happybellycsa.com

Merrill’s Family Farm

Missouri Heights, merrillsfamilyfarm.com

Peach Valley CSA

Silt, peachvalleycsa.com

Roaring Gardens

Carbondale, roaringgardens.com

Sustainable Settings

Carbondale, sustainablesettings.org

Two Roots Farm

Carbondale, tworootsfarm.com

Zephyros Farm and Garden

Paonia, zephyrosfarmandgarden.com

Ashcroft’s Pine Creek Cookhouse

Chris Keating likes to tell the story of how he met Bill Greenwood.

The Pine Creek Cookhouse general manager was then working as the executive sous chef at The Little Nell hotel in Aspen when he received a phone call from a 17-year-old Greenwood who’d just moved to Vail.

“He said, ‘I don’t like Vail and I want to come work in Aspen,’” Keating said during a recent spring afternoon on the Cookhouse’s sun-drenched patio. “I said, ‘We have some positions available and if I was looking at you, it’d be different. But …”

Greenwood was standing in front of Keating the next morning at 8 a.m., and so began a years-long partnership that culminated with Greenwood serving as Keating’s chef de cuisine at the Hotel Jerome.

Now, the duo has again teamed up to put their stamp on yet another classic Aspen restaurant: the Pine Creek Cookhouse. And while Chef Greenwood may be in charge of the kitchen, Keating remains intimately involved in the menu offerings at one of the area’s oldest restaurants.

“We have this culinary tennis match,” Keating says of his relationship with Greenwood. “When we start talking about food, it’s like a volley that could go on forever.”

Pine Creek Cookhouse is a local treasure. Located about a mile beyond the ghost town of Ashcroft at the back of the Castle Creek Valley, the classic mountain lodge is a slice of high-country Colorado heaven. Open in both winter and summer, the Cookhouse has long-offered excellent, farm-to-table-style cuisine along with a hot or cold beverage with a view.

The Cookhouse’s latest lunch and dinner menus for this summer are par for the course. Keating and Greenwood continue to emphasize local ingredients like Colorado trout, locally-raised beef, elk and buffalo and produce from Roaring Fork Valley farms.

One of the best new offerings on both the lunch and dinner menus is the Pine Creek Smoked Trout Dip. The combination of mouth-watering smoky fish, crispy butter-herb bread crumbs and toasted crostini is a perfect way to start a classic Colorado meal.

Continuing the hearty Colorado theme, the Cookhouse’s signature sautéed Ruby Red Rainbow Trout is another can’t-miss choice. Served with pecan brown butter meunière, fresh summer green beans, pan-roasted marble potatoes and heirloom cherry tomatoes, the dish is the Rocky Mountain summer on a plate.

Pine Creek’s menu is also vegetarian-friendly, with offerings that include organic mushroom and spinach crepes and vegan spaghetti squash. The real star of the vegetarian menu is the vegan potato dumplings. Like gnocchi but a bit lighter, crispier and more delicate, the dish is served with roasted mushrooms, caramelized cipollini onions, grilled wild salsify and garlic, and is a spectacular home-run.

MORE INFO

Prices: Lunch appetizers, $9 to $26; lunch entrees: $18 to $51; dinner appetizers: $16 to $26; dinner entrees: $26 to $68

Ambience: Mountain lodge chic and exceptionally scenic with stunning mountain views from the patio.

Signature dishes: For dinner, sautéed Ruby Red Rainbow Trout, pan-roasted elk chop and classic buffalo tenderloin. For lunch: Kurt Russell’s Home Run Ranch beef patty melt, vegan potato dumplings and Rocky Mountain elk bratwurst.

Aspen Public House

Proprietor William Johnson and Executive Chef Nathaniel Putnam recently celebrated the first anniversary of the Aspen Public House at the Wheeler Opera House. In a nod to the last thirsty plus years of history, the neighborhood, “we’re glad you’re here” vibe now melds with a ‘spirited’ bar program, updated riffs on pub-food classics, and tall tables inside and out for observing the pedestrian mall and fountain.

“When we opened, it was important to brand ourselves as a gastro-pub,” says Johnson. “It allows us to have a more creative menu, giving the opportunity for us to have both a curry and a schnitzel on the same menu.”

We can’t speak for the schnitzel (next time!), but the Traditional Chicken Curry, served with coconut rice, is a plate of warm and spicy, comfort-food that’s sure to satisfy on our cool mountain evenings. While a deliciously juicy burger is still a cornerstone of the menu (as well as the righteous Public House Double Stack dinner option), they’ve branched out with more creative offerings. Melt-in-your mouth, house-cured Porchetta and house-made duck pastrami, duck confit, and duck liver pate are incorporated into the menu giving familiar dishes an elevated experience.

“We cook beak to feet as much as we can,” according to Johnson, who likes sourcing good ingredients to make good, creative food.  

The duck confit is offered as a stand-out entrée, served with mashed potatoes and a Bordeaux cherry jus, and also accompanies the Duck Poutine, for a perfectly decadent post-hike treat. The duck pastrami is the cornerstone of the Duck Reuben featuring classic Rueben flavors you know and love, with the added complexity of duck breast. Porchetta is a killer addition to Huevos Rancheros and Mr. Hollandaise’s Opus (aka eggs benedict) on the brunch menu, and in the Carbonara Americana and Porchetta Roll on the dinner menu.  

Chicken sandwiches have become a point of pride in town, and The Fried Chicken Sandwich at Aspen Public House is ready to give all others a run for their money. A crispy, southern fried chicken breast is served with house smoked bacon, gruyere, chimichurri aioli and caramelized onions on a brioche bun for a sandwich that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. It even comes with a side of fries. The gauntlet has been thrown.

Pair your meal with an offering from their extensive beer and wine lists, one of their three Mule varieties (we vote for the Mezcal Mule) or a wonderfully refreshing gin and vermouth based Cold Smoke with fresh lime, cucumber and mint.

Bamboo Bear

Dining out in Asia is an orchestral experience of tantalizing smells, exotic ingredients, intense flavors and controlled chaos, often conducted by the mom and pop who own and run the business. Luckily for those of us in Aspen, we can have a similar experience in our mountain hamlet. Tucked away on the east side of town, Bamboo Bear has become a culinary destination for those seeking the flavors of true Asian and Vietnamese food with its rich, fresh and crave-worthy flavors.

Now in their fourth summer, and with an expanded dining room, restaurateurs Vincent Bagford and his wife Xuan Ha, who met in Vietnam, have clearly filled a niche missing from Aspen’s food scene.

“I had a strong inclination this was something the Valley was yearning for,” said Bagford, who began to build a local following when he worked at Cliffhouse restaurant on Buttermilk.

Initially trained in Italian cooking, Bagford was attracted to Asian cuisine not just because of the way the dishes are prepared but also because much of the creativity lies in the sauces.

“This technique is what drew me to Asian food,” he said. “Vietnamese food is very sauce and condiment centric. It’s very feminine cuisine, complex but light and not to be underestimated, like a female.”

Ha grew up in Vietnam, and her family’s recipes feature prominently on Bamboo Bear’s menu.

“Every recipe has a story behind it, they are all influenced by family traditions and history,” says Ha. “Food brings people together, and it’s important to me that our flavors are authentic.”

Good pho is one of those magical dishes that nourishes you when you’re hungry, eases a hangover and warms you from the inside out on a cool evening. The soul-satisfying version served at Bamboo Bear is Grandpa Ha’s recipe, and, according to Ha, people would line up down the street when he opened his pho stand. Made with homemade bone broth and served in a bowl filled to the brim with rice noodles, fresh herbs and vegetables, you can order it with thinly sliced rare beef, tender brisket, a meatball or all three. They also offer chicken pho with ginger and fried garlic, and, for those who prefer vegetarian fare, there’s an option made with 100 percent vegetable broth.  

Passionate about quality, Bagford makes a weekly trek to Denver’s Asian market to source traditional ingredients for dishes like Com Tam (which requires a special “broke rice”) and their signature Crispy Chicken, get inspired and pick up the fresh, French-style baguettes used in their Banh Mi sandwiches, which are a lunch time favorite. The sandwich, every bite packed with melt-in-your-mouth grilled pork, crunchy house-pickled veggies and a savory dressing, is ideal grab-and-go fare for summer adventures. Don’t forget to get a drink to go with your meal—our favorite is their traditional iced coffee made with Vietnamese highland coffee, crushed ice and sweetened milk for a taste treat that will make your mouth sing.

MORE INFO

Prices Range: Appetizers, $5 to $12; salads and banh mi, $12 to $16; entrees, $12 to $18

Ambiance: Casual, walk-up ordering for carry-out or dining in at tables and counter seating.

Signature dishes: Banh mi (pork or chicken) on fresh Vietnamese baguette with marinated carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, house pickled jalapeños, green onions, mayo and soy sauce; rice noodle salad with fresh accoutrements and choice of protein; daily dumpling specials.

Park 90 + Chef Tom Coohill at the Chefs Club

Tom and Diane Coohill, owners of Coohills Restaurant in Denver, know how to throw a party. Luckily for Aspen, they’ve partnered with Park90 wine bar at the Regent Singapore for the summer residency at the Chefs Club. Now through September is your chance to experience this elevated pairing of French-influenced dishes and world class wines with on point hospitality. 

First the wine. With Curren Nelson as head sommelier, all wines will be available by both the glass and the bottle. The premise is to allow people to try wines without the pressure of committing to a bottle. However, you can’t go wrong. The “+” in the restaurant name, represents both the partnership and the fact that they are only selling wines with a rating of 90 or greater.

For the menu, Tom Coohill brings many of the things he’s known for in Denver, such as his crab cakes, charcuterie, local ingredients and French techniques, incorporating more shared boards and a dedicated bar menu in addition to the finer dining offerings.

“This space is smaller and more manageable than our restaurant in Denver, and the kitchen is the Rolls Royce of kitchens,” according to Coohill, who says he feels fortunate to have landed in Aspen for the season.

His Loup de Mer and Salmon Terrine is served cold with a shallot tarragon cream sauce. The light and refreshing dish tastes of the sea for a bright starter course. Each bite of the Roasted Guinea Hen was a tender mélange of roasted hen with crispy skin and porcini mushrooms, stuffed with truffle mousse and finished with a delightful madeira cream sauce. Coohill’s French training truly shines with his American Bouillabaisse. Lighter than a traditional bouillabaisse where stock is made from the entire fish, Coohill uses bones from white fish for a richly flavored broth that doesn’t overwhelm the other seafood in the dish. It’s accompanied by rouille (a garlic, saffron and potato mayonnaise) and crostini for an impressively delicious meal.

Save room for dessert, to share at the very least, and treat yourself to the impressively light Bread Pudding, made with house made brioche and vanilla custard, served with crème fraiche ice cream, caramel, almonds and fresh summer fruit. Asked what makes their residency unique, Diane Coohill said, “We’re hands on to operate this restaurant as a Colorado couple. We’re in Aspen for the summer.”

MORE INFO

Prices: Bar menu, $6 to $18; cheese/crudo/charcuterie, $9 to $20; small plates, $15 to $24; large plates, $28 to $56; desserts, $12 to $15

Ambience: Casual outside, upscale dining inside with big boards and salads for sharing.

Signature Dishes: American Bouillabaisse; blue crab cake with Dijon mustard, green onion and champagne nage; country pate with port shoulder inion, fine herbs, chicken liver, brandy and port; hamakua farms hearts of palm with gem lettuce, shallots, champagne citrus; vegan popsicle, watermelon, shaved cantaloupe, coconut, prosecco

Home Team BBQ

You can smell the tantalizing aroma of roasted meat before you even pull into the parking lot of Home Team BBQ. And, although the restaurant doesn’t celebrate the 3-year anniversary of their Aspen location—they are based out of South Carolina—until December, its mouth- watering food and casual atmosphere have made them a local mainstay. Everything, from the brisket, pulled pork and ribs to the chicken, sausage and turkey, is smoked on site with white oak. According to chef Kyle Wilkins, a defining characteristic South Carolina barbecue is that it’s cooked over low heat. Wilkins starts meats over a hot re to develop the smoke ring and distinctive bark. Then, to keep the finished product juicy, he transfers meat to a slow-cooking grill until they are ready. The results are enough to coax a vegetarian to the dark side, even though there are vegetarian options on the menu, including black bean tacos, deliciously innovative salads and even smoked salmon for pescatarian diners.

One thing not to miss is Fiery Ron’s Smoked Chicken Wings. These are not your standard, one- note wings. Dry rubbed, smoked, flash fried and served with Alabama White Sauce and the optional Death Relish, they are just the thing to wet your whistle for a beer or a frozen Game Changer (a slushy with a double rum punch).

Fiery Ron’s Smoked Chicken Wings served with a side of Death Relish (Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times)
hometeamBBQ-EAT-Summer2019-3

“These wings put us on the map,” says Wilkins.

Duke’s Real Mayonnaise, a Southern-staple, is the key ingredient in Alabama White Sauce, and helps give these wings their a tang that pairs well with the already smokey and sweet wings, caramelized by the dry-rub. Homemade sauces, salsas and relishes compliment the rich, smoky flavors of Wilkins’ BBQ.

BBQ Nachos with pulled pork (Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times)
hometeamBBQ-EAT-Summer2019-2

“Our nachos feature three salsas—pico de gallo, salsa verde and carrot-jalapeno— and are finished with chimichurri sauce for a bright finish,” according to Wilkins.

Likewise, the sweet heat and acidity of the jalapeño and carrot Death Relish are a tasty compliment to smoked meats. If you want to add a saucy touch to your dry-rubbed meats, you have six varieties of barbecue sauce to choose from, including mustard sauce, and vinegar sauce, plus the more familiar sweet and hot versions.

For a family-style cookout, grab one of the outside tables and order “The Board” for a complete dinner for four to six people, including wings, ribs, pulled pork, sausage and turkey, with three sides, bread and pickles. And if you can’t make it for lunch or dinner, they serve a full breakfast from Memorial Day to Labor Day and during the ski season, plus weekend-brunch year-round.

MORE INFO

Prices: Breakfast, $4 to $15.95; brunch, $10.95 to $17.95; snacks, $5.50 to $15.95; salads and sandwiches, $13.95 to $15.95; meats, $13.95 to $27.95

Ambience: Comfortably rustic setting with a view.

Signature Dishes: Huevos rancheros get the Home Team touch with pulled pork and flavorfully spicy carrot jalapeño salsa; smoked wings with Alabama white sauce (we recommend adding a side of death relish); the sliced brisket; chicken cracklings when available; fried ribs (deep fried single ribs, tossed in Alabama white sauce and served with death relish); baked queso with chorizo, poblanos, grilled corn and jalapenos; green salad (yes, at a BBQ restaurant) with greens, cabbage, shaved fennel, celery, chimichurri, jalapenos and a lemon vinaigrette; BBQ nachos served with your choice of protein or even chili, three salsas, guacamole, crema, chimichurri and plenty of cheese.

HOPS Culture

Local gastropub HOPS Culture has provided a staple of elevated comfort food combined with some of the choicest seating in Aspen. Located in the center of the pedestrian mall, a combination of outdoor patio space and a windowed bar near the entrance provide two sets of attractive options for grabbing a seat, depending on your preference.

Inside, the reason for the name HOPS Culture becomes apparent. With a row of taps and a full wall of refrigerated bottles, the selections are nearly endless, and any drink lover is able to while away a weekend on the beer alone.

The food choices are equally as hard to decide. The menu offers recognizable comfort eats with added elevations and just enough change to keep things interesting. Pub standards are at the forefront, like their “Royale with cheese,” a classic burger which includes fresh Colorado beef, or mac n’ cheese, which general manager John Hebson points out has been a staple of HOPS Culture since its inception. They’ve spent years tweaking and perfecting the simple dish. The current iteration keeps it to only a few ingredients, with creamy noodles being paired with crunchy green pepper and caramelized onions for sweetness.

However, recent restaurant addition and longtime-local chef Robbie Kostrba has taken it upon himself to update other aspects of the menu, adding in twists with local ingredients and an onsite herb garden. A prime example is their chicken n’ waffles. A soul food classic, Kostrba includes simple ingredients and adds in hot sauce. The small twist results in a masterful flavor meld, as fluffy waffles gain heat and crispy chicken absorbs the Vermont maple syrup.

For those tending towards healthier options, HOPS hits the spot as well. Making sure to have a number of vegetarian dishes, they include a variety of salads and an unexpected highlight in the superfood bowl. A trove of all things healthy and delicious, diced cucumber, almonds and edamame add crunch to the typical salad greens while beets and a citrus-honey vinaigrette keep it sweet.

Through it all, Kostrba and HOPS Culture are looking to improve and tweak their menu. “We’re moving forward with a lot of new things,” Hebson said. “We’re really excited with where we’re headed.” With brighter things on the horizon, HOPS already delivers variety and quality, making it the perfect place to spend an afternoon in the heart of Aspen.

Jimmy’s – An American Restaurant & Bar

The secret to the staying power of Jimmy’s American Restaurant — one of the longest running contemporary establishments in Aspen — is their ability to remain consistent yet change with the times. In business for 22 years, Jimmy’s is as relevant today as it was when it opened. That’s because the chef behind the menu, Mario Hernandez, makes sure it’s stacked with mainstays alongside new additions and new seasonal preparations.

Previously the chef at Jimmy’s Bodega, which closed last year, Hernandez has brought many of the seafood favorites to the Jimmy’s menu.

“We really made an effort to bring as much of Bodega as possible,” says Jessica Lischka, business partner and general manager at Jimmy’s. “Mario’s work with fish is amazing and super light.”

So now the tables have turned a bit for what Jimmy’s menu is known for. Yes, they still have mouth-watering steaks that they’ve been famous for for years, but fish is what’s for dinner these days in the Jimmy’s dining room. Try the oysters from Massachusetts, or the Alaskan crab legs. Maybe you are thinking about going bigger with the jumbo shrimp cocktail, the jumbo lump blue crab cocktail, or combine them in a seafood plateau.

On the entrée side of the menu, choose from the seared wild Alaskan king salmon, Bodega’s wild Alaskan halibut or salad nicoise with a 10 oz. lobster tail.

“I think our clients are really going to like that, especially sitting on the patio,” Lischka says.

Hernandez really nails it with his Rocky Mountain ruby red trout with an almond brown butter sauce, served with sautéed green beans and the most delightful (and addictive) creamy potato mousse that your palate will never forget.

“We just love Mario’s style,” Lischka says. “He has a very medeterrean style with a lot of flavor and fresh herbs.”

No where is that more evident than Jimmy’s famous lump blue crab cakes that are accompanied by a horseradish aioli, bacon, sweet drop peppers, fingerling potatoes and a sautéed slaw that adds the perfect crunch.

Classics like the baby lamb chops remain on the appetizer menu, as well as the popular Mad Dog salad. They’ve been complemented by newer dishes like the heirloom tomato and burrata salad — a fresh, light summer dish with arugula, watermelon, pickled red onions and green tomato croutons.

The Jimmy’s team loves to travel the world and get inspired. That global influence is reflected not only in the food offerings but also the cocktail menu, where 40 specialty drinks are available, including the refreshing Kayla’s Bees Knees, made of Barr Hill gin, honey, lemon and lavender bitters.

Lischka says the team thrives on creativity and finding the perfect epicurean pairing.

“I think our menu is at a different level now,” she says. “It’s much more modern.”

MORE INFO

Prices: Appetizers, $16 to $24; soups and salads, $14 to $18; sides, $10 to $16; entrees, $26 to $76.

Ambience: Upscale casual with a patio for summer.

Signature dishes: The 20-ounce prime Cowboy rib-eye served with a tasty salsa of heirloom tomatoes, avocado and pesto; Bodega’s roasted chicken with sautéed wild mushrooms and spinach, crispy fingerling potatoes and salsa verde; the Jimmy Mac, a crispy, gooey dish with bacon and jalapenos.

Jing

Jing owner Frank Lu travels to China two or three times a year to check out the newest culinary trends and import them back to Aspen.

“I want to see a lot of food,” said Lu, a native of Shanghai.

As evidence of his recent travels, Lu recently showed off his classic version of Peking Duck, one of the dishes on the menu of his longtime Asian-fusion restaurant on Main Street.

“Take a piece of (crispy duck) skin and dip it in the sugar,” Lu instructed, pointing to a tiny bowl of white sugar that was served along with the standard pancakes, scallions, cucumber and hoisin sauce “That’s the newest thing in China.”

The sugary-fatty-crispy flavor is unexpectedly delicious, reminiscent of brown-sugared bacon or other “meat candy” treats. The duck pancakes–or “tacos” as they’d be more apt to be called around here–follow it up with their own rich, classic Asian flavors.

Peking duck, however, is just one of many dishes on Jing’s large menu, which features dim sum, fresh oysters, caviar, sushi, small plates and numerous meat, seafood and vegetarian entrée options.

Without a doubt, one of the best of those options is the fresh whole fish of the day, which comes steamed with ginger soy or crispy with spicy ginger honey miso sauce. Lu recently showed off the crispy version prepared with Branzino, which he debones and filets before flash-frying. It is, in a word, spectacular. The wonderfully light, crispy sea bass pairs beautifully with the slightly spicy, sweet sauce in a winner of a dish that is a bit decadent and fun to share.

Sashimi-style Szechuan lobster lightly seared in seasame oil and served with ginger and scallions. (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times)
Jing-22

In addition to the regular menu, Lu is also offering a few specials at Jing this summer. Chief among them is the Szechuan lobster, which features a Maine lobster tail that is quickly blanched and sliced sashimi-style, then lightly seared in hot sesame oil. The tender lobster is served with ginger and scallions. 

Jumbo freshwater prawn in yellow curry coconut milk with fennel, garlic, ginger, butter and lemon (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times)
Jing-7

Small plate specials this summer will include a jumbo freshwater prawn served in a yellow curry coconut milk along with fennel, garlic, ginger, butter and lemon, as well as a fresh summer tomato stuffed with sautéed shitake, porcini and other mushrooms along with garlic, lemon and walnuts.

For a sushi roll special, Lu created a carb-free version made with strips of cucumber instead of rice and seaweed. The result is a fresh, light dish that pairs well with summer evenings and cold sake. 

MORE INFO

Price Range: $15-$100

Ambience: Upscale, casual

Signature dishes: Crispy whole Branzino, Peking Duck, sushi, dim sum and raw bar including oysters and caviar. 

Mi Chola

When you’re trying to get that right blend of authentic Mexican food, having the right, fresh ingredients is a big part. But who’s leading the kitchen has a major role. When Adam Malmgren and his partners came back to Aspen to open Mi Chola in 2016, they knew that carrying on the traditions set by the Cantina (which was in the space on Main and Mill streets for decades) would mean having a solid menu and a great atmosphere. After a brief stint with a classically trained chef, they knew something was a bit off. Enter their former co-worker and friend Rigo Vasquez. Raised in a small village outside of Guadalajara in western Mexico, chef Vasquez learned his way around the kitchen as a small boy.

“My biggest mentors are my grandmother and my mother. They were my inspiration to make all my things,” he said. “A lot my sauces come from my mother and grandmother.”

After stops cooking a few other styles, Vasquez is using all that history to create fresh dishes at the casual Mexican dining hot spot, which is a favorite of locals and those rolling through town.

“His passion for food creativity is so great,” said Malmgren, who worked at the Cantina for nine years and then returned three years ago to open Mi Chola. “Rigo is so creative and it’s so fun to have him in the kitchen.”

Everything is made fresh each day – “we order ingredients, not items” Malmgren says – and Vasquez enjoys the time over the flame and heat working to perfect his offerings.

The poblano pepper stuffed with a crazy-cheezy risotto topped with a dollop of roasted tomato-chile sauce (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times)
MiChola-25

Seafood molcajete is back this summer after being well-received in its winter debut. The sauce, which Vasquez said took a month to perfect and takes 3 hours each day to make, is a blend that brings together a variety of seafood and a bit of cheese. Scallops, mahi, two kinds of shrimp and crab meat are presented in the bowl carved from lava rock.

An intriguing addition to this summer’s menu is octopus tacos. And even Vasquez’s octopus prep is methodical.

Pulpo Tacos: a refreshing octopus taco that is new to the menu this summer (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times)
MiChola-15

After a good cleaning, he gently gives the octopus a massage and a few taps with a meat tenderizer. Then he dips it three times in warm water that’s flavored with limes, white wine, whole black pepper and bay leaves. He’ll submerge it in the water and cook on a hard boil for about 30 minutes, then lets it simmer at a very low boil for another 2 hours. Afterwards, it’s off to the grill with a special sauce made from three traditional peppers (Ancho, New Mexico pepper, chipotle pepper) and spicy honey he makes in-house. It’s served with cabbage, pineapple salsa and mango habanero sauce, and the topped with an avocado mousse.

“For us Latinos … the most important thing on the tacos is the salsa. If the salsas are good, you’ll have the best tacos in the world,” the chef says. “My mom says, when you make the tacos, you’ve got to make the salsas right, otherwise it won’t taste so good.”

MORE INFO

Prices: Brunch/lunch, $5 to $19; dinner appetizers, $5 to $14, dinner entrees, $13 to $27

Ambience: Casual and family with edgy decor and large patio for outdoor dining.

Signature Dishes: New on the menu for this summer, be sure to try the Ahi Volcano Bowl (like Mexican poke with fresh ahi, chipotle aioli, avocado and jalapeño rice), Pulpo Tacos (a refreshing octopus taco) and Bare Bones Guac where all the ingredients are brought to the table so you can make your own.