Aspen Times Weekly: Hot ticket at La Crêperie
IF YOU GO ...
Chef’s Table at the Bar:
7 Seats, 7 Plates
Aug. 25 & 27 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $125 (includes wine and cocktail pairings)
La Crêperie du Village
400 E. Hopkins Ave.
TICKETS TO DINNER? The concept might be difficult to catch on across a little place called Aspen, yet it’s working at La Crêperie du Village. On Tuesday and Thursday every other week, executive chef Andreas Neufeld presents a special tasting menu of seven small courses — but only for seven lucky diners who reserve their spot in advance. That’s how many bar seats face the tiny open kitchen here in the subterranean European haunt on Restaurant Row.
“It’s one seating, one show,” says Neufeld, who has commanded the 45-seat Alpine French bistro for the past two years with owners Raphael Derly and Karin Schwendtner. The prix-fixe menu of petite dishes, available only at these bar seats and paired with wine or a specialty cocktail per plate, fashions what Neufeld calls a “reverse bar menu.”
“Usually a bar menu is lower in price, simple, more affordable,” he says. “This is more a chef’s table at the bar — you sit right in the kitchen. And Raphael always thought of doing a wine tasting. It showcases what we can do in the Crêperie beyond the crêpes, fondue, and raclette. There’s so much more.”
Last Tuesday was Taste of Spain, featuring classic dishes inspired by Neufeld’s travels to San Sebastián and Barcelona. The first plate was a surprise in itself: five tapas-style amuse-bouches, including a shotglass of chilled pea soup with a steamed clam and basil oil; chorizo Iberico with sweet onions and apple cider; and small bites on toasted country bread meant to mimic Spanish fondue, including a twist on pan tomate with melted Manchego and another crostini with a bloomy rind sheep’s milk cheese, microgreens, and sliced pear.
Next up, Neufeld deconstructed gazpacho into a colorful mosaic of cubed heirloom tomato, watermelon, and cucumber arranged on a plate with mâche salad with paper-thin slices of cured lomo Serrano de Lomo and champagne vinaigrette. To drink: “Spanish Summer in a Glass,” or crisp watermelon sangria with orange and blueberries.
For nearly three hours, we perched on our stools overlooking the kitchen and watched Neufeld and sous chef Miguel Sanchez send out dish after dish: piquillo chile pepper rellenos stuffed with shrimp, bacon, and cheese and served with Romesco and parsley oil (alongside old-vine verdejo, a crisp Spanish white wine similar to sauvignon blanc); a cocktail glass of ajo blanco, chilled white soup made primarily of slow-roasted garlic, almonds, bread, and good Spanish olive oil, topped with sliced red grapes, lima beans, more almonds, and basil oil. Miniature cast-iron skillets contained petite portions of saffron paella Valencia, each topped carefully with one mussel, one clam, one shrimp, one piece of chorizo, and two pieces of crispy-skin chicken each, accompanied by dry, effervescent rosé.
As with all of his dishes, Neufeld’s pimento-spiced pork loin was arranged in a miniature artistic tableau, decorated with apple-citrus salsa, charred spring onions, and candied chestnuts. (The perfect pairing: Tempranillo, natch.)
“It’s fun to be able to be creative in the kitchen, (but) to execute 30 tasting dinners in one night, I just don’t have the room to plate,” Neufeld explains of the 100-square-foot open kitchen. “Seven people, that’s as many plates as I can do at one time. It’s very limited, but special.”
Accommodating only seven seats and selling tickets in advance also safeguards against no-shows. As a recent article — “Dinner: The Toughest Ticket in Town” — in GQ magazine explains, certain restaurants, particularly in big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, can lose thousands of dollars per year on missed reservations. In creating a purchase-in-advance system, restaurants are also creating demand.
“I tried to get to Tickets in Barcelona, but it was impossible: six weeks booked out, no chance,” Neufeld says of the famed 80-seat restaurant opened in 2011 by brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià in the city’s theater district, which uses that model. The result: creative freedom for chefs and a fresh opportunity for diners to enjoy food as an overtly cultural experience.
“Tapas at the Crêperie doesn’t happen every day,” Neufeld says. “It’s a lot of extra work that we put on ourselves voluntarily, and time-consuming. I have a good kitchen crew and they have to work a little harder, but I have the support of my sous chef Miguel. It’s fun to do that as a team.”
At the first two tastings, Neufeld played around with other personal influences. Taste of South Tyrol (Alto Adige) showcased the flavors of northern Italy, where Austrian-native Neufeld cooked for five years. Diners enjoyed flavors of Mediterranean, Alpine, and Austrian cuisines via smoked trout rillettes, white asparagus soup with speck croutons, lobster risotto, and braised veal cheeks with parsnip purée and schupfnudeln, a gnocchi-like German noodle. Neufeld’s playful “Vitello Tonnato” took a traditional dish — veal scallopine smothered with a tuna-flavored sauce — and turned it into a trompe l’oeil combination of thinly-pounded veal wrapped around sushi-grade ahi tuna alongside saffron-caper aioli. Lemon granita with prosecco and mint served as a bright palate cleanser between courses.
For dessert, Neufeld prepared traditional sweet Austrian dumplings stuffed with apricots and strawberries, rolled in cinnamon sugar crumbs, and served with beurre noisette and white peach-raspberry coulis.
“I’m not restrained,” Neufeld says, adding that the opportunity as a chef to have free rein is energizing and challenging. “‘If you can pull it off, you can do it too,” he recalls Derly telling him. “In Aspen it’s easy to fall into complacency.” That’s true for chefs and diners alike, of course.
The next chef’s table menu — on August 25 and 27 — will feature flavors grown downvalley in Palisade and Paonia. Produce is at peak season, a plethora of Colorado-raised proteins are available, and Neufeld will likely encounter some tough decisions: Choosing which ones will decorate those seven dishes.
Amanda Rae feels lucky to celebrate her birthday on Tuesday with a seven-course tasting. Hooray! email@example.com
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April has been decreed, for the first time, as “Sonoma County Wine Month” by the vintners and it is a righteous idea, one that should have legs long into the future.