Food Matters: L’Hostaria Speaks the Language of Locals
IF YOU GO ...
CRMS Benefit Dinner
620 E. Hyman Ave.
Hearty laughter, excited chatter, and an endless jingle of clinking glasses comprise the soundtrack in the dining room at L’Hostaria on any given night. Tonight, however, is an extra-special occasion for everyone here. Along one wall, Aspen freeskier and Olympian Alex Ferreira is surrounded by about 20 close pals and mom, Colleen, to celebrate his silver-medal win in the Pyeongchang halfpipe. The group is all smiles and high fives.
In the opposite corner, Piedmontese winemaker Enzo Boglietti pours ruby-red Barolo for his wife, Mirella, and a handful of restaurant staff and friends. Boglietti makes an annual Aspen sojourn every March; last year’s occurred during the same week that the Italian men’s ski team flooded into this very space during the World Cup Finals.
“Let’s give applause to people who do good in this world,” Tiziano Gortan tells me, by way of explaining his restaurant’s endless good vibes. The energy of fruitful work—in sport, craft, and hospitality—is in high supply tonight. After all, inviting folks to share good times over food and drink and join a close-knit tribe is what drives Gortan, who founded L’Hostaria—“The Host”—almost 22 years ago, in November 1996.
“We had one goal in mind: to reach out to the community and create an atmosphere,” Gortan says. “All these years, I feel very pleased that we did so many great events. It’s important to give back. You need to celebrate with your real people.”
Boglietti has been a close friend and mentor for the past 15 years, since Gortan visited the family vineyards in La Morra, about 30 miles southeast of Turin. He was but a stranger back then.
“I walked into his winery with a friend and he was really a host,” Gortan marvels. “It was spontaneous; he was smiling and happy. I got a good feeling—this is how I want to offer myself to (Aspen).”
Safe to say he’s successful. As one of the oldest restaurants in Aspen, L’Hostaria is a cherished gathering place for locals. Vacationers return regularly, some once per year for two decades. Newcomers might understand the attraction upon first entering the cozy foyer to a rousing greeting from manager Fabrizio Brovelli or Gortan himself. Most staff have been here for years. It’s just a place where faces are familiar.
Ambience aside, the bar boasts one of the more moderately priced menus, showcasing Northern Italian specialties (salads and antipasti, handmade pastas, braised meats and polenta); friendly bartenders ensure wineglasses stay full. The 40 seats in the bar area are some of the most coveted in town, enhanced by sounds from live musicians tucked in the corner on Tuesday evenings.
“Sometimes I see the bar menu and I hope people aren’t bored,” Gortan says. True, classic Bolognese over spinach fettucine, rich spaghetti carbonara, crispy chicken Milanese, and the grilled steak with mushrooms and mashers will always be available. Yet there is certain comfort in these plates.
“People come back because they want the same dish,” Gortan admits. “It’s food for every day.”
Chef Ruben Bonomi has led the L’Hostaria kitchen for two decades. His meal for Boglietti followed a four-course, prix-fixe menu accompanied by four wines chosen by sommelier Carlos Valenzuela, offered to the public the night before. Valenzuela leads wine dinners frequently throughout the year, often in support of local nonprofits selected by Gortan, such as JAS Aspen’s youth music programs and the Wildwood School. (Next up: a benefit for Colorado Rocky Mountain School on April 14.)
The night of Boglietti’s honorary visit, diners feasted on braised baby octopus in red wine; grilled polenta made with cornmeal from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation in Montezuma; gnocchi bathed in brown butter with smoked ricotta; braised wagyu beef; and grilled buffalo skewers. Afterward, guests nibbled from a simple platter of toasted Piedmont hazelnuts and imported Castelmagno blue cheese, an ancient wheel made in Italy since 1277, now thanks to a cooperative of farmers and producers.
“Enzo is a part of that co-op,” Valenzuela explains. “They work with local dairy farms and make this cheese exclusive to the region. It’s very unique: sharp, not super stinky but a more intense, crumbly version of Parmesan.”
Valenzuela—a longtime scholar of Italian wines and steward of L’Hostaria’s extensive list that spans the country’s diverse regions—also enjoys sharing another Piedmontese import: wine-washed Ubriacone, known as “drunken cheese.” Wine dinners offer him the chance to break out small surprises.
“It’s always fun, they bring good bottles,” Valenzuela says of Boglietti’s annual visit, a L’Hostaria tradition of eight years. (The restaurant pours an extensive list of Enzo Boglietti wines year round.) It’s when friends visit that Gortan is clearly in his element.
“When someone comes to Aspen, to the restaurant, and gets a feeling for the community, hopefully they see us having fun,” Gortan says later. “When Enzo was here I was working five hours every night but I had so much energy. We drink together, taste together, we hike, hot springs, bike. He’s like my older brother, really. When you care about somebody and you’re able to share these things that are deep for yourself, it’s so important.”
This past November, Gortan renewed L’Hostaria’s lease for 12 more years.
“We are secure, we live in a beautiful place, and we support the community,” Gortan says. “Aspen is not made from the billionaires. All these little shops, restaurants, events, nonprofits—we are the people who keep Aspen alive. Aspen is us.”
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“We believe in the power of women, so we turned to what we know, winemaking, and tried to make our own small contribution to the discussion,” co-owner of Ponzi Vineyards Anna Maria said. “We had to do something.”