Opened on Restaurant Row in 2000, Rustique Bistro celebrates its 18th season in Aspen this year with the completion of a subtle, sleek makeover. The restaurant’s country-French aesthetic has been polished without scrubbing away charm: Gone are the distressed-wood storm shutters, opening up westward views from picture windows in the 80-seat dining room. Oiled white-oak walls and exposed wooden tabletops replace terracotta and tablecloths, joining new leather banquette seating and stools in the bar with seating for another 22 — intimate nooks preserved in both areas.
Happily, diners will find all of Rustique’s beloved menu items, plus a few winter updates and additions.
“We’re keeping the classics, but adding simpler, lighter-style dishes,” says founder and owner Rob Ittner. He doesn’t mean salad, but entrées including fluffy sweet-potato gnocchi with pulled confit duck leg and butter-orange gastrique and the revered coq au vin over buttered noodles, which moves from an offseason-only special to the main menu year-round. Ittner’s favorite short-rib risotto at the bar makes the same leap to the dinner menu. (Lunch, by the way, returns in summer.)
Bestsellers — Ruby trout with Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes, and beurre blanc sauce; pot au feu braised beef with vegetables and horseradish sauce — are cooked simply by executive chef Robbie Kostrba, who joined Rustique this spring after a stint at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Las Vegas. His seasonal salmon dish echoes a version years ago: seared and served over a bed of rustic-cut ratatouille alongside a swoop of vinegary Béarnaise sauce. Kostrba’s new duck breast entrée is cooked sous vide, skin seared to a crisp, and served over parsnip-Granny Smith apple purée with watercress, crunchy tobacco shallots, and orange demi-glace.
Some of the more difficult seats to nab in town are found at Rustique’s curved, 10-seat bar, where locals come for the French onion soup-inspired burger with deeply caramelized onions, Gruyère cheese, and aioli; award-winning truffled-mushroom mac and cheese; steak au poivre; and happy hour discounts beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Francophiles will enjoy European charcuterie and cheese boards; a robust 350-bottle list of primarily French and eclectic American wines; and sweet specials nightly by pastry chef Oscar Rivas. Downstairs, a private wine cave seats parties up to 30; Rustique also caters its longstanding brand of familiar comfort for up to 220 guests offsite.