Aspen’s Creperie du Village fills an alpine niche
June 14, 2012
ASPEN – Raphael Derly knew mountain towns. Though he was born in Marseille and raised in Aix en Provence, the family had a chalet in the Swiss ski town of Villars-sur-Ollon dating back to his grandfather. Derly competed as a ski racer, which took him to ski resorts across the Alps. So when he first came in Aspen, in May 2006, things looked familiar: the still snow-capped mountains, the small scale of the buildings, the quietness of the spring off-season and the friendliness of the residents. Pleased with what he saw, Derly settled in at the Mountain Chalet, which was most reminiscent of the old European mountain lodges, got on his rented mountain bike, and went looking for a meal that would complete the picture.
Which is when his disappointment with Aspen – probably his only disappointment with the town – set in.
“I couldn’t find a mountain experience,” Derly, a brawny, dark, passionate 39-year-old recalled. “It’s a simple fact – Aspen is a magic town, a mountain town. The food is amazing, the people are great. But I was in search of the mountain restaurants. When my family went to Villars, I’d get excited because I knew one night we’d go to one of the alpine restaurants, with the wood, the smell of cheese, the raclette. But what you find in Aspen is what the tourists have in their home towns – sushi, French restaurants, Italian restaurants.”
Still, Derly liked Aspen enough that he decided to leave Los Angeles, where for more than 15 years he had run Pastis, a Provencal-type bistro frequented by Hollywood celebs looking for a hideaway, and then opened L’Absynthe, a tapas lounge with a happening late-night scene. After the proverbial one winter in Colorado, he returned to L.A. and found he was homesick for Aspen: “I was done with L.A., couldn’t stand it any more. I wanted to get back to my roots.”
With no Alpine-style restaurant to latch onto, Derly found the next best thing – Rustique, the French country bistro where Derly waited tables and helped run the wine service. And the thought stuck with him that Aspen was missing something essential.
“We needed the authenticity,” he said. “We need to give people something connected to the alpine experience. Something the tourists don’t have at home.” (Derly did eventually find Cloud 9, the alpine restaurant on Aspen Highlands mountain, open only during ski season.)
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Derly has added that missing ingredient to Aspen. In December he opened Creperie du Village, where the menu includes a Croque Madame, fondue and raclette, onion soup and crepes sweet and savory. He is about to add tartine, French open-faced tapas on country bread.
Beyond the menu, Derly captured the ambiance just right. The cozy downstairs space, anchored by a community table and loads of wood, is highly reminiscent of the standard alpine restaurant. The patio, though below street level and with no views to speak of, still captures a funky ski-town ambiance. And there are touches of pure Raphael that make the design unique, especially the quotes from Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. (Along one wall, from “I Could Have Lied”: “A mountain never seems to have/ The need to speak/ A look that shares so many seek.”)
“Every time we have people in the restaurant, they take pictures,” said Derly, who traces his visual gift to his mother, a noted interior designer.
Doing a mountain restaurant did not necessarily mean a menu dominated by crepes. Derly’s first idea was a wine-and-cheese bar, then he thought of a bistro. But he thought both concepts had been done. At last year’s Aspen Eco Fest, he manned a booth that sold crepes.
“We went to the moon. Sold like crazy,” he said. “And every mountain town in Europe has a creperie. Vail has one, Breckenridge has one. It’s really appropriate to the mountain spirit: apres-ski, you get a crepe.”
Probably the best indication that Creperie du Village fills the exact void that Derly was aiming for is the beverage of choice around the noon hour.
“Guests drink wine at lunch,” Derly said. Very European.