Food Matters: 12 tasty tidbits at the new W Aspen
Stepping into the W Aspen is like being swept up in an avalanche of déjà-vu.
The swirling, topographical-print carpet, glossy wood paneling, mélange of fabrics and textures and sparkling metallic accents hark back to the Sky Hotel’s decidedly retro vibe. Yet the totally rebuilt, rebranded Marriott International property—a massive project more than five years in the making, two-and-a-half in construction—is a modern design masterwork that feels breathtakingly brand new.
As impressive as the dazzling décor (silver nugget DJ booth! Stairwell street art!) and edgy amenities (“Love Kit” for amorous escapades) are executive chef Jackie Siao’s plans for playful, creative cuisine. Siao will serve cosmopolitan fare in three distinct venues: the Living Room, with dining area, bar and outdoor terrace; 39°, a cushy, nighttime cocktail “grotto” tucked into a semi-sunken site where the Sky lounge of the same name was located; and the Wet Deck, an 8,000-square- foot rooftop patio tricked out with heated pool, hot tub, bar, cabanas and stunning 360-degree views of Aspen Mountain and environs.
I skipped away from an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour thinking that the W Aspen is a bundle of dynamite sure to blow up our après-ski scene like a powder bomb. At last, it opens to the public on Thursday, Aug. 29. A few enticing highlights among Siao’s ambitious program of party fuel:
FIFTEEN PIECES INTERNATIONAL FLAIR—MINIMUM
Siao’s overall culinary theme is “globally inspired, locally sourced.” Evidence: coconut-kaffir lime-lemongrass green curry meatballs; chicken tikka masala brochettes with cilantro-lime-cumin yogurt; edamame tossed in ginger shoyu with crispy garlic, ginger and a touch of candied orange zest; charred mirin-yuzu prawns with grilled shishito peppers and cucumber pickles; jalapeño salt-and-vinegar rubbed chicken wings; barbecue-dusted chicharróns with ranch dip. Lunch and dinner entrées include the K Bowl (kalbi Korean barbecue short ribs, sticky rice, kimchi, wilted spinach) and the J Bowl (lump crabmeat, ebi shrimp, tuna, sticky rice, sauces, wakame seaweed)—“like a poke bowl on steroids,” Siao quips.
Sticky buns, cider doughnuts and muffin tops, oh my! “Our continental isn’t exactly a continental—it’s sharable, like an appetizer section, to start the day while socializing before going skiing,” Siao explains. Expect staples—eggs, bacon, potatoes—plus nontraditional offerings by way of a build-your-own hash bowl menu. Plus: coconut milk chia seed porridge. “The W brand is all about being healthy and at the same time indulging—detox to retox,” Siao adds.
TWO BIG BURGERS…AND SHORT-RIB GRILLED CHEESE
Siao’s Vapor Burger is a double patty with braised short ribs, double cheese, fried onion straws, and bacon. The Fancy Pantsy Burger, only at the Wet Deck, is a wagyu beef patty dosed with liquid Crescenza Brie and Gouda cheeses, maple-pepper bacon, and truffled Béarnaise sauce. Both are stabbed, heart-attack style, with a steak knife. Meanwhile, Siao’s short-rib grilled cheese on house-made sourdough is filled with American, cheddar, and caramelized onion spread, then encrusted on its exterior with extra cheese.
‘THE PINK PLATE’
“It’s a mix of everything you crave…a remake of a ‘Garbage Plate’ out of Rochester (N.Y.),” explains Siao of her nightly special announced via DJ at 10 p.m. in the 39° bar and lounge. “I want to do a huge Bavarian pretzel, and in the middle of the holes are a bunch of different dips. Maybe it’s ribs. Maybe it’s a total garbage plate of sausage gravy, chili cheese fries, nachos. And it’s literally on a pink plate.”
THE GONDOLA: SEMI-PRIVATE DINING
Silly hats, surprise boxes, dice games, and physical challenges (pour wine for your group) rule this area of the Living Room, which may be reserved for semi-private dining. Siao practiced the concept last year at the Lodge at Spruce Peak in Stowe, Vermont: “Everyone got into it. We had the silly hats—Viking hats, hotdog hats, cows. There’s interaction among the guests and with staff. It’s a night they won’t forget.”
‘ANGELS VS. DEVILS’ CHEESE DELIVERY
“I’m really excited about the cheese program: cold/room temperature cheeses versus hot cheeses,” Siao shares. “You don’t see that (combination) a lot. During après, this mobile cart with different cheeses from around the world will go from Living Room to 39° to Wet Deck.”
HOT-BOX SPECIAL OF THE DAY
A Traeger wood-pellet smoker grill on the Living Room terrace (former site of Sky Hotel’s pool) will send barbecue scents wafting through the hotel’s accordian glass doors. Servers will mention the day’s “hot-box special,” be it hickory-smoked pork shoulder, baby-back ribs or elk-jalapeno sausage sandwiches, the latter prepared with custom links crafted by Colorado Meat Company in Avon.
‘B VS. F’ BATTLES
Beverage versus Food: Sommelier LeeAnn Kaufman and chef Siao, who worked together at Chefs Club at the St. Regis Aspen Resort, will go head-to-head in a friendly three-course, four-course, or “all-out war” competition, leaving guests to choose who wins each round. “The food is going to be great,” Siao declares. “What makes the experience better is (our) interaction with guests, making it fun.”
DIM SUM CARTS + ACTION STATIONS
Call it instant gratification in the Instagram age: wheeled trays of “playful, snacky” food will traverse the 39° nighttime cocktail lounge. On busy Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights, guests might find a sushi bar, poke bowl station, or raw bar set up. “You can come up and talk to the chefs and see them making your food,” Siao says. “That makes people curious.”
COCKTAIL-SIZED POOL COASTERS
Inflatable flamingo and ducky drink-holders to match adult-size loungers on the Wet Deck—’nuff said!
‘AN ICE CREAM COOKIE SANDWICH THE SIZE OF YOUR FACE’
Siao makes just three frozen dessert sammies per sheet tray, each pressing together homemade salted caramel, chocolate or vanilla ice cream with classic candy. “I did it at the Lodge at Spruce Peak at Stowe,” Siao recalls. “Then we removed it, and there was an all-out riot.”
A GROWN-UP ROOT BEER FLOAT
Served in a beer mug with a shot of Bailey’s, the W Aspen’s buzzy root beer float pays homage to Mr. J. Willard Marriott himself—who launched his empire in 1927 with a nine-seat root beer float stand that mushroomed into a restaurant chain, motor lodges, and now luxury hotels and residences around the world.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.