Foodstuff: A review of French Alpine Bistro — Creperie du Village

Kimberly Nicoletti
An outdoor dining nook at French Alpine Bistro — Creperie du Village.
Kimberly Nicoletti

Hygge, gezelligheid, ikigai: These foreign words all point to concepts of coziness, wellbeing, friendliness and happiness. French Alpine Bistro – Creperie du Village prefers its own term, gemütlich, which translates to a feeling of warmth, friendliness and a sense of belonging — and it has plenty of it.

Austrian-born owner Karin Derly’s commitment to gemütlich becomes apparent the minute you walk downstairs to the charming hideaway. Colorful blooming flowers line your path to the outdoor dining area, where rustic barnwood tables and wooden backdrops are adorned with family heirlooms. Sophisticated red curtains make each dining nook feel private and cozy, while plush pillows on leather benches or comfortable chairs usher in an even greater sense of relaxation. The entire restaurant, indoors and out, truly feels like an authentic, welcoming alpine ski chalet. And, as the days and nights become chillier, heaters and custom embroidered fluffy throws keep diners warm.

French Alpine Bistro — Creperie du Village’s warm, fuzzy, custom blankets.
Kimberly Nicoletti

“Everything has a purpose and meaning, from the blankets to the winter uniforms — it’s all thoughtful,” said beverage director Maria Cardenas about the restaurant’s attention to detail.

While ambiance can go a long way in making a dining experience wonderful, it’s the cuisine, and overall atmosphere, of any restaurant that transforms a good experience into a spectacular one. French Alpine Bistro – Creperie du Village shines in all aspects: ambiance, food, drinks and service.

In 2017, the creperie shifted its focus to a French Alpine Bistro, which serves amazing crepes, but also offers signature dishes like French onion soup, escargots and steak tartare, in addition to must-have entrees like sea bass, wagyu burger, filet mignon, mussels and more.

It provides that quintessential alpine experience through cheese fondue (aka liquid Swiss gold) with melted gruyere, vacherin, Beaufort, Comté, white wine and a touch of Kirshwasser, served with warm bread and topped with freshly shaved truffles if you please.

French Alpine Bistro – Creperie du Village seamlessly ushers in the alpine experience, which fits perfectly in Aspen, with its mountain-inspired, fit-for-winter raclette, kaiser-schnitzel, a farmer’s market daily quiche chef special, caprese panini, and one of its newest dishes: a bratwurst and sauerkraut sandwich with carnalized onions served with homemade potato salad.

And then, of course, there are the classic, ratatouille and nirvana crepes, the latter of which is inspired by Chef Tata’s Thai heritage and includes chicken, red pepper, eggplant, squash, fresh basil and coconut milk in a Thai green curry crepe.

The sweet side of crepes are also still available, from the caramelized apples and vanilla bean ice cream to crepe Suzette, chocolate, Nutella and fruit crepes, and the owner’s favorite: Midnight in Paris, filled with vanilla crème brûlée custard and crispy caramel. Midnight in Paris marries the best of non-chocolate desserts: light, fluffy crepes meet delicious crème brûlée, topped to perfection with a crispy, sugary layer.

The owner’s (and many other’s) favorite: Midnight in Paris crepe.
Kimberly Nicoletti

The talented chefs can make everything, including crepes and bread to dip in the fondue, gluten free, and there are plenty of vegetarian options, including the salads, which stand out as some of the best in Aspen.

Flavors of the World blends red cabbage, shredded carrots, cucumber, radishes, chickpeas, sweet corn, beets, parsley, cilantro, feta and citrus honey-thyme vinaigrette into a fresh fiesta for your palate, while the salade de chèvre chaud combines butter lettuce with local goat cheese melted on a baguette with truffle honey, pear, walnut and Champagne vinaigrette. The light and slightly sweet dressing and pears add a crisp, refreshing contrast to the slightly heartier goat cheese and bread. Cardenas calls it “a chilly weather salad that feels like a hug but is still light,” and though I wouldn’t have considered describing a salad as a hug, when she mentioned it, I realized the restaurant’s whole experience embraces all the senses, from the décor and a carefully chosen playlist to cozy, tactile surroundings to the scrumptious aromas and tastes of the entrees.

Escargots sauteed with garlic butter, tomato concassé and Pastis; terrine de foie gras with cacao marbled Hudson Valley foie flavored with sauternes and served with toasted brioche and lingonberry compote; and charred Maine saffron sea scallops with roasted cherry tomatoes in a saffron lemon butter sauce with basil and micro greens are some of guests’ favorites, and it’s no wonder. While some foie gras can be a little too rich or overpowering, this melds flavors beautifully, resulting in a well-balanced delicacy. The sea scallops are literally the best I’ve ever tasted. Cooked to absolute perfection with a little crust on one side, the server could have blindfolded me and told me I was enjoying the finest sea bass.

Saffron sea scallops.
Kimberly Nicoletti

The cocktail menu and boutique wine list is just as impressive as the cuisine. A ladies’ favorite, the Pink Panther, fuses ultra-premium French vodka, Sicilian blood orange, mango and passion fruit with grapefruit vodka, cranberry, lemon juice and bubbles for a light, refreshing and — topped with a small pink flower — gorgeous drink.

The Pink Panther cocktail.
Kimberly Nicoletti

“People seem to love it no matter if it’s winter or summer,” Cardenas said about the cocktail, served in a martini glass, adding that the restaurant’s ambiance, particularly at night, “transports them somewhere else and inspires people to drink wine because of its European vibe. Many of them say they’ve never felt that transported, anywhere.”

Cardenas is about halfway through her effort to restyle the wine menu to better reflect the French Alpine bistro; she plans to complete the list this winter, though as she points out: wine lists are “a living thing; they’re ever-changing.”

“Alpine wines are so underrated, and they’re delicious and food-friendly and great values, as well,” she said, adding that she strives to bring more family-owned, women-owned and small vineyard wines to the table.

Another standout, which contributes to the overall pleasurable experience, isn’t obvious, but it affects everything: Although the restaurant industry always comes with its stresses and emergencies, the bistro’s sense of gemütlich extends behind the scenes. 

“It’s easy to work for the owner because she doesn’t put pressure on us. I’ve worked here for a year, and I’ve never felt pressure. We run a democratic kitchen where we have roles distributed,” Cardenas said, explaining how executive chef Tata is a great manager, supporting chef Bass in creative menu making and chef Miguel in ordering and inventory, which results in teamwork and harmony. “In kitchens, usually the executive chef does everything. Here, we have the lowest turnover of kitchens in town that I’ve seen. We’re like a family.”

All that translates to the exquisite and relaxing dining experience that Derly intended.

“I envisioned this as a place for people to create happy, lasting memories,” she said.

And, indeed, it does, for visitors worldwide, as well as locals.

Entrance to French Alpine Bistro — Creperie du Village.
Kimberly Nicoletti
From left, samples of terrine de foie gras, raclette and ratatouille (usually served in a crepe).
Kimberly Nicoletti