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Living large in Aspen at no charge

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen is the land of plenty where many locals live a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget, and when you’re a media type, one does not go hungry.Over the past three months, there have been several invites to staffers at The Aspen Times by local restaurateurs hoping to get some press in exchange for sampling their new menus and imbibing on whatever their “mixologists” have concocted. There have been even more free-for-alls offered to those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.While some invites were deliberate public relations moves, others were impromptu free samplings that were simply smart plays by the eateries to draw a crowd, initiate some word-of-mouth on the street and work out the kinks in the kitchen.Whatever the reason, thousands of dollars worth of food and drink have been given away since the ski season started.One Sunday evening in December, Walt Harris, proprietor of Syzygy and Ute City on Hopkins Avenue, invited people off the street for a free menu sampling. Also that month, Boogie’s Diner over the course of three days offered free breakfast to the general public in advance of launching their new morning menu.”We did it as a promotion and to get our kitchen in the swing of things,” said Boogie’s Diner General Manager Madison Burke. “We wanted to get the word out there and get the staff ready.”Although I wasn’t invited, Kenichi had two nights of free dinners in December for those lucky enough to taste the new menu and check out the newly remodeled digs. I baby-sat for a couple who went. I had a lovely artichoke dip from Costco while they dined on scallops that were apparently “off the charts.”During the soft openings of Kenichi and Il Mulino, the New York-based Italian restaurant, both establishments surveyed their patrons with questionnaires after their meals, asking them to rank service, quality of food and other aspects of the operation so improvements could be made. The latest free session open to the public was at Aspen’s Blue Sky Cafe, which was held Jan. 22 at the new bar and restaurant at the Aspen Business Center. Locals gathered there for free drinks, calamari, burgers, pulled-pork sandwiches, pot stickers and empanadas.

My gastrointestinal free ride began in October when a PR firm representing Il Mulino left me a voice-mail asking me if I’d like to have lunch AND dinner at the new Aspen location in the Residences at the Little Nell.I immediately returned the call and made reservations for four people for lunch and dinner. Of course, everything tastes better when it’s free, and since it was, you’re not going to read too many complaints here. I mean this is, after all, a PR piece.But I will say this: Il Mulino is not a place for a person who doesn’t have deep pockets and a lot of time. It’s quite expensive, and at least during the soft opening, it took a very long time to get our food. But when it did come, most items were worth the wait.The highlight was the Osso Buco – a double-cut veal shank in a red sauce with rich porcini mushrooms and saffron risotto. The lunch favorite was definitely the mushroom ravioli or the risotto. And, Il Mulino serves by far the best chocolate cake in town.I’d give you more to salivate over but Il Mulino’s website has yet to include the Aspen menu so I can’t refer to all the varieties of dishes we consumed in October. But it’s worth checking out the restaurant – if not for just the free eggplant spread you can get by ordering a drink at the slopeside deck from your friendly bartender, Todd.Moving on down the list is the Viceroy Hotel in Snowmass, which catered to the press by hosting a media day in November that was complete with breakfast, lunch, aprs and dinner. We also were given a tour of the new hotel and all of its amenities.I had the pleasure of eating at lunch, aprs appetizers and dinner at the hotel’s Eight K restaurant. I’ve got to say that there wasn’t one dish or “Eight K vice” (freshly made cocktails) that wasn’t delicious. But again, the service and the timing of the kitchen needed the kinks worked out.For aprs, any of the following are worth ordering: yellowtail sashimi, wok-charred edamame, mom’s meatballs, or lollipop chicken wings. Of course, dinner topped it all: hazelnut-crusted diver scallops, roasted Colorado rack of lamb and a fantastic mac and cheese.There is the gnocchi mac and cheese at the Sky Hotel’s 39 Degrees that is completely different but every bit as good as the one at the Viceroy. A handful of local press and some writers from the Front Range attended a media day shortly before Christmas at 39 Degrees to learn more of what chef Shawn Lawrence and mixologist Denis Cote are serving up this season. Sky Hotel General Manager Corey Enloe said for the past three years the restaurant and bar has hosted a media day mostly for out-of-town journalists and magazine writers. This year, they included local press.”The point is to get you, the media, on our side and think of us first,” Enloe said. “The press are the people who have the most impact on our guests.”The message delivered and received was that Lawrence’s approach to finger food is creative, unique and surprisingly amazing. Several dishes were paired with cocktails designed by Cote.The favorites among the group? The soft pretzel sticks (with cheddar cheese fondue and coarse ground mustard); the root chip nachos (sweet potato chips, blue cheese fondue, bacon, scallions and diced tomatoes); the Fig & the Pig (toasted French bread, figs, onion jam, sliced prossciutto, brie, aged balsamic and extra virgin olive oil) and the meatball sliders, which are giant balls of natural pork and beef smothered in marinara sauce and served with haystack onion rings.”Gonzo” Mirich, owner of the Hunter Bar, recently offered to the public a menu sampling and free drinks to promote his new kitchen creations. He cross-promoted with Aspen medical marijuana dispensary L.E.A.F., whose proprietors were on hand to get the word out about their business.The Ritz-Carlton Club at Highlands held a media day on Dec. 12, the day the mountain opened. I didn’t attend but I sure wish I had. To show off the remodeled Elkhorn Lodge Residence and the revamped menu at Willow Creek restaurant, members of the media in the valley and from the Front Range were treated to a luncheon, which included pulled-pork sandwiches from a roasted pig on the outdoor deck, as well as cocktails served from the new ice bar.

“The intent is to always educate on what we have new,” said Beverley David, director of marketing at the Ritz-Carlton Destination Club, adding a tour of the facility was part of the day’s activities. “It was a good opportunity to get people out there to see what we have done … we didn’t say you have to absolutely write about it but it gives people something to see visually.”Maureen Poschman, president of Promo Communications, a local PR firm, said one of the reasons for the abundance of these types of events is because there is a lot of establishments that have recently opened or have reinvented themselves, which is a positive sign in these harsh economic times.”We’re blessed that so much is opening,” she said. “When we give journalists the list of all that is happening they are blown away.” Poschman said perhaps business owners are marketing more aggressively because of the economic downturn. And, the printed word is still more powerful than advertising or social media efforts, she added.”Editorial has incredible power,” Poschman said. “As someone who’s in PR, traditional media has a huge impact … it tells a story, and people react to storytelling.”End of story. Hungry? csack@aspentimes.com


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