Food & Wine: Fresh restaurants set the table for dining in Aspen
To list every restaurant opening since Food & Wine was last in town in September may seem like an overwhelming task.
But I’m about to have my second cup of coffee, which should grant me enough grit to give it a try.
I’ve counted more than half a dozen new restaurants — a slew of big-city imports, ski-town staples and even some locally owned ventures (yes, those do still exist) — among the comings of the last nine or so months, with a bit of wiggle room to account for early and late arrivals.
Oh, and also: me, the Aspen Times Weekly’s newest food columnist with a mushy affection for old cookbooks and nostalgic menus.
I started writing the weekly column in November, but I’d like to think my immersion into Andrew Zimmern’s seminar on time-traveling recipes at last year’s Food & Wine was a harbinger of many an earnest column to come. My affinity for familiarity has often pointed me toward Aspen’s restaurant past, but my perch on the byline of “Foodstuff” has given me a pretty clear view (and a great seat at the table) for our dining present, too.
Aspen’s hottest venture may well be Chica Aspen, if not for the buzzy atmosphere then for the fact that food often arrives at the table in varying states of about-to-be-ignited, literally-on-fire and still-smoking. One dessert, a golden, sugary “Flaming Skull,” is set alight tableside to reveal the lava cake underneath; the al pastor ribs arrive in a cloud of smoke.
But the menu at Chica Aspen — the third iteration, following Chicas in Las Vegas and Miami — isn’t only about the heat. Celebrity chef Lorena Garcia considers Chica a “celebration” of Latin American cuisine that she has infused with heart in offerings like a Meyer lemon chicken from her home kitchen and empanadas inspired by her grandmother’s.
Speaking of heart: over at Catch Steak Aspen, corporate chef Michael Vignola said earlier this year that he was a firm believer in the idea of inherently romantic foods. On his list were potatoes and eggs, which you can find gussied up steakhouse-style at Catch Steak Aspen as crispy potato croquettes with creme fraiche and Osetra caviar.
The menu at this enterprise on East Hopkins Avenue — part of Catch Hospitality Group, which also has ventures in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Playa del Carmen, Mexico — features an abundance of options for the carnivorous among us; some seafood, and a plant-based “chicken” parm, offer less beefy fare.
Aspen’s buzziest openings follow the rule of threes (or perhaps the rule of “C’s”) with the debut of Casa d’Angelo, another big-city import with three other locations in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Aventura, Florida.
Chef Angelo Elia’s menu embraces classic Italian fare with antipasti, pastas and “carne e pesci” in abundance; here in Aspen, where he said the area and its food culture remind him of Europe (and especially Italy), inspiration abounds, too.
SKI TOWN STAPLES
Those who deign to drive past the roundabout (egads!) are apt to find flavors just as rich and vibrant with deep mountain roots in Snowmass Village, where two of the latest debuts in Base Village are already ski-town staples and new openings up by the Snowmass Mall embrace the alpine spirit.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time before Kenichi made its way to Snowmass — the “matter” in this case being three decades as a stalwart sushi spot in Aspen first.
Kenichi owner Brent Reed, who also operates Izakaya in Carbondale, brings signature Kenichi specialties like yellowtail and otoro serrano sashimi and the popular “Dynamo” rolls to the menu in Base Village. The new space is designed to inspire an appreciation for the cuisine and cultivate “the sense of coming into something sacred,” Reed said.
Just around the corner, Aurum Snowmass brings hearty, wholesome New American fare to a casual space at the base of the Village Express chairlift.
Happy hour is the cornerstone of the menu here, just as it is at other Aurum locations in Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge, with a menu of “snacks” like a French onion burger and crispy curried cauliflower that could just as well constitute a whole meal. The rest of the offerings are substantial and stick-to-the ribs, too: think mixed game chili, Rocky Mountain trout, short ribs and steak.
Stark’s Alpine Grill, located inside the recently-revamped-and-renamed Viewline Resort on the Snowmass Mall, veers toward the classic side with its American fare offerings: “Steaks and Chops,” plus homemade pastas and other entrees, anchor the roster here.
Its opening is one of several that rolled out with the new hotel digs at the Viewline and neighboring Wildwood hotel.
The Lobby Bar, located in the lobby of the Viewline, offers easy bites like charcuterie boards and sliders alongside a list of swanky sips. And Last Chair, a cozy retro beer hall inside the Wildwood, makes comfort food classics like burgers, chicken sandwiches, cobb salads and ice cream sundaes the star of the show at this locals-oriented joint.
PARC Aspen, a new farm-to-table venture, is slated to fill the space previously occupied by the beloved L’Hostaria that closed last November.
The new restaurant’s mission statement? “Bringing local back to Aspen, one curated dish at a time.”
Owners Maryanna and Harley Sefton have deep roots in the valley — they’ve been coming to Aspen for 25 years and have been full-time residents since 2018 — and executive chef Mark Connell joins the team after stints at the Snow Lodge and Casa D’Angelo.
PARC Aspen will offer different menus at the bar, contemporary finer dining room and an experiential 12-person private dining space, with price points to match. The restaurant is slated to open later this summer.