New York Italian eatery Nello and other restaurants to open for winter season |

New York Italian eatery Nello and other restaurants to open for winter season

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times



A cooking school will open inside the 3,000 sq. foot space below Rustique Bistro sometime in February.

In addition to chef-led cooking classes paired with wine, the school will host special events, including farm-to-table dinners and “theme night dinners,” said owner Rob Ittner.

The space will also be available for private events such as weddings, rehearsal dinners, and corporate events.

“I think it’s going to create a lot of passion and inspiration around culinary arts in Aspen,” Ittner said.


A new restaurant called The Monarch opens at the end of the month in the space where Brexi Brasserie operated.

The upscale steakhouse will replace the French restaurant under the same management, CP Restaurant Group, which also runs The Wild Fig, Steak House No. 316, and CP Burger.

The Monarch will have “a very regal, European feel to it – kind of like a London gentleman’s club,” CP Restaurant Group co-founder Samantha Pearce said.


Local restaurant and farm shop Meat & Cheese expects to complete its 200+ square foot marketplace expansion by mid to late December, said Avalanche Cheese Director of Operations Brennan Buckley, who works closely with Meat & Cheese restaurant.

Downstairs, Meat & Cheese is also opening a cocktail lounge, called “Hooch,” sometime after the New Year, Buckley said.

The expanded market area will include a cold case of fish for purchase, and Hooch will serve drinks, desserts, and a limited menu prepared by Meat & Cheese chefs.

The notorious Nello Balan, owner of the posh Upper East Side Italian eatery Nello, is bringing pasta, wine and a nonstop party to town.

“Not that Aspen people don’t know how to party,” Balan said. “I think they can teach the New Yorkers.”

Balan plans to open Nello Alpine at the base of Aspen Mountain on Wednesday where Zenos most recently operated.

Throughout his near three-decade career, Balan has opened restaurants in cities such as London, Saint-Tropez, France, Monte Carlo, Monaco, and in his home country of Romania.

“When I go to a restaurant, I like to feel like I’m at a party and not just there to eat,” Balan said. “I want the restaurant to be a party all the time.”

While the party may still be present, Balan said the Aspen establishment will differ from his other restaurants, including the original Nello.

Along with Nello Alpine’s outdoor patio, bar menu and apres ski menu, all of which his other Nello restaurant lack, Balan said his alpine menu will offer less pricey items “so that locals can afford to eat here.”

Balan said Nello Alpine will cater to Aspen visitors and locals alike, and that he is willing and able to adjust to the local environment.

“I want that everybody can afford to come to Nello,” Balan said.

Indeed, this would be a difference of night and day from Balan’s Manhattan restaurant, where New York Times columnist David Segal reported his three-person bill — sans liquor — costing $400.

In his Sunday column, “The Haggler, Segal said the Nello lunch special he ordered, pasta with truffle sauce, was $275.

Segal’s column is merely a glimpse of the negative attention Nello has received over the years.

From elite food critics’ scathing reviews to dissatisfied customer feedback on sites such as UrbanSpoon and Yelp, Balan is no stranger to controversy.

He is, however, unphased by it.

“When you see a restaurant full for 25 years, you start wondering what kind of food critics or reviews it is,” Balan said. “I mean, how do you explain it?”

Nello has been one of the most successful restaurants in terms of its square footage and money, Balan said.

“In life, you cannot please everybody. I wish I could, but I don’t think anybody can please everybody,” Balan said. “But we try to do the best every day.”

Balan also said he thinks Aspen’s laid-back, relaxed attitude will create a very different atmosphere than at his other restaurants.

“New York is too stressful. So, somebody has a bad day, and they write a bad review,” Balan said.

“In Aspen, people are kind. They stop by, they say hello to you, and in five minutes, you’re friends, sharing a gondola up the mountain,” he said.

The restaurateur said he fell in love with Aspen during his first trip to town 20 years ago, and he has visited on and off ever since.

“The nature is amazing. The town is magical. It’s like a fairy tale,” Balan said.

Balan said he is excited to spend more time in town and with his daughter and business partner, Lucy, who plans to soon move her family to Aspen.

Despite a revolving door of restaurants at the Ajax plaza space within the past few years, Balan is confident that Nello Alpine will beat the odds.

Another well-known New York based Italian eatery, Il Mulino, was one of these former tenants.

“I am superior to Il Mulino, first of all,” Balan said. “There is no such thing as Mr. Il Mulino. But there is Nello.”

Balan said he doesn’t think Il Mulino understood Aspen and was too corporate.

From preparing food back in the kitchen to greeting customers at the door, Balan said his management style is hands-on from A to Z.

“That’s just what I do,” Balan said. “Because I love, love what I do.”

Balan said his grandfather — a winemaker, food connoisseur and the main figure in Balan’s life — influenced both his culinary passion and business endeavors.