PARC Aspen aims to fill a void amid local restaurant scene
Curating a home away from home dining experience for locals – and locals at heart
Aspen Times Weekly
Not since Tiziano Gortan’s beloved L’Hostaria celebrated its final evening in Aspen last November has a restaurant opening been as anticipated as Maryanne and Harley Sefton’s new PARC Aspen in the coveted Hyman Avenue space.
“We’d been eyeing a location on Wagner Park in town,” notes Maryanne by way of explaining the new restaurant’s name. “But, when that fell through and the L’Hostaria space became available, we just really jumped on it — for the beautiful success it had before, its quieter location at the other end of restaurant row, and across from the Aspen Art Museum — and for the easy parking. It was total good energy.”
Noting the loss of other longstanding Aspen restaurants of late (Jimmy’s and Pinons, in particular), many of which have been replaced by those that are part of national hospitality groups rather than locally-owned, Maryanne credits pure gumption for jumping into the restaurant game.
“The spirit of hospitality is ingrained in us. The door of our home is always open, and there’s always food on the stove,” she explains. “Plus, we’re smart business people and totally dedicated. We knew we could bring back the charm of walking into someplace that was only in Aspen and nowhere else.”
Soon enough, the wheels began to turn. With team-building a priority, especially in light of ongoing labor shortages in the Roaring Fork Valley, emphasis was placed on not only filling roles and initiating training, but also ensuring that both mental and physical health was supported.
“We spent a lot of time bonding, offered 10 days of hands-on training and emphasized working as a team before we even started talking about the restaurant and what we were serving,” says Maryanne. “It was important to get that going.”
Last February, with the renovation of the former L’Hostaria space turning out to be more involved than expected, Ryan Doremus and his team at Thunderbowl Architects in town were brought on to assist.
“It was in such bad shape after so many years of constant use and quick fixes that it needed to be fully gutted,” he says. “We had to revamp and upgrade all the heating and cooling, for instance, with new technology and needed to start from scratch for what’s now a near Michelin-star caliber kitchen. Maryanne and Harley were active, hands-on clients.”
At the same time, San Diego-based residential designer Joan O’Haver was enlisted to bring the concept of a modern French farmhouse to life.
“Maryanne and Harley were clients for years before they moved to Aspen,” she says. “I knew their aesthetic, and that they wanted the restaurant to be comfortable enough to feel like someone’s home — to be classic and not date out.”
Fast forward to May. With the physical restaurant space in the works, the Seftons began sending out invitations to “Test Kitchens” at their home to those involved in Aspen’s restaurant community — past and present — as well as local food writers and savvy diners. Conceived, prepared, and served by PARC Aspen’s newly-formed team of chefs, somms, and managers, including former L’Hostaria Wine Director Carlos Valenzuela as assistant general manager, the experience ultimately helped fine tune service and define the restaurant’s current menu.
Last Wednesday night, a group of eager locals — most with culinary connections to town and all long-time fans of L’Hostaria — gathered for a sneak peek at PARC Aspen and a soft-opening meal. Among them was Tiziano and his wife, Enrica.
“I was impressed,” he says. “Maryanne’s priority is to be a local place with support from her staff and to bring something unique to the community. There is a feeling of L’Hostaria but with a more modern vision. They’re on a good path.”
At the official opening night last Friday, the atmosphere was vibrant. To the left of the entry (note the custom-carved sign by local artist Lauren Poppie), the new mirrored bar area (complete with a 20-foot-long quartz-topped bar) is abuzz with an energy that prompted a long-time, but now former, local restaurant owner to enthuse, “This place will be packed from open to close every night.”
To the right, the main “finer” dining room’s modern French farmhouse feel is warm and inviting. Below a newly-elevated, wood-beamed ceiling that greatly opens up the interior, banquette seating is upholstered with the softest gray-blue, hard-to-believe-it’s-faux leather. Murals of mountainscapes and vineyards by local artist Dean Bowlby adorn the walls. Modern club chairs surround freestanding tables.
Open to the dining room, but easily closed off as needed, a private dining room offers seating for 12 at a rustic white oak-topped table. Like the restaurant’s international wine list (Check out the ample Champagne and magnum entries among the restaurant’s 1,300 selections), the 1,000–bottle wine wall is curated by Wine & Beverage Director Greg Van Wagner, previously wine director at Jimmy’s.
Once the inevitable — and joyful — hobnobbing is done with friends and acquaintances, you’ll surely meet at the bar, on the way to your table, or seated next to you; menus touting Executive Chef Mark Connell’s local-ingredient-forward dishes command full attention.
Describing his cuisine, Connell, who came most recently by way of The Snow Lodge and Casa D’Angelo in town, says, “It’s like if you’re in your grandmother’s house and she happened to have a Cryovac machine and a thermal circulator. You can really stick a fork into it, but it’s creative as well.”
Some early highlights include an oyster mushroom and creamy-crispy polenta appetizer, the highlight of which is a “63º egg” that, slowly poached in its shell, is rendered silky and custard-like in the dish; braised coq au vin with oyster mushrooms and spruce-scented carrots; and Colorado “hybrid” striped bass with leek fondue and cauliflower couscous.
Top it all off with “Pastry Queen” Mili Miceli’s deconstructed “torched” lemon meringue or apple crostada with cinnamon ice cream and apple caramel. Then, toting a de rigueur PARC Aspen to-go bag, take your time heading for the door, stopping here and there, of course, to bid adieu to old — and new — local friends.