Snowmass Village gets a bumper crop of new restaurants
Delayed openings and new arrivals yield at least five new venues in Snowmass Village
This story was originally published in the “Winter in Aspen & Snowmass 2022” magazine, which is free and on newsstands now around the Roaring Fork Valley as well as online at aspentimes.com/magazines.
For more than a year, local restaurateurs, hospitality groups and mainstays in the local dining world have been planting the seeds for several new eateries in Snowmass.
Kenichi, the long-standing sushi restaurant in downtown Aspen, was slated to open a Snowmass location this summer, but a longer-than-expected redesign postponed the opening.
Aurum Aspen Snowmass also was poised for a summer 2021 debut at the base of Fanny Hill but ran into some construction hurdles, as well.
And Alpin Room, the on-mountain, fine-dining sibling of the cafeteria-style High Alpine, was just about ready to open its doors when COVID-19 restrictions put a damper on indoor dining and the opening got pushed to this season.
Delays then make for abundance now, with a bumper crop of new restaurants across the village’s hubs this winter.
Those familiar with Kenichi in Aspen (or its sister restaurant, Izakaya, in Carbondale) can expect a similar elevated Japanese cuisine experience — including classic menu items like torched salmon and yellowtail serrano sashimi specials — in a new location in Base Village, according to Brent Reed, owner of Kenichi Restaurants.
Chef Justin Lightsey, owner of Kenichi Restaurants, who previously worked at Kenichi Kona in Hawaii and Izakaya in Carbondale, leads the Snowmass team.
What guests won’t see is a familiar restaurant layout, since the space has been completely overhauled. Reed teamed up with local architect Jason Lasser to develop a design that is “amazing, timeless and Japanese influenced” while maximizing seating. An interpretation of a torii gate — typically used to mark the entrance to shrines in Japan — is part of that design.
“The idea is that gathering places are sacred and (you’re) getting food and nourishment, and so you’re kind of going through these gates, and you should feel that you’re in a beautiful, comfortable place that you can get nourishment and conversation,” Reed said.
Kenichi officially opened Dec. 14.
Aurum Aspen Snowmass
Destination Hospitality, which already operates one restaurant in Breckenridge and three in Steamboat Springs, has been waiting years for the right time and space to open a restaurant in Base Village. It finally got the chance with Aurum Aspen Snowmass, which debuted Dec. 16.
“Opening a restaurant never gets easier,” said Phillips Armstrong, founder of Destination Hospitality Restaurant Group. “You could open 100 restaurants, and restaurant number 101 would still be as strenuous and as stressful as number one. It takes a lot of time and a lot of people and a lot of coordination.”
But that coordination is coming to fruition in the space formerly occupied by the Village Tasting Room pop-up and, before that, the chophouse State 38. The space will be “unrecognizable” to folks who have dined there before; expect an open, convivial atmosphere throughout, Armstrong said.
“We really wanted to start completely fresh,” he said.
When it comes to the cuisine, expect lots of familiar flavors from such menu items as Parker House rolls, house-made pasta and chocolate chip cookies. Also keep an eye out for shareables like bang island mussels and mixed-game chili.
Alan Whitehouse is the chef de cuisine on-site, with Brian Duncan as the regional chef overseeing multiple properties, including other Aurum locations in Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs.
After a four-decade run as the independently-owned Gwyn’s High Alpine, Aspen Skiing Co. took over dining operations at the on-mountain venue with cafeteria-style options at High Alpine. Now it also provides swankier offerings at Alpin Room, slated to open later this month near the top of the Alpine Springs chairlift in the same building that houses High Alpine.
The fine-dining option is a go this year after a one-year pandemic delay, according to Skico culinary director Jim Butchart, who collaborated on the concept with Andrew Helsey, the executive chef for Skico’s on-mountain dining division.
Skiers and snowboarders can dig into hearty, elevated dishes like tartiflette (a fondue-like dish of potatoes and cheese), chicken schnitzel and Choucroute garnie (an Alsatian dish of sauerkraut and sausages), in addition to vegan offerings.
“This idea — to come in on a cold snowy day to our version of what you would see if you were skiing in the Alps — is kind of what we’re after there,” Butchart said.
Expect more stick-to-the-ribs hearty offerings off-mountain at Last Chair, a new restaurant inside the remodeled Wildwood hotel near the Snowmass Mall.
The venture — along with Stark’s Alpine Grill, located in the Viewline Hotel — is the product of a partnership between Davidson Hospitality, which oversees the Wildwood and the Viewline, and Ring on Hook, a hospitality collective that helped develop the concepts for both restaurants. Chef Cyndi Crosbie is the executive chef for both Last Chair and Stark’s Alpine Grill.
The casual eatery dishes out items like an “off the charts” truffle grilled cheese and crispy chicken sandwiches, plus other “handheld and bowl-style” dishes, said Greg Griffie, the senior vice president of Davidson Restaurant Group.
Stark’s Alpine Grill
Davidson Hospitality and Ring on Hook went for a more supper-club-style experience at Stark’s Alpine Grill, located inside Viewline Resort Snowmass, right off of Fanny Hill.
In addition to an elevated dinner menu featuring steaks, seafood and the like, Stark’s offers a full-service breakfast and lunch menu.
“There is a dramatic turn for dinner, with a much more intimate lighting, uniform change and a formal dinner service,” Griffie said. “(It provides) approachable but well-executed items for families or special occasion nights.”
Griffie hopes it will be a location primed for locals and visitors alike; it’s more elevated than Last Chair, but “pretentious” isn’t a word Griffie would use to describe the experience. The goal is “really (tapping) in to the community, as well as the resort guests,” he said.
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