The first course just might be the best
November 28, 2005
Choices, choices, choices. With so many extraordinary dining options in Aspen, odds are youll be trying your hand at more than one restaurant this winter. Youve narrowed it down to cuisine style Italian, French, Latin or American; location downtown Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale or off the beaten path; and price outrageous, affordable or on the cheap. Youre on your way the perfect spot. Now, what to eat? One of the best ways to sample everything Aspen dining has, is to try it all or at least give it a good college try. Our suggestion: a sample of starters. Order a handful of small plates for your party and nibble the night away. While there are some classic mainstay starters such as the brie and mango quesadilla at Blue Maize, the antipasta plate at LHostaria or the truffle fries at Ajax Tavern, there are others out there that deserve a round or two of tasting. Here weve narrowed down the choices for you:At Genre (316 E. Hopkins Ave., Aspen) there are two starters that must be ordered. The restaurants Tuna Tartare ($12) is a dichotomy of tastes: hot and cool, sweet and spicy, textured and smooth. Everything you could want in one dish. Genres chef Chris Summers starts with fresh tuna coiled by a fresh slice of English cucumber. Atop the generous mound of fish is Indonesian sweet soy, sesame seeds, green onions, fried wonton crisps and Genres own wasabi-infused tobiko (caviar). The edge of the plate is sprinkled with sweet soy and basil oil. Too daring for you? A close second on Genres appetizing appetizer menu is the warm tomato tart. Soft and sweet, this tart features mascarpone cheese and parmesan clouds. It is so scrumptious, in fact, you wont want to share. New to Genres starter menu this winter is the quintessential French dish: escargot. We cant wait to see how theyll have it prepared.Just across the street from Genre on Hopkins Avenue (aka Restaurant Row) is Jimmys American Restaurant and Bar. Dependable is a great way to describe Jimmys menu. While there isnt much innovation year after year, theres no need to fix something that isnt broken. Be sure to get a table and the bar and load up with the following: Hot Artichoke & Spinach Au Gratin dip ($8), Chesapeake Bay Jumbo Lump Blue Crab cakes ($13.50), and the gooey goodness of Jimmys Mac & Cheese ($5). With these three apps, your stomach is sure to be full and ready to kick back a few of the restaurants legendary margaritas. At the 39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel (709 E. Durant Ave., Aspen), the atmosphere is made for nibbling with friends. Curl yourself up on one of its couches (my favorite spot is right in front of the fire on a snowy day) and dig into the gingered-beef lettuce wraps with mango and hot pepper slaw ($12), or rock shrimp spring rolls with soy vinaigrette, carrots and edemame ($10).For a taste of Italy, Gusto Ristorante (415 E. Main St., Aspen) pleases our palates at both lunch and dinner. I return frequently for Gustos healthy and tasty Calamari alla Ciociara. This combination of perfectly prepared grilled calamari and chorizo sausage tossed with fresh arugula and grilled tomato ($15) is both smoky and tart. Be sure to squeeze the accompanying lemon for a fresh taste. This dish is great as a low-carb entree, but tastes even better when shared with friends.Sticking with the fish theme are Eight Well-Dressed Oysters with champagne mignonette and a cucumber-tomato relish ($16) at The Dogwood Grill (305 Gold Rivers Court, No. 1408) in Basalt. What began as a Southern-inspired American restaurant has recently changed its focus and dug its heals into the broader American palate. Surviving the change is its oysters and its grilled Caesar salad with crispy okra and artisan blue cheese ($10).Last, but certainly not least, is a wide selection of small plates from Chef Mark Fishers Phat Thai (343 Main St., Carbondale). A leader in the small-plate style of dining, Phat Thai begs for taste experimentation. Fischers gringo interpretation of Thai food combines spicy, sour, salty and sweet tastes, and focuses on foods like lemongrass, garlic, ginger and chilies. Grazing and sharing are requisite elements of the Phat Thai experience, so if you leave this restaurant without trying at least a dozen things on the menu, youve done yourself a disservice. Give the green papaya salad or shaved rare beef with chilies a try. Prices for small plates range from $7 to $15.