Food Matters: Reflections on missing new openings | AspenTimes.com

Food Matters: Reflections on missing new openings

by Amanda Rae

The “beef fat candle” at the new Velvet Buck restaurant, which opened last weekend at the St. Regis Aspen Resort along with the new Mountain Social lounge.

One might call fasting as a food writer a case of occupational neglect. But my avoidance of meals this weekend was not intentional. Instead, I missed out on one of the more exciting food weekends of the holiday season due to a freak bug that bit me Thursday night. Though I was unable to eat, I rehydrated, replenished nutrients, and got back to feeling more like a human being and less like a miserable sack of skin and bones at the Rescue Lounge, the IV clinic upstairs in the Aspen Grove Building (diagonal from our dearly departed bb's kitchen; see sidebar). Following that, I slipped into sloth mode and reflected on why the unintentional timeout was such a bummer: SO. MUCH. HAPPENED THIS WEEKEND! And a lot of it revolved around restaurants.

I heard plenty from folks on the front lines:

On Friday evening, Marble Distilling Co. held a soft opening for the second outpost of its popular Carbondale tasting room, right here in downtown at the Hyatt Grand Aspen on East Dean Street. (The original is at the headquarters and Distillery Inn on Main Street in Carbondale, one of the chicest boutique hotels anywhere in the valley, and the only inn in the world housed within a distillery.) The space formerly known as the Bison Bar has been remodeled extensively—dark wood and leather replaced with white marble, natch. In fact, the new white marble bar here at the Hyatt was cut from the same block of stone as the original bar in Carbondale.

My friend called from the party to report that the place looks stunning, even though the lounge furniture is still in transit "somewhere across the country," according to Marble head distiller and co-founder Connie Baker. True aficionados may notice the big wall of aging barrels; the in-house Aspen Barrel Club will allow folks to reserve their own barrel for private aging of Marble whiskey (and tasting along the way).

The Marble Bar will pour the distillery's award-winning, small-batch spirits (the only ones in the world filtered through world-famous marble stone, sourced from nearby Marble, Colorado), mix craft cocktails and serve small bites such as platters of meats from the third-generation Nieslanik family ranch in Carbondale and cheese from Colorado creameries. Keep ears open for word of a Marble Bar grand opening as soon as that furniture arrives (possibly this weekend). After that, the venue will be open daily 3 to 11 p.m.

Also this past weekend, Velvet Buck opened at the St. Regis Aspen Resort. Named for the soft fuzz on a buck's antlers during maturation, the restaurant has been revamped with an array of wood and leather in soft brown tones. (I did see the dining room last week, and it's another impressive transformation outfitted with various styles of seating, including a new bar, and a showpiece buffet table toward the back of the room.)

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Executive chef Eric Cousin and chef de cuisine Hunter Kepley's most talked-about dishes from the opening, I heard, were massive charcuterie boards, an eye-boggling array of desserts by pastry chef Carolina Polo, and the "beef-fat candle"—exactly what it sounds like—which drips and pools into a dish for scooping up with crusty bread from Paonia Bread Works. (It's pictured above.)

The Velvet Buck menu draws inspiration from "the roots of mountain living in the 1800s," and features all the meats and fish: beef, buffalo, lamb, salmon and striped bass—Colorado-sourced, of course. Just like that beef-fat candle, many items are sharable (bison tartare; duck cassoulet; prime bone-in ribeye for two). Vegetarians will enjoy a variety of dishes including winter salads and soups, house-made ricotta, blistered Colorado peppers and a showpiece entrée of roasted pumpkin stuffed with braised and roasted vegetables, orzo and local feta with red-wine vinaigrette and spiced pepitas. (If items such as tots and caviar or butternut tortellini sound familiar, it may be because Kepley is an Aspen Kitchen alum.)

Mountain Social, formerly the Shadow Mountain Lounge, has its own new menu from the Velvet Buck kitchen, and it got a facelift. I'm in love with the new turquoise jewel-toned velvet banquette seating. Very posh!

Another major remodel completed recently: Jing Restaurant. The dining room is a work of art; you may have noticed vibrant, multicolored lights emanating from behind the bar, visible from the front windows facing Main Street. To appreciate the full effect, however, you must venture inside. Apparently the entire restaurant was gutted and rebuilt, as well as the subterranean state-of-the-art kitchen. (One more reason to ignore misinformed online sites such as Yelp or eatAspen: Jing is not "closed." It's OPEN.)

Jing's revamped menu showcases many favorites familiar to fans of the 16-year-old family-operated eatery (Chinese, Thai, Japanese fusion fare), plus an expanded menu of sushi and cocktails. I'm particularly excited to discover what Jing will offer for its annual Chinese New Year blowout celebration (the holiday is Friday, Feb. 16), which is always raved about come midwinter.

Until now a well-kept secret, Bootsy Bellows will come out to play while the sun is still shining. The nightclub plans to launch an après-ski buffet of international cuisine (Korean, Mexican, Chinese, rumor has it) for folks wandering town after hitting Aspen Mountain. I've heard it may kick off as soon as this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 3:30 to 7 p.m.

Before my illness last week, I did pop into the new Silver City Saloon (formerly Whiskey Rush and The Regal before that) underground on Galena Street, which showed off its reconfigured space, including new furniture (tables and chairs on the dance floor may be cleared out during live music performances). Silver City opened with a menu of creative Aspen-inspired cocktails and sharable snacks, including one plate that is so simple it's already my late-night favorite: chewy, pillowy pretzel rolls by Louis Swiss Pastry with mustard dip.

I'm anxious to return and see how all of these new haunts evolve as the season progresses…now that I've refreshed my annual flu shot.

amandaraewashere@gmail.com

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After my recent experience with severe dehydration due to a nasty flu bug, I consider Rescue Lounge an Aspen savior. I arrived to the IV clinic and oxygen bar looking less than human, but nurse Kelli welcomed me inside anyway.

She gently pierced a vein and hooked me up to the Hydration Cocktail (a potent blend of B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and Vitamin C), increased to a full liter bag of saline solution and later pumped me with an added shot of glutathione. This antioxidant, she told me, would help detox my overtaxed liver. The IV fluid is cold—I had chills and body aches already, so perhaps it seemed cooler than normal—and the oxygen stream provided extra breeze, so nurse Kelli wrapped me in a fuzzy blanket while I curled up in the leather recliner and zoned out for an hour. (The standard half-liter bag requires just 30 minutes or so.)

A fellow patron ordered the standard IV cocktail to cure altitude sickness and a mild hangover—issues he deals with on every visit to Aspen, he remarked. (IV therapy is also thought to treat jet lag and overexertion; Rescue Lounge offers upgrade shots of amino acids for a fat-burning energy boost, and rents oxygen concentrator machines for use at home or in a hotel room, too.)

Most memorably, I felt coddled—owner Audra Quist even ushered me outside and into the building’s elevator, since I wasn’t confident that I could make it downstairs to meet my ride on my own. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

IF YOU GO

Rescue Lounge

525 E. Cooper Ave. #206 (upstairs)

970-456-9477

rescuelounge.com