Foodstuff: Familiar flavors, lost and found in Snowmass
Alpin Room channels “Alps-inspired cuisine” from mid-mountain in Snowmass
A great deal already has been written about food as a vehicle for memory.
Nearly every writer with their salt and a fair count of peckish poets have already spent a substantial portion of ink on the flavors of the past and the bite that transported them back to what surely was a simpler time, or at least a sweeter one. The practice is ubiquitous because the experience is universal: Who among us hasn’t had a cookie that sent us in search of lost time?
I was hoping as much might happen when a dear friend joined me at the mid-mountain Alpin Room at Snowmass a few weeks ago, though not for my sake as much as his.
The fine dining restaurant located inside the High Alpine building had long been on my radar — it was positioned to open for the 2020-21 season before pandemic dining restrictions punted it to this year. But I figured that my minimal experience in Alsatian dining and childhood of grilled cheese sandwiches would bear little weight on a determination of whether its claim to “Alps-inspired cuisine” could hold a candle to the mountains of origin.
For that, I would need to call in an expert, or at least someone who has spent more than 18 hours ever awake in the Alps (a stretch during which half of my meals were crepes and the rest were made up a croissant, an apple and a baguette, on account of my limited college-student-abroad budget at the time).
Enter Alex, who among his many endearing quirks is the most earnestly nostalgic and enthusiastically half-Swiss man I have ever met.
I have never seen someone so chuffed to show off government-issued identification as Alex is to whip out his Swiss ID card, which he does with such gusto and frequency that he may well claim it as a hobby. He has also, on several occasions and without any particular prompting that I can recall, started reminiscing about bygone summers spent visiting his grandmother in Switzerland and lunching on some idyllic mountaintop after a tram and a hike.
So I saw it as a fine sign of familiar flavors found when our entrees arrived at the Alpin Room — a winter vegetable “baeckeoffe” for me, chicken schnitzel for him — and he noted offhand that the frisée salad that accompanied his dish reminded him of his grandmother’s cooking.
It may not have been the transcendent scene in “Ratatouille” when a food critic finds himself transported to his childhood with a single bite, but I took it as evidence enough that the brains behind this newest on-mountain venture from Aspen Skiing Co. had done their due diligence.
In an effort to assess just how Alps-inspired the Alpin Room was, we had decided to order dishes with names foreign enough to be hugged by quotes on the menu, hence my order of the “baeckeoffe” (a roasted-rich and hearty dish of mushrooms, brussels sprouts, acorn squash, potatoes, radishes and onions) and our choice of appetizer, a fondue-like “tartiflette” laced with potatoes and caramelized onions.
The strategy also deterred me from the comfort-food temptation of a tomato soup and gruyére grilled cheese listed among the lighter dishes.
This, of all things, just might have stirred my own sentiments on cheddar-and-wheat, but I remained set on more adventurous ordering. Besides, it surely would not have swayed Alex, who reports he consumed a “definitely below average” number of grilled cheese sandwiches while growing up in suburban Connecticut, on account of shelves stocked with “grainy whole wheat bread and, like, muenster” that he determined unfit for such a delectable.
On dessert, however, we reneged: punctuation would not preclude us from ending a meal with apple strudel, evidently a familiar enough dish to be listed without quotes on the menu.
The heart wants what it wants, and mine almost always wants warm fruit and flaky pastry, no matter the other options at hand or the consequences of returning to the base of the Alpine Springs chairlift via Tom’s Trace on a full stomach.
That too is probably a part of the Alps-inspired ethos, to ski sated and then some on more than just granola bars and pizza. But, still, Alex thought there seemed to be some hallmark missing from the on-mountain experience.
“What would really make it authentic is a Saint Bernard bringing you brandy in his collar” — that, or “some sort of alcohol that would warm me from the inside out,” he said. A steaming mug of gluhwein would just have to do.
Kaya Williams is a reporter for The Aspen Times and the Snowmass Sun who learned the hard way how it feels to ski moguls after a three-course meal. Email her at email@example.com.
“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.