These high-elevation Aspen eateries offer elevated cuisine
Elevated cuisine and high-elevation restaurants make for must-try mountain food.
It's a mellow Sunday evening, and the feeling is convivial at Social in the heart of Aspen, Colorado.
The talk is about how Gonzo, the documentary about the late Aspen local Hunter S. Thompson, was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and is so worth seeing, and about how the median price of a home in Aspen is now said to be $5.9 million. Astro, a friendly hunk of a French bulldog who belongs to somebody at the next table, keeps meandering over to socialize.
The aptly named Social, opened in late 2007, serves executive chef Drew Scott's creative menu of more than 40 delicate global tapas. Think of sipping a chic Monaco Martini with pomegranate vodka, then nibbling on bacon-wrapped dates with blue cheese, risotto cakes with American caviar and shitake mushrooms, scallops and brie, and seared yellowfin tuna with grilled pineapple. It's fun, it's light, it's fabulous. "Order a bunch of plates, and pass them around," says Scott, who recommends ordering three per person. The sharing, he says, "brings a social aspect."
Try these Social recipes:
• Bacon-wrapped dates with blue cheese
• Monaco martini
• Seared yellowfin tuna, grilled pineapple, whipped avocado
Scott's tapas, or small plates, are inspired by Spanish, French, and Asian cuisine, influences he picked up working at Napa's acclaimed French Laundry, San Francisco's Postrio, and Aspen's Syzygy. "Light cuisine is 'in' in Aspen now," Scott says. "There isn't a lot of heavy Rocky Mountain game cuisine anymore. We get a lot of California people here. They're pretty health-conscious and want to look good." The place and the food have to look good, too, and Social delivers.
Six89 in Carbondale
When he dines out, Scott is as likely as the next hip Aspenite to make a beeline for the inventive New American cuisine at Mark Fischer's much-lauded Six89, located a 40-minute drive west in an arts-and-crafts-style old Victorian in the Roaring Fork Valley town of Carbondale. In this small town, where horse stables are five minutes from Main Street, chef-owner Fischer says he can drive to the restaurant without going through a red light. "Traffic jams are defined by cattle drives — it's cool," Fischer says. "And we're able to source a lot more quality products locally." About 75 percent of his menu in the summer is from food grown or produced within 100 miles.
Try this Six89 recipe:
• Banana chocolate bread pudding
In this ranching-and-farming community that's giving way to ex-Aspenites, Six89 is helping to redefine grazing. Here, starter fare might be a soft-poached local farm egg with smoked trout and bacon hash or barbecue rabbit tostada, followed by the pan-roasted Black Angus filet with toasted-shallot Madeira reduction, creamed spinach, "Spuddies," and crisp onion straws. Splurge on the luscious chocolate banana bread pudding.
"Everyone is getting hip to the idea of what's local and seasonal. We've been doing it for 10 years," says Fischer, who did stints at San Francisco's Fog City Diner and Aspen's Caribou Club before opening Six89 a decade ago. His expertise has put Carbondale on the culinary map: Fischer also opened Phat Thai here a few years ago and then a former employee opened the wood-brick bistro Ella. What's next? "We're going to try to get more artisanal," says Fischer. "Instead of buying, I'd like to start making. We've been experimenting with charcuterie for about a year. It's a direction that makes sense — economically, agriculturally, and environmentally."
Photo by Beige Jones
Lynn Britt Cabin
If it's a killer view that you crave, try the Lynn Britt Cabin. Situated just outside Aspen midway up Snowmass Mountain at 9,200 feet, the restaurant takes its name from the hundred-year-old log cabin it calls home. And this is mountain home cooking: family-style fixings like the Perfect Tomato and Mozzarella Salad and fruit cobblers in summer; or the soup, salad, and quail or venison in winter.
"Comfortable Colorado cuisine" is what general manager Joseph Muñoz terms it. It comes in generous portions with live Western music in an ambience of old wood-plank flooring, exposed timbers, and furniture of hand-hewn tree branches. If taking a chairlift or the restaurant's Snowcat ATV up a mountain to a four-course meal served at long beer-hall-style tables among 60 or so diners drinking enough wine that they're stomping their feet and calling out song requests to a bluegrass band sounds like a blast, this is your kind of memorable experience.