A handful of new restaurants are opening in Aspen and Snowmass this winter, but many more have revamped menus, new chefs, or other important culinary changes. Here’s your guide to the current dining scene, just in time for holiday sampling.
Two of Aspen’s finest Italian restaurants have been replaced with … Italian restaurants. Zeno Aspen opened this week in the slopeside Residences at Little Nell space formerly occupied by Il Mulino. Named after famed Italian ski racer Zeno Colo (who dominated the 1950 World Championships in Aspen), the eatery is said to be more casual and friendly to locals than its predecessor, a high-end chain based in New York. Zeno Aspen is owned by Marco Cingolani, the chef at Justice Snow’s and formerly The Cheese Shop.
On the other edge of downtown, Gisella restaurant on Main Street has been made over into Acquolina Trattoria and Pizzeria. Along with an interior remodel, the menu has been revamped to include all the menu favorites from Gisella and Gusto before it. Ownership has remained in the Giordani family, and the executive chef is still Filiberto Paglia, who originally came to Aspen from his native Abruzzo to open Campo de Fiori. Striving to provide an authentic Italian experience with an all Italian wine list, Acquolina has so far received excellent reviews.
It’s more nightclub than restaurant, but Hollywood hot spot Bootsy Bellows opens an offshoot location on Restaurant Row just in time for the holidays. Offering a menu by chef Nick Melbourne, the “speakeasy lounge” replaces Syzygy (one of the longest-running restaurants in town) in the basement of the building that also houses the Ute City Grill. And its boasting a big New Year’s party with actor David Arquette, who is apparently part of the ownership group.
Chair 9 is the name of the new bar in The Little Nell Hotel, a casual apres-ski bar replacing the Terrace Bar. The name is a play on the number of chairlifts on Aspen Mountain — eight — with Chair 9 symbolizing a place to rest and imbibe after a hard day’s skiing. Chair 9 promises an approachable food menu; affordable beer, wine, and “retro” cocktails; and daily live music or DJs.
Speaking of The Little Nell, it has a new executive chef — sort of. Bryan Moscatello, a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef of 2003 who has worked at a variety of acclaimed restaurants, has returned to the position he held for most of the 1990s. In overseeing Element 47, Ajax Tavern, Chair 9, and the Sundeck, Moscatello brings to the Little Nell his style of alpine mountain cuisine, and will continue the farm-to-table ethos and emphasis on local products that it’s known for.
BB’s Kitchen on Cooper Ave. (now called just BB’s) has totally shifted its focus this winter. Owner Bruce Berger and executive chef Katie Lorenzen-Smith have introduced a globally-inspired small plates menu, along with some of traditional entrees — and they’re serving dinner only. The idea is to offer a unique dining experience around shared plates and a huge variety of ingredients, influences and flavors. And it works — you won’t want to miss some of the most creative and tasty cuisine in Aspen.
Several Aspen restaurants have new seasonal menus. At the Hotel Jerome, Executive Chef Rob Zack is refining the menu at Prospect, which, in just its second winter in operation (it debuted last December after the hotel’s eight-month renovation) still feels quite new. Zack’s “reinvented take on comfort food” includes Jerome favorites and new items — all quite memorable, indeed. Other Aspen eateries with seasonal menu changes include 39 Degrees, the Red Onion, the Limelight Lounge, and Mezzaluna.
Two long empty spaces on Restaurant Row finally have signed tenants. In the former Double Dog pub space, Croatia native Max Popovic is planning to open a bar and eatery called Insider, focusing on healthy pub food and a wide variety of beers on tap (the most in town, according to The Aspen Times) and wine. Popovic told the Times the eatery should be open by late January.
Foodies will likely have to wait for summer to take classes at the Cooking School of Aspen, which local restaurateur Rob Ittner (owner of Rustique and Pitkin County commissioner) is planning to open in the large restaurant space next door to Insider that was occupied by the Steak Pit for 30-plus years. Ittner is reviving another Aspen institution (Rob Seideman had the first Cooking School of Aspen) that will feature recreational demonstrations and hands-on classes for groups of 10 to 40, plus banquets in a 130-seat dining room.
The David Burke Kitchen, the latest in an eponymous chain of eateries by the celebrity chef, is scheduled to open in February at 204 South Galena. Featuring contemporary farm-to-table dishes with ingredients sourced from Colorado farmers, the David Burke Kitchen will be on the second floor of the new building that replaced the Gap, complete with a large deck offering unimpeded views of Aspen Mountain.
A new restaurant appears to be coming to the Hyman Mall, in the space most recently used by N9NE Steakhouse, next to Zocalito and CB Paws. A sign in the window announces the eatery, which sources say will debut in late spring or early summer.
No confirmation yet on what might replace Pacifica and Above the Salt, both of which failed to reopen after the fall offseason. The two side-by-side eateries on the Mill Street Mall, along with the Popcorn Wagon, share a single owner (an entity tied to Chicago businessman Mark Hunt). Rumor has it that while one will almost certainly remain a restaurant, the other is destined to become a high-end retail chain.
Snowmass Base Village welcomes two brand new restaurants this winter, both overseen by Executive Chef Tim Goodell, the southern California restaurateur who partnered with Related Colorado on the eateries. Ricard Brasserie replaces Sneaky’s Tavern, and offers French fare such as steak tartare, coq au vin, and house-made charcuterie. In the former Burger Bar and Fish space, Bia Hoi serves casual Southeast Asian dishes in a contemporary industrial setting.
On the Mall, the newly opened Slow Your Roll Bowling Alley (in the basement of the Venga Venga building) offers dinner and late-night bar food, including wood-fired oven pizzas and locally brewed beers.
At the Viceroy Hotel, Nest, the lower-level slopeside eatery, has been transformed into Nest Public House, offering gastro-pub dining with hearty yet sophisticated comfort dishes such as stews, craft sausages, and BBQ pork sliders. Meanwhile, Viceroy Snowmass Executive Chef Will Nolan is introducing an oyster bar to Eight K, which is switching to a winter menu that still features Nolan’s signature “low-country” (Southern with a twist) cuisine.
The Westin has also announced a few changes this season. The Snowmass Kitchen‘s menu is now themed northern Italian chophouse, with entree choices including artisan pizzas, fine pastas, and a la carte steakhouse items. In the Wildwood Hotel next door, the Double Black Noodle Bar, a Japanese-style ramen restaurant, will open on the second level at the end of January, just in time for X Games. (Prior to then, the Bar at Wildwood on the first floor will serve samples of what’s to come.) And finally, the Westin has added a three-level outdoor dining terrace with seven new fire pits, where guests can choose from all three Westin restaurant menus (Snowmass Kitchen, Vue Lobby Lounge, and Ranger Station).