To most of the world, Aspen is a luxurious mountain town with a reputation for being a snobby collection of rich people. Take it from someone who has spent parts of 13 summers here, locals don't see it that way.
There are, of course, a lot of rich people around. If you read the local real-estate ads, the median price for a home seems to be $10 million. Where there is wealth, there is a market for high-quality food and wine, and Aspen has more than its share of excellent restaurants. By big-city standards, they're not all that expensive. Not cheap, mind you, but at the hottest new place, D19, you pay no more than what you might for something comparable in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles.
There is another layer of restaurant known around here as "a local's place." They're somewhat less costly than the spots that get written up in glossy food and travel magazines. Some have been around for years, such as Blue Maize, which makes great margaritas and Southwestern food.
Takah is another one. Takah brought sushi to Aspen 20 years ago. In recent years, there has been competition from Matsuhisa and Kenichi. Both are good, and more expensive than Takah, but in my book, Takah is better. This year, it moved into new quarters, and it finally looks as good as it tastes. Last week with friends, the five of us drank several bottles of Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2005 (perfect with the food), ate whole fried fish, great sushi and several creative appetizers. I live in San Francisco, and I don't think I can do better there for sushi and creative Japanese food. The check was less than $200, with tip.
Another new place that fits the description is Zocalito (which occupies Takah's old location). The menu draws inspiration from Mexico and Central America, the bar makes a great mojito (everything from scratch except the rum) and there's a secret wine list that has some great buys on Spanish wines. Owner Michael Beary, it turns out, has a personal fascination with the modern winemaking wing in Spain, and it shows on the list.
I had been in Zocalito several times, happily sipping my mojito and chowing down on chicken in Amarillo mole and grilled Yucatan snapper with smoky chiles, lime and sea salt. I didn't even know they had a wine list. Then a friend told me he had drunk Pingus 2000 and Vegas Sicilia 1996 there.
So next time in, yumming over Peruvian chicken wrapped in a banana leaf with chorizo and limo salsa, I asked Michael about the wine list. He brought it out. "Most people just order drinks, but if someone shows an interest in wine, I have these," he said.
There was the Pingus (at $500) and Vega Sicilia (at $350 for a magnum), but the list includes such deals as Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 1999 ($65), Finca Allende Rioja 1999 ($55) and Simo Priorat 2000 ($85). There are also some nice buys from Argentina and Chile. How these wines go with dishes with assertive chiles, I will find out when I go there next.
Sonnenalp Resort-f-b — Vail, Co, USA — August 10, 2006 4:46am ET
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Sonnenalp Resort-f-b — Vail, Co, USA — August 11, 2006 1:45pm ET
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