Three top hotels in the wealthy Rocky Mountain resort town of Aspen, Colo., recently revamped their restaurants, and you can taste the improvements. After a sweeping reconstruction, the venerable Hotel Jerome reemerged with an entirely new food and wine program just in time for the 2012-2013 ski season. The Little Nell, meanwhile, restyled and renamed its restaurant, all without compromising its Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning wine cellar. And the St. Regis went Italian with its signature restaurant when it opened in June.
At the Hotel Jerome
330 East Main St.
Telephone: (970) 429-7732
Open: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $15- $38
Credit cards: All major
Most intriguing of the three is Prospect, the fine-dining restaurant at the Jerome. The cuisine at this hotel has been inconsistent over the years, but things are looking up again since Auberge Resorts assumed management. Among Auberge's other hotels are Auberge du Soleil and Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley, Malliouhana in Anguilla and Esperanza in Los Cabos. For our visit, chef Rob Zack, a 20-year veteran of some of the Roaring Fork Valley's better restaurants, presented a summer menu that relied primarily on local sources and produce, inventively presented.
For a casual start, several "jars," accompanied by crunchy flatbread, offered shareable goodies such as burrata with roasted beets, and an addictive green pea hummus topped with carrot marmellata. A refreshing chilled melon soup starred among the small plates, which also included a locally sourced steak from 7X Beef, paired with a vegetable hash and topped with a poached egg. A large plate of seared Columbia River salmon benefited from the distinct character of fresh succotash and a tangy, molasses-tinged vinaigrette.
The wine list, overseen by sommelier Jill Zimorski, rolled out with 500 selections, with strengths in collectible California Cabernets, such as Montelena Estate 1999 ($240), and Chardonnays, including Littorai Mays Canyon 2007 ($140), plus an international assortment of Rieslings.
At The Little Nell
675 East Durant Ave.
Telephone: (970) 920-6313
Open: Lunch, Monday to Saturday; dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $24-$58
Credit cards: All major
Wine Spectator Grand Award
The Little Nell's awkwardly rechristened Element 47 (silver, on the periodic table, a reference to the Little Nell's history as a silver mine) now has a sleek, modern look. Once detailed in turned wood, the revamped dining room features an abundance of gray shadings and straight lines. The à la carte menu, previously a prix-fixe with several options for each course, delivered familiar takes on outstanding, locally focused cuisine from chef Robert McCormick's kitchen.
On the summer menu, the silkiness of a breast of Colorado free-range chicken contrasted nicely with artichokes and fiddlehead ferns, enhanced by black summer truffles. Locally raised Emma Farms Wagyu steaks sang with morel mushrooms and bone marrow. Rancho Gordo beans and housemade bacon rendered sweet Colorado-farmed striped bass worthy of the plethora of great red wines on the 1,500-strong list. The versatile Donelan Syrah Russian River Kobler Vineyard 2009 ($102) was balanced enough for the fish and sufficiently ripe and peppery for the meat and chicken.
TRECENTO QUINDICI DECANO
At the St. Regis Aspen
315 Dean St.
Telephone: (970) 920-3300
Open: Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost: Pizza, pasta and entrées $15-$38
Credit cards: All major
Trecento Quindici Decano—the Hotel St. Regis' address spelled out in Italian—revealed a split personality. Chef David Viviano's kitchen lovingly crafted fresh pasta that tasted authentically Italian. Pizzas from a brick oven captured an ideal texture, soft yet crisp. Cubes of heirloom tomato huddled over a smear of basil-infused olive oil cream in a pleasant rendition of caprese salad. Colorado lamb chops with mascarpone polenta were outstanding. The space, however, felt too much like an uninspired hotel restaurant, with a few large glass tubes of pasta for decoration. The menu also misspelled many Italian words, and though it tasted good, the thick, squat, round focaccia would puzzle an Italian visitor.
Then there is the matter of the name, which even the hostess could not pronounce correctly. Confusingly, the wine list presented at the restaurant ennumerated only 15 modestly priced Italian bottles, along with several signature drinks. However, the "hotel list" of about 116 bottles is available for those who press the issue.
Unless it improves its understanding of Italian culture, Viviano's food might not be enough to challenge the half-dozen or so entrenched Italian restaurants in Aspen. Meanwhile, as of summer, Prospect and Element 47 are off and running.
Note: Corkage is not permitted in the state of Colorado.