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Aspen's Newest Restaurant, Mogador, Serves Up Adventurous Dining


Harvey Steiman
Posted: August 23, 2001

Aspen's highly charged fine-dining scene has been invigorated by its newest restaurant, where the chef-owner's distinctive cooking style brings a taste of Spain's most modern chef to this Colorado Rockies resort town.

At Mogador, which opened in June, Barclay Dodge offers new and often brilliant reformulations of familiar dishes. His "gazpacho," for example, is a clear tomato broth flavored with saffron and poured around a diamond-shaped slice of watermelon topped with diced heirloom tomatoes and toasted almonds. It tastes as good as it looks.

Those who have dined in Spain at the Michelin three-star El Bulli, chef Ferran Adria's cutting-edge restaurant near Barcelona, will recognize the style. Dodge spent four months working at El Bulli and learning from the Spanish master, whose trademark dishes revel in unusual textures and cooking processes.

One appetizer at Mogador, for example, packs caviar and alternating layers of minced hardcooked egg white and egg yolk into transparent sacs made of vodka gelled with agar. Dodge's twist on traditional melon and prosciutto turns the melon into tiny scoops of a translucent gel, garnished with crisped, julienne Serrano ham for a stunning effect. He even gives the "mojito" (a Caribbean rum drink) a different slant. He serves it in a martini glass without ice, but he freezes the dark rum and syrup to a slurry, then tops it with an egg-white foam of mint and lime.

 
   
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For now, dishes like these are only available at the chef's table, where Dodge creates nine-course dinners for adventurous diners. His regular menu is more casual, although some items -- such as a salad with melon, goat cheese and that crisped julienne ham -- use elements from the chef's table. Another dish on the regular menu combines mussels with garlic chips, haricots verts and lemon foam.

Dodge cooked at Renaissance in Aspen for four years, after graduating from the California Culinary Academy and cooking at Bistro Roti and Bix in San Francisco. Since many of Aspen's fine-dining restaurants close in September after summer tourism winds down, and reopen in December as ski season swings into high gear, Dodge has used the off-seasons to work in such New York restaurants as Daniel, Jean Georges and Payard Patisserie -- and, eventually, El Bulli in Spain.

"I saw how Ferran used his off-seasons to go into his laboratory and create new dishes," Dodge said, "and I want to use the off-seasons here the same way -- to explore something new."

Mogador, which occupies a downstairs space off an outdoor mall, is decorated with paintings by Western artists, the tables furnished with trendy china and big crystal glasses.

The wine list -- with 120 selections on it now -- has a long way to go, but there are plans to strengthen the list. It has some interesting choices already, including Morgadio Albarino Rias Baixas 2000, Étienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1999, Marques de Caceres Rioja Gaudium Reserva 1994, Jaboulet Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Cedres 1998, Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve 1998 and Hendry Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Block 8 1997.

Though Mogador brings a fresh approach to Aspen dining, the town is already chockablock with first-rate restaurants and creative chefs. There are mountain outposts of big-city stalwarts such as Olives and Matsuhisa, but three of the top chefs are homegrown and consciously tie their food to Colorado food products. Two, Renaissance and Piñons, have also built their wine lists to Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence status, while Restaurant Conundrum holds an Award of Excellence.

 
   
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At Renaissance, chef-owner Charles Dale subtitles his restaurant "The Alchemy of Food," and a multicourse dinner from his kitchen lives up to the billing, with such lovely dishes as Alaskan halibut infused with preserved lemon or foie gras with Rocky Mountain-grown peaches. Dale recently opened Rustique, a less pricey French bistro around the corner from Renaissance.

At Piñons, the second-floor dining room specializes in game, including elk, caribou, pheasant and trout. Chef-owner Rob Mobilian does Colorado lamb with a yam napoleon and chamomile jus and makes pot-au-feu with duck, truffles and foie gras in a Port-wine reduction.

At Conundrum, chef-owner George Mahaffey roasts Colorado lamb with pine nuts, arugula and lemon, and fashions cloudlike cauliflower agnolotti with summer truffles and fava beans. Mahaffey operates in an open kitchen that gives the restaurant a dressy casual feel. A wraparound patio offers simpler fare at moderate prices.

The best wine-scene in town is at Montagna, the recently remodeled and renamed restaurant at The Little Nell, which holds Wine Spectator's Grand Award. With a new cast -- the chef, sommelier and maitre d' have all been replaced since last summer -- the dining room is still finding its way, but the wine list has page after page of treasures. One night recently, the sommelier was wandering around the dining room pouring glasses of Château d'Yquem 1983 for dessert.


Mogador
430 E. Hyman Ave., Aspen, CO 81611
Tel: (970) 429-1072
Dinner nightly; expensive

Renaissance
304 E. Hopkins Ave., Aspen, CO 81611
Tel: (970) 925-2402
Dinner nightly; expensive

Conundrum
325 E. Main St., Aspen, CO 81611
Tel: (970) 925-9969
Dinner nightly; expensive

Piñons
105 S. Mill St., Aspen, CO 81611
Tel: (970) 920-2021
Dinner nightly; expensive

Montagna
675 E. Durant, Aspen, CO 81611
Tel: (970) 920-6330
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; expensive

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Read Harvey Steiman's previous report on Aspen:

  • July 31, 1998
    A Positive Altitude

    Read related restaurant articles:

  • Sept. 15, 1997
    Spanish Conquest: El Bulli Revolutionizes European Haute Cuisine

  • Aug. 31, 1997
    The 1997 Grand Awards: The Little Nell
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