Dining on High: Mountain-Area Culinary Hot-Spots Sizzle

Small plates central, a slam-dunk burger joint, a Spanish marvel, an altitude-high bistro, an Edwards sensation — the Colorado Rocky Mountains are chock-block with a serious bumper crop of magnificent culinary highs. Good thing you’ve got your guide!

Lulu Wilson, 316 E. Hopkins Ave., Aspen, (970) 920-1893; www.luluwilsonaspen.com

Cover Story: Aspen’s freshest newcomer, a cozy historic house rejiggered with stunning chandeliers and candles, white linens, chairs smoothed with softened jungle-print fabrics, exposed red brick and striped wallpaper the color of vanilla and chocolate, flaunts the talents of executive chef Shane Coffey, a bold visionary whose globetrotting dishes elevate contemporary culinary ingredients into rock-star status.

The Scene: Aspen A-listers and out-of-town famous faces appear at every turn. Don’t fret — there’s plenty of space for the rest of us, and the servers don’t discriminate between new money, old money and no money.

When to Go: All candlelit and twinkly with chandelier bling, it’s a particularly lovely place to eat on a frigid night.

Inside Scoop: If you don’t want to look like a tourist, eat at the bar with the locals. The bar menu, albeit small, touts lamb sliders, pappardelle with duck confit ragout, and crab cakes, and the prices top out at $14.

Thomas Salamunovich oversees Larkburger, a laid-back burger barn in Edwards

Larkburger, 105 Edwards Village Blvd., B103, Edwards, (970) 926-9336. (Other locations in Greenwood Village and Boulder – see website)
www.larkburger.com

Cover Story: There’s nothing remotely skinny about Larkburger, a bona fide burger barn overseen by chef and co-owner Thomas Salamunovich, the wonder-chef who also runs the more refined Larkspur restaurant in Vail. But here at this shrine to Coleman all-beef patties, Tillamook cheese and a house-made “special sauce,” the kitchen celebrates our hopeless devotion to good ol’ American foodstuffs.

The Scene: A built-in legion of regulars who vie for table space in an elementally simple dining room devoid of bells and whistles. In other words, the emphasis is on the burger and nothing but the burger.

When to Go: Whenever you can snare a chair — most likely after the lunch rush, which seems to last until at least 2 p.m.

Inside Scoop: The truffled, parmesan-dusted French fries are one of life’s most indulgent pleasures.

Dish, 56 Edwards Village Blvd. #203, Edwards, (970) 926-3433
www.eatdrinkdish.com

Cover Story: Vail Valley epicureans, hipsters from the city who’ve heard the buzz and culinary generalists from around the state have deemed this cosmopolitan chic food temple the crossroads for upmarket, affordable small plates and stellar wines.

The Scene: A resolutely urbanized dining room trumpeting vital energy, a vivacious color scheme and heart-numbing views of the surrounding mountains.

When to Go: The Sunday Suppers, when the kitchen rolls out a $30, seven-course tasting dinner that might include baby spinach ricotta bisque, veal sweetbreads, Hawaiian spearfish or tempura-crusted crawfish tails.

Inside Scoop: Chef-owner Jenna Johansen conducts cooking classes in her state-of-the-art exhibition kitchen.

Tempranillo, 165 Midland Ave., Basalt, (970) 927-3342
www.tempranillorestaurant.com

Cover Story: Executive chef Javier Gonzalez-Bringas, along with his wife and partner, Laura Maine, have graced the bedroom town of Basalt with its finest restaurant, a Spanish-Italian emporium flooded with sexy crowds noshing on paella de mariscos, grilled calamari and chorizo, accented with arugula and aioli, and shrimp and asparagus risotto.

The Scene: Mid-valley hipsters with flattering hairstyles, fetching handbags, moneyed wallets and a soft place in their hearts for a charming chef that’s vaulting Basalt into a worthy food town.

When to Go: Whenever you can get a reservation. Weekends are feverish with locals, and weekday evenings aren’t much tamer, but this is a place where last-call noshing is both acceptable and far less frenetic.

Inside Scoop: There are two seats opposite each other, directly next to the fireplace, at the communal table. If you want to see sparks fly, reserve at least a day in advance.

Mirador, The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, 2205 Cordillera Way, Edwards, (970) 569-6361
www.cordilleralodge.com/dining/mirador

Mirador executive chef Rahm Fama nails the spa lunches, especially the watermelon and curried shrimp salad.

 

Cover Story: Mirador executive chef Rahm Fama is the culinary genius that you’ve never heard of — until now. Quietly and without fanfare, this mind-blowingly talented maverick is blazing new culinary trails, flaring the formidable chops he honed at Santa Fe’s Fuego restaurant to create impossibly flawless food that leaves me speechless.

The Scene: Resort vacationers and in-the-know foodies who will beg, borrow and steal for just one bite of Fama’s fantastic foodstuffs, whether it’s his braised wild boar terrine with Granny Smith apple risotto or a mat of woven asparagus carpaccio bolstered by a truffled egg salad.

When to Go: Anytime, but it’s especially beautiful at a table near the window just before sunset.

Inside Scoop: Fama’s spa lunches — spaghetti squash bathed in a lemongrass tea broth or the watermelon, watermelon radish, and curried shrimp salad — are so unbelievably wonderful that you’ll writhe in healthy ecstasy and wonder: Why can’t all spa cuisine taste this good?

Phat Thai, 343 Main St., Carbondale, (970) 963-7001
www.phatthai.com

Cover Story: It’s not the most authentic Thai food in Colorado, but I love the fact that executive chef-owner Mark Fischer isn’t afraid to lob unexpected, eyebrow raising twists into his curries — celery, for example — noodle dishes and stir-fries. He’s a confident chef who isn’t afraid to take risks, and they mostly pay off, as evidenced by the stunningly prepared tempura crusted shrimp, calamari and green beans puddled in a mint-laced chile sauce. Beautiful.

The Scene: From the second the doors fly open, the seats are snatched up by a dedicated posse of foodies who have followed Fischer’s every move since he opened Six89, his first restaurant — and the one who put Carbondale on the culinary map.

When to Go: When the bell tolls at 5 p.m., otherwise you risk missing out on all the fun at the community table.

Inside Scoop: Don’t miss Phat Phridays, with music and dancing every Friday night through the summer months.

Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, Atop Aspen Highlands’ high-speed Cloud Nine chairlift, Aspen Highlands, (970) 544-3063
www.aspensnowmass.com

Cover Story: The fact that the Aspen Highlands ski patrol shares space with this graciously warm on-mountain ski hut-cum-bistro doesn’t deter the legion of fans who congregate here for some of the best alpine cuisine in Colorado. Chef Andreas Fischbacher’s menu, a collaboration of classic European wonderments spun with local flavor, changes as quickly as Colorado’s weather, but you can always count on wild game — elk, venison, or pheasant — and unassailable strudels.

The Scene: Ski bunnies, celebrities, racers and romantics make reservations far in advance for the Tuesday and Thursday dinners, two glorious nights of gluttony that begin with a snowcat ride to the intimate hut, where guests are greeted by crackling logs and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a four-course meal. Dinner here will cost you $125 per person, excluding wine, but when was the last time you dined 10,740-feet high?

When to Go: Anytime you really want to impress a date with your unbelievably creative, did-you-really-think-of-that-all-by-yourself solution to dinner out.

Inside Scoop: Starting at $24, the prix fixe lunches are a steal, but the bigger bargain may be the free postcard-perfect panoramic views of the majestic Maroon Bells from the outdoor deck.

Keystone Ranch, Keystone Ranch Golf Course, 22010 Hwy 6, Keystone, 80435, (970) 496-4386
www.keystoneresort.com/restaurants-and-nightlife/dining-explorer.aspx

Cover Story: Yes, you’ll need to mortgage the yacht, sell your clubs and forfeit your health club membership, but dinner at this rustic Western lodge embellished in elegance is worth the splurge. The Colorado-styled contemporary dishes are extravagant compositions of flavors, textures and fragrances, all of them transcendent.

Keystone Ranch’s extensive wine list features over 500 bottles.

The Scene: Sophisticated cognoscenti, fresh from the golf course, salivating over the parade of courses that just keep coming…and coming…and coming. Talk about a gastronomical odyssey.

When to Go: When you have endless hours to commit to a multi-course dinner that ends with a sweet finale in front of a roaring fire. Truth is, you won’t ever want to leave.

Inside Scoop: Wine lovers, take note: The rewarding wine list is goliath, with more than 500 bottlings. Scrutinize the roster carefully and you’ll even find a few bargains.

Lori Midson, Colorado AvidGolfer’s restaurant critic (www.coloradoavidgolfer.com), makes a career out of wining and dining her away around Denver, where she lives, a city ripe with culinary surprises. She is a frequent contributor to Sunset and CITY, the local editor of numerous Zagat Surveys, and the Denver dining writer for AOL CityGuide. Midson, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism, has also written for other publications including 5280 magazine, Executive Travel and EnCompass.

From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.

 

If You Go

Lulu Wilson, 316 E. Hopkins Ave., Aspen, (970) 920-1893; www.luluwilsonaspen.com

Larkburger, 105 Edwards Village Blvd., B103, Edwards, (970) 926-9336. (Other locations in Greenwood Village and Boulder – see website)
www.larkburger.com

Dish, 56 Edwards Village Blvd., Edwards, (970) 926-3433
www.eatdrinkdish.com

Tempranillo, 165 Midland Ave., Basalt, (970) 927-3342
www.tempranillorestaurant.com

Mirador, The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, 2205 Cordillera Way, Edwards, (970) 569-6361
www.cordilleralodge.com/dining/mirador

Phat Thai, 343 Main St., Carbondale, (970) 963-7001
www.phatthai.com

Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, Atop Aspen Highlands’ high-speed Cloud Nine chairlift, Aspen Highlands, (970) 923-8715
www.aspensnowmass.com

Keystone Ranch, Keystone Ranch Golf Course, 22010 Hwy 6, Keystone, 80435, (970) 496-4386
www.keystoneresort.com/restaurants-and-nightlife/dining-explorer.aspx

 

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