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Balthazar

Balthazar

Cuisine: Authentic French Bistro food.

Visit: February 2012

Price: High

Opened by Keith McNally in the spring of 1997 Balthazar became legendary for its great bread and authentic brasserie-style cuisine that it soon attracted celebrities and the international as well as local power crowd. The bread success accumulated in to opening of the signature Balthazar Bakery next door. What is more, just this month McNally opened Balthazar in London’s Russell Street, so these of you having it far to New York, can savor its celebrity-approved tastes in the London Town. Of course there are plenty of excellent brasseries in Paris, a two-hour Eurostar train ride (London) or a an eight-hour flight (NY), yet now one does not need to spend hundreds of Pounds for a ticket and rather splurge it on a nice bottle of wine at Balthazar.

Atmosphere: The interior is authentic, you feel like at a Parisian brasserie. It is noisy, crowded and immensely popular. The latter due to the celebrity snaps entering, leaving or dining inside Balthazar in tabloid magazines. Reservations even for breakfast and lunch are highly recommended although if you are lucky and do not mind waiting you can get the same food at one of the small tables around the bar, where no reservations are taken. Surprisingly, despite the business the staff is fast and the food arrives promptly.

Grilled fish & lentil salad

Grilled fish & lentil salad

 

Food: From Le Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée to a juicy Filet de boeuf (steak), all the traditional French dishes are included. There is more though, with a bit of added creativity the chef took some French ingredients and modernized them a bit. For example the delicious and filling Grilled Brook Trout over a warm spinach, walnut and lentil salad, that one can have as a main course for it is really big. The fish was fresh and delicate, the lentils added some freshness and protein-richness and the spinach leaves color and lightness. “C’est parfait avec une verre du vin blanc!“as the french would say. It is indeed ideal with a glass of white wine. A deeper full-bodied Burgundian Chardonnay or Pinot Gris from Alsace would do the job perfectly.

The Seafood Ceviche in the starters is the answer to the fashionable Peruvian additions on the New York’s menus. Raw seafood bar is more traditional brasserie fare and great to start with your bottle of champagne. From the main courses the most typical are the Moules Frites (Steamed Clams), the Steak Frites or the Duck Confit, and perhaps the most adventurous is BALTHAZAR Burger à Cheval. The Horse Meat Burger is a bit contagious to mention now when London is so predisposed with the faux-beef scandal. The british were outraged by the revelation that some of the beef imported from France turned to contain horse meat instead. Well, nobody died and if people enjoyed the taste, then what is the difference? If one is not totally a vegetarian then that seems to me to be quite irrelevant to distinguish which meat one eats (unless it is cannibalism – eating human meat is a unique category I would rather not got myself into).

Back to normal, there are the “Plats du jour“, the Daily Suggestions that change throughout the week available for both lunch and dinner. The menus for lunch and dinner are the same, breakfast, afternoon, Sunday Brunch and After Hours menus are different.

The desserts are baked on the premises and worth trying especially if you come during the afternoon for a cup of coffee or tea.

Drinks: Wine, wine, wine … the list is excellent, with reasonably as well as highly priced wines, it is very French. What I like is that there are plenty of champagnes and wines-by-the-glass to choose from. Just ask the waiter which one he/she would suggest with your meal. I was satisfied with the mineral CHABLIS from Desvignes Ainé & Fils 2011. There are some half-bottles and well-priced wines so you do not have to go for a $200 bottle of Burgundy. From North to South each significant wine-making region is represented, so you might try something less-known, such as the old and uniquely tasting wines from the Jura.

Opening Hours:

Mon-Fri: Breakfast: 7:30 am–11:30 am, Lunch: 12:00 pm–5:00 pm, Dinner: 6:00 pm–12:00 am (Fri till 1am).

Sat: Breakfast&lunch: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm, Dinner: 6:00 pm – 1:00 am.

Sun: Breakfast&lunch: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm, Dinner: 5:30 pm – 12:00 am

Contact: Tel.: +1 (212) 965-1414

Address: 80 Spring St, New York, NY 10012, USA.

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Cuisine: Authentic Northern Italian.

Visit: February 2012

Price: Medium level at the bar, higher at the restaurant (yet it is the same food, although slightly shorter menu at the bar).

The bar at L'Hostaria

The bar at L’Hostaria

Chef: The Italian native Tiziano Gortan was working in the kitchen of the Milan’s only three Michelin stars restaurant at that time, as the pastry chef for the rock band U2′s Tearoom restaurant at the Clarence Hotel in Dublin, At Casa Blanca restaurant in Sardinia and other desirable places until he ended up in Aspen. His experiences with gastronomic cooking were more of an adventure for the young chef who came back to his traditional Italian roots at L’Hostaria where he creates generous Northern Italian meals.

Atmosphere: The bar is very popular since you get most of the excellent food for a much lower price than at the restaurant. There are photographs of Italy, its landscape and cities, hanging on the walls, traditional simple tables and bicycles hanging down from the ceiling of the bar. A quirky decoration in a rather traditional no fuss restaurant. It is usually very lively, packed with locals and visitors alike. Wear casual attire and you will fit in this comfortable mecca of Italian food in the Colorado’s mountains.

L'Hostaria restaurant

L’Hostaria restaurant

Food: Carpaccio in all ways from fish to meat is one of the main entry focuses of the menu. The thinly sliced Bresaola (Italian cured beef) is served over slightly bitter arugula salad and generously covered by shaved parmesan. It is a great starter especially if you order a bottle of red wine. There is also the local Colorado Buffalo, rather French minced Beef Tartar as well as the very Italian Smoked Swordfish carpaccio, all of a superb quality so just choose what your palate dictates and it is unlikely that you will be disappointed.

Bresaola with parmigiano

Bresaola with parmigiano

One of my Italian favourites the thinly sliced veal tenderloin with the soundly Italian name Vitello Tonnato was seductively peering out at me from the menu so I just had to try it. As I sliced the thin veal and embalmed it generously into a light tuna sauce patted on the top my critical eye approved the tender texture and an abundance of the sauce. Then on the plate I was reassured that the chef really knows well what he does enjoying the refreshing and savoury capers and crispy beet chips together with the veal delicacy.

Another temptation in the form of the Insalata d’Astice or an abundant salad of raw lobster tail, grilled zucchini, artichoke puree, cherry tomato confit, accompanied by red and green pesto, is also worth recommending. The lobster was tender and fresh and the ingredients intensely emphasised the Italian soul of this filling salad. There are also some soups and other salads on the menu.

Veal Milanese

Veal Milanese

Moving to the mains one can choose from a wide selection of freshly made pastas, fish such as Branzino (sea-bass) and typical Northern Italian meat courses such at the Cotoletta alla Milanese.
The Milanese is a large breaded veal chop flipped over green arugula and checca-style tomatoes. If done properly this is a serious contender of the Austrian Wiener schnitzel. Thinly pounded veal is though more tender, soft and more reliant of the crunchy bread coat than its Austrian thicker version usually made with other types of meat such as pork or chicken.

Torta di Gelato al Pistacchio & Tiramissu

Torta di Gelato al Pistacchio & Tiramissu

The desserts are not less tempting so keep some space for them or at least get the Selection of Italian cheeses served with walnuts, crispy bread and honey. If it is four of you sharing the table, then you can get a special selection of four desserts and taste more of the sweets. Just to highlight some – the Tiramissu is heavenly, the saliva-inducing Torta di Gelato al Pistacchio (pistachio ice cream cake with sabayon sauce on the picture) or the slightly tipsy Selezione di Biscotti e Vin Santo (selection of Italian Cookies and sweet wine Vin Santo from Tuscany) are all worth rising the blood sugar levels.

Drinks: The wine list is excellent. There is a wide choice of Italian wines, which have proved to me over the years being the most suitable for the Italian food. We went for a bottle of a red Barbera di Alba from Piedmont and managed to enjoy it with all the diverse dishes. The Veal Milanese and the Bresaola were the best match though. Of course you can have the un-Italian fluffy-milky cappuccino after your dinner as most of the Italians would never have it (cappuccino is drunk only during the morning in Italy, later only espresso or the small and strong piccolo is sociably acceptable) or a cup of tea. After all you are in the mountains and tea feels good at any time of the day.

Opening Hours: Daily only for dinner from 5:30–10:30 pm.

Address: 620 E Hyman Ave, Aspen, CO 81611, USA.

Contact: Tel: +1 (970) 925-9022

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Cuisine: Gastronomic American.

Chef: Thomas Keller is currently perhaps the most cherished chef in North America. His cooking wonders at the French Laundry in Napa Valley brought him a bounty of fans and remarkably enlivened the gastronomy scene in the US. Along with the French Laundry his French bistro Bouchon mushroomed on the east coast, he opened Ad Hoc in Younville, the gastronomical heaven in Napa Valley, and finally in 2004 he opened the most awarded from all of these newcomers – Per Se in New York. Per Se was for most of its existence helmed by Keller. Since the early 2010 Eli Kaimeh, who has been Per Se’s chef for years, took higher responsibilities and has been leading the restaurant’s daily feat for perfection woefully. Per Se is a steady loiterer at the summit of  the restaurants’ Everest in the New York city unwilling to climb down.

Thomas Keller: photographed by Jason Tanaka Blaney

Thomas Keller: photographed by Jason Tanaka Blaney

Visit: February 2012

Price: Very expensive (Two daily changing nine-course Chef’s or Vegetable Tasting menus, each $295; five-course lunch menu $185; Salon menu is á la carte starting at $30 per plate so if you are careful you can dine at Per Se just under $100 per head). Salon is the bar area just after entering Per Se.

Entrance to Per Se at the AOL centre

Entrance to Per Se

Atmosphere: The entrance to Per Se is located in the New York’s Time Warner Center building highlighting the Western corner of the Central Park. The journey up to the fourth floor, where Per Se resides, seems to be on one side understated as you get there via the shopping mall escalators surrounded by clothing, home ware and other goods staring at you from the shops’ windows. As you get closer though, the pompous massive wooden doors with golden handles assure you that this is not just another mall eatery but a serious dining establishment. Do not be fooled by it and enter the unpretentious mecca of culinary innovation and gustatory pleasure. It does not bite you, but you will surely bite into lots of tasty stuff inside. The Salon is a more elegant name lessening the importance of drinking and emphasising the food at the bar seating area offering a number of dishes from the tasting menu á la carte. Its interior is darker and perhaps more intimate than the 16 table restaurant. At the Salon there are no reservations accepted like at the bar at other top New York restaurants such as Le Bernardin and Daniel so just show up and dine. A huge advantage considering the fact that the restaurant is usually fully booked the full month ahead from 10am when its booking lines open.

Amuse Bouche - Tuna mini cone

Amuse Bouche – Tuna mini cone

Food: Balanced, impeccably sourced and reasonably sized (of you consider all that extra stuff you will be treated by, but you did not order). You will get the famous Amuse Bouche of the Tuna mini cone whether you eat at the bar or the restaurant. It is sublime! The thin cone envelops the foamy tuna mouse melting in your month like a whipped sea wave bringing along multiple of flavours it assembled throughout its journey from the water to the chef’s hands. An almost meditative start to a nice meal.

From the menu there is usually at least one vegetarian (vegetable-based) dish. Something in the style of the haute couture of a salad. I tried the Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm, which was a wonderfully assembled plate of celery branch, an exotic Cara Cara orange, preserved green tomatoes and horseradish crème fraiche. All the ingredients in this refreshing, zesty and savoury sphere were delicious and light.

Creative food at Per Se from The Happily Ever After Project

Creative food at Per Se from The Happily Ever After Project

Foie Gras is a must at gastronomic restaurants using French cooking techniques and Per Se is not an exception. Its ban in some countries and states including the sunny California (home of French Laundry) complicates work of many chefs there, but not in the open-minded New York. You will find daily changing variations of culinary adventures with this mellow yet rich duck liver known in the gastronomy world under its more flattering French name (Foie Gras means the same, yet sounds better). On our menu featured Slow Poached Élevages Périgord Moulard Duck Foie Gras served with poached rhubarb, refreshing young fennel, the crunchy and mild tasting Spanish Marcona almonds, rich greek yogurt and green sprinkle of watercress.

Of course you can go with the luxurious caviar, yet that will cost you well over $100. It will be served in style with the Per Se touch.

Mediterranean turbot

Mediterranean turbot

The main dishes were inspired by Italian and French cuisines using local as well as European ingredients. We tried the Mediterranean Turbot served with soft Celery Root “Porridge”, Chestnut Confit, Brown Chicken Jus and Black Winter Truffles. The fish was tender and tasted fresh despite being brought from the Mediterranean. The delicate blend of flavor rich ingredients could always hide the fact that fish probably spent a couple of hours on the plane. Once again a perfectly balanced dish.

The Butter Poached Lobster from Nova Scotia served with Toasted Bread Pudding in a shape of a moon on the Turkish flag, Caramelized Cipollini Onions, crunchy Piedmont Hazelnuts, Pumpkin “Parisienne” and Fig-chocolate emulsion, was an international conference of resources and ideas. It was as if the American lobster discussed peacefully with the Turkish-British alliance symbolized by the Bread Pudding how to deal with the Italian and French gastronomic dominance in our restaurants. The Fig-chocolate emulsion solved the issue by balancing the global powers on the plate. The emulsion changed the overall character of the dish so none of the national ingredients prevailed.

On the menu was also a Pork Belly from Salmon Creek farm, beef and “Carnaroli Risotto Biologioco” with truffles. The latter translated from Italian simply means “Organic risotto made from Carnaroli rice”, but it sounds fancier in its native language.

Jaffa cake at Per Se

Jaffa cake at Per Se

If you did not have enough, the Dessert Tasting Menu is available at the Salon for $65. Five mini-desserts might be too much for your taste buds. In that case you can still order à la carte. There is also “The Cheese Course” served with tasty amenities or the chef’s speciality “Jaffa Cake” which I went for … hmm … I did not regret while knowing that I will have to spent a good hour of brisk walking the next day to burn it all out. This multiple dessert consisted of a Vanilla “Génoise”, Blood Orange “Pâte de Fruits,” Mast Brothers’ Chocolate “Ganache” and Jasmine Ice Cream. Explanation of all these diligently described building blocks of my dessert might be confusing so I cut it short – it was superb and the picture above shows the complexity of it.

iPad wine "list"

iPad wine “list”

Drinks: The iPad electronic “wine list” enables adding, deleting and expanding the wine selection with a slip of a finger so the sommelier has a total up-to-the-minute control over it. It is well-organized and practical. Nevertheless, if you do not know wine and wine-producing regions well or are like me the old-school paper loving human being, then your first moment of excitement may fizz out in a few seconds. If you are lost just ask the sommelier which glass he would recommend with your dish or which bottle fitting your budget he would suggest and importantly why. There are wines under $100 per bottle so do not worry you will not break a bank here, at least not because of the wines.

Opening Hours: Mon-Thurs: 5:30–10:00 pm; Fri, Sat&Sun:11:30 am – 1:30 pm, 5:30–10:00 pm

Address: Time Warner Center, 4th fl., 10 Columbus Cir, New York, USA

Contact: Tel: +1 (212) 823-9335

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Zagat’s readers voted Le Bernardin as “The Most Popular Restaurant in New York in 2012” and the restaurant received 19 out of 20 points triumphing others and making Le Bernardin to become the only such highly prized restaurant in New York since 1996. The Michelin Guide honored the Chef Eric Ripert and Le Bernardin with its highest rating of three stars in 2005 and each year thereafter. Le Bernardin seems to keep its standard high. Moreover, the restaurant ranks 19 on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, which is quite an achievement in the global culinary scene. Knowing about all these flattering achievements one enters the restaurant full of extraordinary expectations, making it even harder for the restaurant to meet them. Well, I thought that my first encounter (and my wallet saving option) would be wiser to spend at the restaurant’s bar so I can figure out whether it is worth the waiting for the reservation and the food. My impressions follow.

Bar at Le Bernardin

Bar at Le Bernardin

Cuisine: Gastronomic French seafood.

Visit: February 2012

Price: Very expensive (Prix-Fixe $127 – 4 courses at the restaurant; at the bar the selection is limited, yet you get great food with some options; the City Harvest weekly changing 3 course-menu offered exclusively at lunch in the Lounge for set price $45 is a great deal if you have time for a two-hour lunch – $5 go for the City Harvest, the world’s oldest food rescue organization founded in 1981).

Eric Ripert

Eric Ripert

Chef: Eric Ripert has an unparalleled experience at Paris’ best dining establishments including the first purely seafood restaurant ever to achieve three Michelin stars – Le Bernardin. There he worked closely with its founder and chef Gilbert Le Coze and after the later’s death he continued to uphold the highest standards of Le Bernardin. Ripert is the success behind the Le Bernardin’s expansion to the US, where the restaurant quickly became a star of the gastronomic stage. He knows fish and seafood very well owing to his early experience in Antibes, South of France, that laid foundations to his culinary expertise.

Bar scene at Le Bernardin

Bar scene at Le Bernardin

Atmosphere: This is another review from my bar tour through the top New York restaurants. The atmosphere and approach in each of them though is different. Foodwise my personal winner was only by a pinch of salt Per Se, yet some would disagree and put Le Bernardin ahead. The bar at Le Bernardin was more lively and felt more cool, yet the more discreet Per Se can be preferred by these seeking privacy and romance. You ned to dress up smart and elegant, no jeans, t-shirts and hats. There are two types of seating, one at the high chairs at the bar, and another, more comfortable for most of us, at small tables sprinkled around the bar area.

Food:  The seafood is prepared using French cooking techniques. The chef captured its spirit saying:

 Everything we do in the kitchen—using subtle textures and flavors, seeking out the freshest ingredients—has the same goal: to enhance and elevate the fish. 

Of course you can go for oysters or caviar as these are very popular luxurious bar snacks available at Le Bernardin. These come with a very high price tag though and do not test the chef’s skills.

Peruvian Style Scallop Ceviche

Peruvian Style Scallop Ceviche

With a glass of champagne we started with the Peruvian Style Scallop Ceviche. Peruvian food preparation style has been in the fashion focus of recent years and Ripert could not escape being enchanted by the savory whims of this Latin-American culinary style. The scallops were utmost tender, melting softly like a bubble of silk, refreshed gently with the lime and spice sauce, just to add a gentle accent to the dish. Unlike in Peru, where the sauce pops out and twists your tongue in an anxious move from the acid attack it bestows upon you, in New York you get it soft from the chef Ripert (an unlikely turn in America where generally the palates seek excitement).

Moving to a glass of white wine (German Riesling) we dove to the Kanpachi Tartare covered by a layer of wasabi tobiko ginger and embalmed  in a coriander emulsion. The fish was fresh, tender and light. Wasabi colored and spiced up fish eggs (tobiko) added crunchy texture to the slightly chewy chopped kanpachi, zest and warmth from the spicy ingredients, and the coriander cast more depth to the dish on the spoon. Delicious!

Kanpachi Tartare

Kanpachi Tartare

The waiter was praising the Yellowfin Tuna from the restaurant menu so we got it after a couple of minutes of persuasion. Normally, the restaurant dishes are not served at the bar, but if you show interest in food you can get some starters. The Tuna is chef’s specialty and indeed, he prepares it well. The paper-thin slices of sublime tuna are layered on thin beetroot shavings (which you cannot see unless you lift the fish) and covered with chopped capers and chives in olive oil. This delicate fish has enough oil on it and has enough fat so it likes wines with high acidity that cut through the fat. My choice would be either a fresh and complex white wine (such as Burgundy – ideally mineral Chablis or Puligni Montrachet) or a light red with good acidity (Pinot Noir or the balanced Greek one I had – look below).

YELLOWFIN TUNA

YELLOWFIN TUNA

From the warm snacks we went for the Warm Lobster and Truffle “en Brioche” since it sounded divine even on the paper. It was tasty and richer than our previous dishes. The fluffy Brioche was filled with warm tender lobster and black truffle shavings. Aromatic, intense yet still retaining its own harmony. The Brioche called for a heavier oaky Chardonnay or an intense white wine blend.

Warm Lobster and Truffle “en Brioche”

Warm Lobster and Truffle “en Brioche”

In the afternoon you can come to the bar and savor the french style with the “Café Gourmand”. You will get a tasting of a trio of mini desserts with coffee (it is a sort of take on the british afternoon tea – the French and the British always have to find something that would compete with the other’s inventions).

Drinks: Intriguing wines by the glass. I was pleasantly surprised by the Greek wine from the Domaine Economou located on the island of Crete. The wine undergoes 7 years of ageing in the barrels (100% French oak), tanks and in the bottles so it is ready to drink when it is released to the market. The local red grape varietals Liatiko (80%) is blended with 20% of Mandilaria. On the nose you get some fruity blackberry aromas and spices. The palate is mature Bordeaux-like with plum, spices, blackberries, jam, raisin and prune flavors. It is complex with supple tannins and long-lasting aftertaste. By-the-glass – you must try it!

Greek wine by the glass

Greek wine by the glass

Opening Hours: Lunch: Mon– Fri: 12 pm – 2:30 pm
Dinner: Mon – Thurs: 5:15 pm – 10:30 pm; Fri– Sat: 5:15 pm – 11 pm

Address: Le Bernardin | 155 West 51st Street, New York 10019, USA

Contact: Tel: +1 (212) 554 1515

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Table at Takah

A booth table at Takah

Cuisine: Western Japanese, sushi.

Visit: February 2012

Price: High (good fish and sushi in the mountains far from the sea cannot be cheap unless they are fake, the prices at Takah are appropriate, high but not through the roof).

Takah

Takah

Atmosphere: Busy, casual and friendly. Takah is very popular between the younger generation, therefore during prominent events such as the winter X Games, not just Takah but the entire town of Aspen is full of teenagers and twenty-somethings. It is quite casual so wear anything you would in other mountain destinations.

Food: The rolls dominate the menu and Takah rally rolls them out, yet you can find other modern Japanese as well as other Asian dishes such as Pad Thai on the menu.

Starting light with either a Seaweed salad which is great or the white fish SASHIMI COLORADO STYLE with Cilantro, Serrano Chilis, Yuzu and Garlic Sauce you get yourself ready for the heavier, saucier dishes that are about to come. Both of these are quite nice, but a far toss from the excellent sashimi at the nearby Matsuhisa.

White fish sashimi with shiso

White fish sashimi with shiso

Now moving to Takah style (let’s be original and mix lots of ingredients together) with the ATOMIC LOBSTER. Tempura fried lobster is served with asparagus, masago (Capelin fish roe looking like small orange eggs that are crunchy on the palate) and Takah’s Spicy Atomic Sauce. Not sure what the Atomic means, nevertheless this was just too much of stuff together, out of balance, very sugary and intensely flavored. Some palates might like it, yet not these seeking refining taste.

Another small plate we went for was the BIG EYE TUNA TARTARE mixed with fresh basil, lemon, cucumber, tomato, shallots, garlic, ginger, mustard and ponzu sauce and served with wonton chips. First of all I always though that wontons are Chinese dumplings, I guess I was wrong. These were more like Mexican tortilla chips, so popular in California, but wonton sounds more Asian while style catering to local preferences. The tuna fish in the tartare was mediocre, we might juts have had bad luck, but we got a bad one so I cannot say anything flattering about it.

BIG EYE TUNA TARTARE with wonton chips

BIG EYE TUNA TARTARE with wonton chips

The sushi rolls are very popular at Takah. We went for and exotic blend called the DIABLO ROLL of a tempura shrimp and asparagus rolled inside, and with spicy diced tuna, serrano chilies and rich eel sauce on the outside. Yummy mash up indeed, but I cannot have this one every day. The shrimps were crunchy and tuna with chili spicy, adding a bit of diabolic fire into the roll, thus being devote to its name. Unless, I was not through my second glass of wine though I could not have more than one piece of it. Just too much of seafood – fish and shellfish, rich sauce, rice, spice, sesame seeds, … not for me, thank you.

Creative sushi roll

Creative sushi roll

Although Takah is not in Colorado the popular CALIFORNIA ROLL features on the menu along with more far-flung sounding creations such as the THAI ROLL. The sesame soy paper roll filled with spicy tuna (very popular in Takah’s ingredients), cucumber & cilantro (type of parsley) was topped with green curry coconut sauce & crushed Peanuts. that sounds to me as if I just have had a three course Thai menu in one roll! One can try the quirky named ME SO HAPPY ROLL – sounds good to me, although slightly tacky. The tempura fried sweet potato is topped with spicy tuna (here we go once again!), eel sauce and radish sprouts. Fun, but different things make different people happy, so do not take this roll’s name too seriously.

Drinks: Good selection of sake and good international wine selection (from Europe to Argentina). Napa is the main focus of the list though, which I approve of because of the more sustainable impact of bringing wines just from a nearby state versus across half of the globe. Wines from Oregon are featured as well and my penchant for their Pinot Noir brought my palate’s attention towards the ARCHERY SUMMIT, PINOT NOIR “PREMIER CUVEE” from Willamette Valley in Oregon. Lucky me, since this refreshing Pinot guided me through the intense menu, easing out the gustatory shock my subtle palate experienced throughout the dinner.
Opening Hours: Every night from 5:30 pm. The sushi bar seating is on a first come first serve basis, the rest you need to reserve.

Address: 320 S Mill St  Aspen, CO 81611, USA.

Contact: Tel: +1 (970) 925-8588

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Cuisine: Japanese

Visit: February 2012

Price: Medium for the superb quality you get (except when you order the abalone – a rare type of sea snail –  which is always very expensive).

Artichoke salad

Artichoke salad

Chef: Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (known as Nobu) is a legend in Japanese cooking worldwide. His partnership with the actor Robert De Niro and restaurateur Drew Nieporent bore the famous global network of Nobu restaurants known for the chic atmosphere and innovative cuisine. Nevertheless, Matsuhisa was and still is his baby. He usually stays in the first one in Los Angeles, but supposedly from time to time he visits its second branch in Aspen, which is almost as good as his most cherished L.A. baby.

Atmosphere: The Aspen’s Matsuhisa is also more casual than the usual fancy Nobus elsewhere. It is quite similar to its LA base, yet bigger and with a large bar just by the entrance downstairs. Large Tv screens coveting the local football and cricket fans watching their teams over a decadent japanese meal, make the place very welcoming. Some locals just pop for a bottle of Asahi (japanese beer) and a small snack, yet the food is like for sheikh in terms of quality. These contrasting aspects of the most fashionable and for years the most popular restaurant in Aspen make it special and attractive. You will see young folks with their ski heats, middle-aged elegant ladies and older comfortable couples enjoying the food or just the buzzing atmosphere. Book ahead otherwise you might not get a seat.

New style salmon sashimi

New style salmon sashimi

Food: Nobu’s creative and often high taste-profile (flattering the American taste) cooking mastery shows off at his namesake restaurants in the most vibrant colors. Like a rainbow his dishes cover the entire spectrum of taste from the delicate and lighter side to deep, rich and intense plates. It is wise to start light and move to the more powerful dishes so your taste buds manage to detect the suppleness of some of the delicate fish and seafood creations such as the refreshing peruvian style tiraditos (which Nobu learned during his time living in Lima many years ago) or plain sashimi. The staff knows the best in what order to serve the food and if you order a number of dishes at once they will bring them in an appropriate sequence. The New style sashimis are already moving towards the richer side as the fish is marinated in an oil-based sauce with sesame so get them after the simpler lime and lemon based courses such as Tomato ceviche or the fish tiraditos. My favorite from these more intense creations is the New style salmon sashimi. The fatty salmon is smooth and goes hand in hand with the oily sauce. A refreshing white wine with higher acidity such as Riesling is my best choice of wine with it.

Mushroom salad

Mushroom salad with lobster

Nobu does wonders with mushrooms. In the Nobu chain as well as in LA I usually order the sizzling hot Mushroom tobanyaki, but in Aspen they had something I have not seen on the menus before so I had to try the Mushroom salad with lobster. It proved to be a great choice as most food at Matsuhisa. The thousand flavors of the mushrooms showed that these forest gems top up even the best lobster in the world, the Maine lobster. Although the soft and juicy texture of the Maine lobster, especially the claws served with the salad, was superb, it were the mushrooms that were the most intriguing. Japanese and Chinese mushrooms taste so different from their peers in Europe and the Americas and they tend to work better with the Asian cuisine. By contrast, this warm mushroom salad with Asian-style dark sauce, American lobster and asparagus was the proof of a wonderful marriage between the Western and eastern ingredients.

We had many more dishes and I can recommend all of them since there was not a single one that I did not like. I have only highlighted my personal bests at “Matsu”, how the locals tend to call the restaurant, and it is up to you and mainly your taste preferences for which dishes you will go. the staff usually knows what is the most popular or particularly tasty on the day of your visit so let them advise you. Do not forget to mention any allergies you may suffer from since many dishes are quite complex and you can hardly recognize what is inside without being told so. One thing is sure: it is all tasty stuff.

Mochi ice cream

Mochi ice cream

If you are a fan of japanese sweets then try some of the traditional japanese desserts such as the Mochi ice cream. Thess gooey dumpling-like buns filled with frozen creamy ice cream are all home-made. You can select daily from the available flavors. The green tea and vanilla never disappoint, but chocolate or li-chi may seduce some chocoholics as well as exotic flavors-seeking adventurers.

Drinks: The wine list has selections to go well with the style of food offered at Matsuhisa. We usually go for an oaky California Chardonnay. On special days when we want to splurge a bit we get a bottle of Kistler Chardonnay that is creamy, rich, yet balanced with tremendous aftertaste. Beer is a popular choice of many man (I rarely see a woman having beer with japanese food) and there is a very good selection of not only Japanese brews. Not in the mood for alcohol? The Nobu’s own japanese green tea selection, which you can also buy, is really good and its cancer-defeating and youth prolonging antioxidants will leave you refreshed and in a good yet relaxed mood.

Opening Hours: Mon-Sun for dinner from 6:00–10:00 pm.

Address:  303 E Main St, Aspen, CO 81611

Contact: Tel: +1 (970) 544-6628

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The ski slope views from Bonnie's

The ski slope views from Bonnie’s

Cuisine: Mountain cafeteria-style buffet. American, Italian and French oriented.

Visit: February 2012

Price: Medium (for the usually pricy mountains and serving high quality food it is a good deal).

Mountain views from Bonnie's

Mountain views from Bonnie’s

Atmosphere: Casual, family friendly and fast-paced. People come and go. This a place to eat for the serious skiers as you do not need to “waste” too much time with eating. It is all buffet-style, so grab your tray and stride from desserts (strange the line starts with the sweats, it might be so because of the sugar’s quick energy potential necessary for the skiers), through a salad bar, warm dishes and grill, up to drinks and snacks just before the tills. Then get some ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard or pickles on the counter behind and run to one of the available tables. Unless you are a big group or come during the earlier or after-lunch hours, then you will probably share a table with others. Nobody minds though. On a sunny day you can sit on a large terrace and enjoy the rays shining on your face. After your sun tanning session and the meal, to be polite, clear your tray to a designated area inside.

Food: High-quality generous mountain food with wide options. The highlights are the White-bean chili soup served with tortilla chips, the large slices of the appfel strudel, the burgers, hot dogs and a choose-what-you-want salad bar.

Naughty lunch plate at Bonnie's

Naughty lunch plate at Bonnie’s

The hearty White-bean chilly soup is a perfect warmer on the cold days. It tastes wonderfully rich and satisfies quickly. I love the option of adding the crunchy tortilla crisps on the top. Choose wisely from the salads since the Ceasar was a bit disappointing, rather boring and dry. Some of the other grain and lentils-based salads were more fresh and delicious. In the mood for a burger? Bonnie’s is the right place to have one. After all if you skied hard, you deserve it. The burgers including the Cheeseburger are being prepared in front of you on a grill behind the counter. The entourage of salivating customers either waiting for one or pondering whether it is worth the cholesterol-rising sin, is the proof that its wonderful smell allures many of them like flies on a piece of meat. Melting cheddar over the juicy meat on a bed of tender and fresh white bread bun turned out to be worth of the sin. Later, it did not make our turns easier, but somehow we went down faster assisted by gravity. Neither the sublime sweet potato fries served with the burger were angels guarding our health, yet they were so good that I dove into a second portion of them is if I had nothing before. I guess my partner was so busy with his burger, that he did not mind me finishing up his fries. Crisp, full of flavor and not oily – simply perfect for me!

Cheeseburger being prepared

Cheeseburger being prepared

If you feel like anything sweet after this heavenly hell of great food then go for it. Unless you are a tow-track, I doubt you would still have some space left for the desserts if you ate all we had. The Apfel strudel is huge, but I got it confirmed by the local frequenting this lunch spot that it is very good, so on your meat-less day have one (or two) for lunch. Also if you are one of these first lift to last lift skiers and want to hit the slopes quick then just get one of the energy-boosting snacks and off you go. There are energy food bars, originally flavored potato chips and American staples such as M&M’s just before the cashier desks so you can help yourself.

Energy snacks at Bonnie's

Energy snacks at Bonnie’s

Drinks: You can have some wine (the selection is good and prices favorable), but when you ski it is safer to have a cup of tea. I admit, I have a glass (or two – never say never, right?) sometimes, but for some reason it feels more appropriate in Europe. The selection of teas from Mighty leaf at Bonnies is great. Mighty leaf tea became very popular and wide-spread across the American restaurants and cafés. They do a great job. For the cold mountains I went for the Bombai Chai. The black tea with spices with empowered me with a dose of caffeine and warmed up my cold limbs through the spices. Interestingly it is an Indian blend and it is not often as cold in India as in Aspen during the winter, but it works in both ways. When warm it makes you feel the heat less because of its inner illusion of warmth and when cold it tricks our receptors into feeling warmer. It has a user-friendly aroma. Not astringent as some black teas and nicely round and soothing with the right balance of spices in the blend.

Mighty leaf tea

Mighty leaf tea

Opening Hours: Open during the winter season only for a quick lunch on the slopes.

Address: 601 E Dean St, Aspen, CO 81611, USA.

Contact: Tel: +1 (970) 544 6252

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