Word of Mouth

Aspen restaurants stink, says Atlantic writer

Zeke Emanuel admits he has no qualifications to review food, and that he's writing about restaurants for the Atlantic's website only because he "argued with Corby Kummer about the merits of molecular gastronomy and Alice Waters' cooking." Still, Emanuel knows what he doesn't like -- and he really didn't like the restaurants he ate at while in Aspen last month for the sixth annual Ideas Festival, co-sponsored by the magazine. Hence his July 29 post, "Why are the Restaurants So Bad in Aspen?"

Here's the start:

Aspen, Colorado is the richest locale in the United States. In 2009, the average home sold for over $4 million. A large contingent of Aspen's residents--or, more accurately, transient homeowners who fly in to their vacation abodes on private jets that line the airport--come from the Bay Area and Chicago. They are, or should be, used to eating great food. With Alinea, Avec, Charlie Trotter's, Gary Danko, The Slanted Door, Blue Plate, and many others, those two cities are renowned for their fantastic restaurants, and are arguably the best foodie cities in the United States. (Sorry, New York.) Why are these people with sophisticated palates and no monetary barriers willing to put up with mediocrity? Why doesn't Aspen have a truly great restaurant?

While hunting for a great restaurant, Emanuel reports that he ate at Syzygy, where "we did have a fantastic half bottle of wine, a wonderful 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape. But the food was completely forgettable."

Then there was Montagna, at the Little Nell, where the bland entrees were just the start of the problem. "The real disappointment," he says, "was that there absolutely nothing on the dessert menu worth ordering--nothing."

And then, finally, dinner at Piñons. "As we were being seated," he recalls, "one of the maitre d's said the restaurant was A++. Not a good sign. Great restaurants don't brag." For the record, Pinons at least rated an A- from Emanuel -- his best grade of any Aspen restaurant.

Why are the restaurants in Aspen so bad? Here's one possible explanation from Emanuel: Maybe the rich aren't like you and me. Maybe they are so preoccupied by making money, they don't care about enjoying the great things of life, like great food. Don't we wish they were uncultured bores.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun