by linda hayes | July 25, 2013 | Food & Drink
The Adam Roll, a local favorite, topped with superchef Nobu’s delectable new-style salmon
Matsuhisa’s talented culinary team at work in the sleek exhibition kitchen
Specialty shochu cocktails are menu highlights at Matsuhisa
The cozy and classy main dining room at Cache Cache Bistro
Sample the decadent desserts on the Cache Cache menu
The tasty TY-KU Colada
The upstairs sushi bar at Matsuhisa Lounge
A press darling, Nobu Matsuhisa in The New York Times
Summer alfresco dining at Cache Cache Bistro
A spen rarely hides its bling. Diamonds and other shiny baubles glitter in shop windows or dangle as status symbols against décolletage. Thousand-dollar skis are tossed over shoulders as casually as minks. But unlike at its slick city counterparts, where searchlights and paparazzi signal the latest spot in which to see and be seen, some of Aspen’s most high-style restaurants are tucked in low-profile locales.
Take Matsuhisa, for instance. Aspen’s local shrine to superchef Nobu Matsuhisa’s nouveau Japanese cuisine is hidden, of all places, within an unassuming (albeit resplendently restored) Main Street Victorian. Cache Cache, Jodi Larner and Chris Lanter’s swank Aspen bistro, which actually means “hide and seek” in French, is celebrating its silver (25th) anniversary this season in its original spot: in the secluded garden level of Mill Street Plaza.
Once you hone in, unless you have a direct line to the powers that be (or have a personal assistant to smooth the way), tapping an appropriate table can be challenging. That noted, a little inside information is key. Here’s what, and whom, to know before you go.
It can be a tough call—whether to sit in the upstairs Matsuhisa Lounge (which doesn’t accept reservations) or secure a coveted seat downstairs for the full-on Matsu experience. Both have their advantages: If in the mood to get to know locals, they are most often found in the lounge, navigating a more moderately priced bar menu (the yellowtail jalapeño is a must), and a decidedly laid-back scene, with oversize flat-screens displaying favorite sport and ski channels. However, dinner in the main dining room is an unforgettable experience, with a well-heeled crowd and specific menu items—such as the incredible oshitashi (spinach) salad—only offered downstairs. Better yet, plan on a night at both, because if one thing’s for certain, you’ll be returning to this Aspen mainstay.
When upstairs, Matsuhisa Lounge bartender Pat Ryan (aka “Uncle Pat”) shakes up specialty cocktails featuring a selection of sake made exclusively for the Nobu restaurants by Hokusetsu brewery on Sado Island (dubbed “Sake Island” by Nobu’s business partner, Robert De Niro) in Niigata Prefecture, Japan.
Also in his shaker are drinks made with shochu (“fiery spirits” in Japanese), a clear, distilled vodka-like spirit made from high-starch grains (barley, wheat, sesame) or vegetable (corn, sweet potatoes) that’s lighter in alcohol and calories than whiskey and vodka, and outsells sake in Japan.
Cache Cache Cachet
Known for it’s fabulous fine dining, with classic French fare crafted by übertalented chef Chris Lanter, Cache Cache is also the original creator of an Aspen dining trend that has since permeated nearly every local eatery: the bar menu. A bevy of locals can be found at the Cache Cache bar on any given night, noshing on smaller portions of the main dinner menu. Here, ski bunnies sidle up next to Texas oil titans, while a local architect and a musician are a bar stool away, too. The restaurant’s curb appeal has recently been updated with a sexy new lounge and a stylish wine wall.
The restaurant draws connoisseurs with an eclectic 106-page, 1,000-label list that represents the world’s major wine regions. It’s also been a regular recipient of the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.
Anticipation is heightened by a showcase 4,000-bottle, temperature-controlled wine cellar set behind a wall of glass in the restaurant’s busy bar. “Guests are into our culture as a wine destination,” says Cache Cache co-owner and notable oenophile Jodi Larner. “The wine cellar is visual, but it’s functional, too.”
Should pressure to select prove daunting, Sommelier Alex Harvier is more than happy to assist with everything from by-the-glass to double- magnum selections.
As notable as the recently renovated bar is the long-standing dining room. Cozy, classy, and always abuzz, this Aspen favorite has a certain je ne sais quoi, and if these walls could talk, the stories would scream for “Page Six.” Whether a celebrity or a well-known local, what’s of most import is the level playing ground that Larner deftly creates: Every diner is treated with the same respect and stealth service. The result? A balanced mix of curious tourists and gracious locals, which always makes for a festive evening. And then there’s the cuisine. A longtime local, chef Lanter is touted for steadfast consistency; rarely, if on any night, does he miss the mark on incredible fare, whether in search of shared smaller bites or the hearty Colorado rack of lamb (a decadent reward after a punishing day on the slopes). Most nights, a rock star can be spied fueling up before a big show at Belly Up (Cache Cache is known to be a favorite of Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro). If with a large party, the private dining room is also of particular note, the locale for both sophisticated birthday bashes and notorious holiday happenings. And if a reservation in the main dining room is overdue, one can never go wrong with a martini and frisée salad at the bar (ask for Jimmy). Dinner is certainly worth the wait. Matsuhisa, 303 E. Main St.; Cache Cache Bistro, 205 S. Mill St.
photography by jodie love (drink, newspaper, cache cache, Matsuhisa menu, roll, chefs)