Why Are the Restaurants So Bad in Aspen?

Piñons . As we were being seated, one of the maitre d's said the restaurant was A++. Not a good sign. Great restaurants don't brag. Even more depressing to me was the look at the menu. There were hardly any dishes that even aspired to greatness. The items seemed much like the list at every other restaurant—salmon, duck, lamb, beef tenderloin, halibut. But surprise, surprise. While not A++, it was better than expected. There was no amuse-bouche but starters were good, even very good. A spinach salad with walnuts and beets and fresh, sweet black mission figs was all fresh, and a nice combination of what my daughter calls "extras." A triangular, puffy lobster strudel looked more like a samosa, with flaky dough and fresh and flavorful lobster. Duck quesadilla with portobello mushroom was nice, and the texture was right, although it was hard to discern a distinctive duck taste.

The fish entrees, salmon and sea bass, were very good. The sesame crust on the sea bass and the bread crumbs on the salmon did not add anything, but the basic fish was flavorful and had clearly been flown in that day. And at least the chef had the good sense not to obliterate their taste. My friends told me the pork tenderloin was good. My buffalo tenderloin was bland—no distinct bison taste.

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Jason Dewey

Piñons had a lot of desserts that seemed appealing. Five of us shared three desserts. They were huge. Unfortunately, the chocolate bread pudding was more like a cakey brownie than a bread pudding. The fresh berry cobbler was very good, with a nice combination of strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. If I wanted to complain, I would say that the berries could have been tarter and the ratio of crust to berries was too doughy. But that is being too picky. Truth be told, I would have been honored to make this cobbler. The sorbets were both elegantly presented and delicious. The three—green apple, raspberry, and blackberry— came in a 9-inch square dish with fresh fruit in the others. They were clearly homemade with the very freshest ingredients. The apple was a perfect palate cleanser, crisp and clean with no aftertaste, and the raspberry optimized the combination of tart and sweet. What a wonderful finale.

Piñons was workmanlike. The food was well-crafted, but there was no inspiration or aspiration. Nothing on the menu, except maybe the lobster strudel, tried for great heights of originality or creativity. This was competence and excellent execution—not artistry. Overall, though, it served a very good meal.

NEXT : The final verdict

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Ezekiel J. Emanuel is an oncologist, a bioethicist, and a vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author or editor of 10 books, including Brothers Emanuel and Reinventing American Health Care.

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