Elevate a festive winter dinner with recipes from a mountainside restaurant known for creative comfort food
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Plenty of on-mountain restaurants have moved beyond bowls of chili and refrigerated sandwiches, but Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, on Colorado's Aspen Highlands mountain, is something special. It’s not a cavernous chalet, but an old clapboard hut that, until the late 1990s, housed a ski patrol station. (Members of the patrol still come in through the back door before the restaurant opens for lunch, looking for hot coffee and good cheer.) The building then became a warming hut, with soup served through a window under a heat lamp. Even back then, the shack had a mystique that kept people coming back. Soon raclette—the Alpine cheese you melt on a tabletop grill—was also available. A wine list here and a few tablecloths there, and a bistro was born. Recently, chef Michael Johnston took the helm and brought in Colorado game, river trout, and local produce as he lightened up the menu—all while keeping the restaurant’s Alpine style intact.
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In from the cold
Getting to Cloud Nine for dinner involves piling into a snowcat for a bone-shaking ride up and down the mountain. Lunch, which is ski-in only, is also an option. You can plant your skis and poles in the snowbank along the deck, knock the snow from our boots, and push through the door. Yes, it’s awkward to tuck ski boot–clad feet under the white tablecloths, and consult a well-curated wine list while sporting performance fleece and helmet-matted hair. But that’s dissolved by Cloud Nine’s out-of-time, out-of-place charm.
If it’s sunny, there isn’t anything much better than lounging on the deck with a glass of wine and the view of Maroon Bells mountains at the end of a ski day. But if you’re not up for skiing in for your meal, just cook the restaurant’s decadent raclette or soul-warming Stroganoff, and you’ll get a sense of the Cloud Nine magic.
Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, open daily in season (Dec–Apr) for ski-in lunch and snowcat dinners ($$$$; dinner Thu only; dinner reservation required);aspensnowmass.com/cloudnine.
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Raclette (Melted Cheese)
“Raclette” refers to both a nutty, fruity Swiss cheese and the dish that’s made with it—the hunk of cheese melted in front of a fireplace and the gooey top layer scraped off and eaten with boiled potatoes, pickles, bread, and sliced meats. Cloud Nine’s chef, Michael Johnston, recommends melting the raclette in the oven if you don’t have a fireplace; in a cast-iron skillet, it will stay melted for 15 minutes. To keep it oozy longer, set it on a warmer.
Cloud Nine welcomes its guests with glass mugs of this steaming wine, garnished with a slice of blood orange when it’s in season. Since glühwein (German for “glow wine”) is heated and infused with spices, don’t bother with your best bottle to make it; just choose a red wine that you wouldn’t mind drinking.
Rich, comforting, and full of deep, earthy flavor, this dish will convert any Stroganoff skeptic. Cloud Nine uses elk, but beef tenderloin, particularly grass-fed, makes an easier-to-find and excellent substitute, since both are very lean.