I've spent 10 years in Aspen, and few of its extravagances surprise me anymore. The town of just 6,000 year-round residents has 225 shops (four devoted to cashmere), more than 30 art galleries and 7,700 "guest pillows," or rooms, for the transitory ski set, including the 257 at the recently remodeled St. Regis Hotel (315 E. Dean St.; 970-920-3300). But the sheer number of restaurantsthere are 80still amazes me.
The most popular new place is Wild Fig (315 E. Hyman Ave.; 970-925-5160). The restaurant, in a little mustard-yellow building, has 10 tables and a Mediterranean menu featuring dishes like fiery clams with chorizo. Down the street is one of my favorite dining rooms in town, Restaurant Mogador (430 E. Hyman Ave.; 970-429-1072). The chef, C. Barclay Dodge, prepares Iberian haute cuisine, like suckling pork confit, and tapas, like Serrano ham on tomato-rubbed bread.
The Matsuhisa Lounge (303 E. Main St.; 970-544-6628) is the street-level extension of the subterranean Matsuhisa Aspen. The lounge is always packed, because of the no-reservations policy and thanks to the delicious and relatively inexpensive dishes, like jalapeño yellowtail or buttery miso-glazed black cod. Merlin's Gourmet Pizza (321 E. Hopkins St.; 970-544-4644) is also invariably crowded, especially at 5 p.m., when kids can make their own pies. The appeal for me is the cracker-thin pizza crust and unconventional toppings, like spinach and gorgonzola with pine nuts.
My favorite place for cheese is Specialty Foods of Aspen & The Cheese Shop (601 E. Hopkins Ave.; 970-544-6656). Michele Kiley, known as Kiley, brings in over 100 superb kinds, and Marco Cingolani incorporates a handful of them into the panini he makes at the counter. I usually order a panino al cotto that includes sharp Vermont Cheddar, smoky ham and maple-horseradish mustard. If the weather's warm, I'll sit at one of the outside picnic tables and figure out where to shop after lunch.