Aspen may not be home to a James Beard Award-winning restaurant, but this winter it’s got the next closest thing. New York’s acclaimed Eleven Madison Park – with many accolades, including the top spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – has brought its team, steered by chef Daniel Humm and operator Will Guidara, to pop up EMP Winter House in the St. Regis.
This past weekend, social media channels in Aspen were aflutter with its debut. The charming duo hosted VIPs, media and American Express cardholders (who get priority in reservations) in the dining room usually occupied by Chefs Club. “This feels surreal,” Humm told the group on Friday evening.
Some could argue that for Humm, a Swiss native, the concept has been a lifetime in the making – by finally honoring his alpine roots with a menu. Unlike Eleven Madison Park, a restaurant that serves creative, upscale American, EMP Winter House will feature items inspired by the mountains. Think veal schnitzel, Zurich-style chicken and hearty vegetables sides, like braised cabbage or roasted carrots.
But in reality, the actual vision for Winter House started 18 months ago with Summer House. When Eleven Madison Park announced it would close for renovations last year, Humm and Guidara said they didn’t want to abandon the team or momentum for several months. Instead, they opened a pop-up in East Hampton during peak season.
It was supposed to be temporary, but of course people are already asking if it will return. Aspen was a natural location for Humm, a self-proclaimed mountain man – he hiked and snowboarded Highland Bowl on Friday before the restaurant’s opening night, like any good local trying to manage it all – naturally thought of Aspen as a potential location.
It helps that the town’s winter visitors and some residents also have the deep pockets to spring for the meal, with entrees ranging from $34, for butternut squash with apples and quinoa, to $175, for 100-day dry-age ribeye. Reservations are only given to American Express cardholders, but everyone else can try their luck at the door.
A series of yurts have also been erected in one of the St. Regis’s courtyards. These are designed for private group dinners. Inside one of them, a bar has been set up and is also open to the public for apres-ski, from 3-5 p.m.
Humm and Guidara won’t spend the whole winter here; they’ve got Eleven Madison Park, along with NoMad restaurants, to run again. But the imported team will stay in place. It’s an interesting approach: to move the restaurant and its crew seasonally in order to maintain a level of consistency and quality.
Eleven Madison Park earned a James Beard Award for outstanding service, among other categories (chef, pastry chef, restaurant and wine service). Because of Aspen’s seasonal nature and housing shortage, service is a challenge for existing local restaurants. Customers who get used to the exceptional service and menu may start asking when Winter House is returning. Enjoy the pop-up while it lasts. It’ll be gone April 6.
Christine Benedetti writes about food here every other week. Mostly the plant kind. She’s editor-in-chief of Aspen magazine, but you can reach her @cabenedetti.