I walked into Rustique sweaty and underdressed with no reservation and a ravenous appetite. If I had stepped into the same caliber restaurant in France I surely would have been kicked back outside and given a hose to shower off, but fortunately for me there is no more flexible and welcoming a bistro than the one I had so unceremoniously barreled into. Within seconds I had been whisked away to a charming corner table, the evening light illuminating my nook.
Rustique is an authentic French bistro in Aspen. It's delicious food and homey atmosphere have kept a continuous stream of customers coming to their tables for over fourteen years. Even during the off-season it's packed with a diverse array of personalities, ranging from the average hungry hockey player to new business associates awkwardly blinking at each other across the table. It has cream weather beaten walls, with dried flowers and copper pots hanging from the rafters. The waiters bustle around in crisp aprons, the smell of French onion soup and red wine wafting behind them. There's a classy side bar as you walk in and the tables provide a sneak- peek of the kitchen, chef hat's bobbing behind a tiled line of ovens. It's an artful restaurant and though the decor and friendly wait staff is enough to get you to sit down; the food is what guarantees your return.
A common line used by Rustique's staff is "if you find a can in our kitchen, I'll buy you dinner", it's not used in vain. Every dish cooked is completely from scratch; even the bread is baked fresh by an exclusive bread baker, who has been with the restaurant for eight years. The menu changes periodically to incorporate the season's best, but you can always count on certain dishes that won't disappoint. The Risotto with Short Ribs, and Coq Au Vin, to name a couple, have been some of the most ordered dishes since they hit the menu almost a decade ago, and that is the key to Rustique's success: consistency. The chef's, menus, and waiters have been churning out the same high quality work every year without fail. This reliability is what keeps devoted customers, like me, coming back whenever an opportunity presents itself.
I decided that the Pan Roasted Trout with fingerling potatoes would appease my hunger, and ordered the famous onion soup gratinee as an appetizer. Both were new to me and I was blown away by the delicious simplicity of the dishes. The onion soup exceeded my expectations. It was not thick and greasy, as I have experienced in other restaraunts, but fresh. It had a picked straight from the garden and thrown right in the cooking pot taste to it. The onions came in noodle like strips, adding a soft texture and sweet vegetable tang. The broth complemented it perfectly, it was merely a side note to the sweetness of the onions and the saltiness of the cheese. The bread was soaked but not mushy resting on top of the soup with a gruyere quilt sealing it off. It was a delicious dish and I ended up using some slightly crude tactics to try and get the last drops.
When the trout came I knew I was in for a treat. The fingerlings potatoes and mushrooms were plump with butter, and the trout was roasted just as I like it, cooked evenly throughout with no raw pink surprises in the middle. A colorful tarragon pooled around the edges. It was a pretty dish; the purple and yellow of the potatoes combined with the orange sauce made it quite a color wheel. The art of the dish wasn't in the colors though it was in the taste. Everything was cooked perfectly, the fish was boneless, and it was rich but not overwhelming. I don't have enough praise for this dish.
It was an exceptional meal and I left happy, but then, I always do. Rustique once again surprised me and trumped my expectations, and I can't wait for my next visit.
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