Postcard From Tom: Aspen, Colo.

Sunday, July 6, 2003

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

In Aspen, Colo., come winter or summer, it's restaurants are almost as busy as its hiking trails and ski slopes. Here's where diners-in-the-know prefer to refuel at 8,000 feet above sea level.:

AJAX TAVERN (685 E. Durant Ave., 970-920-9333)

A seat on the deck treats patrons to a mountain view; inside, the vista is repeated on etched glass panels separating the tables. The menu speaks with a mostly Italian accent-consider whole grilled trout with a risotto cake or Tuscan barbecue short ribs-yet the sleeper is a plump, all-American hamburger and french fries gussied up with grated parmesan and truffle oil. Diet tomorrow. Entrees $14-$27.

KENICHI (533 E. Hopkins Ave., 970-920-2212)

Locals flock to this intimate, softly lighted pan-Asian restaurant for good sushi, better summer rolls (delicate with lobster and mango) and imaginative entrees including roast duck in a Sichuan pancake with an orange-tinged hoisin sauce (picture a burrito by way of China). Regulars such as Kevin Costner and Goldie Hawn add Hollywood glitter. Sushi $4.75-$16; entrees $22-$32.

MOGADOR (430 E. Hyman Ave., 970-429-1072)

The flavors of Spain, France and Morocco come together in this romantic underground cocoon, which opens with a jewel-toned bar and continues with a series of small dining areas, including a chef's table for private dining in the rear kitchen. Diners can go the traditional route, composing a meal from appetizers followed by entrees, or fashion dinner from a lengthy list of tapas, including bite-size bee f empanadas and a gratin of spinach and mussels. The house cocktail-bright with passion fruit and capped off with cognac "foam"-packs an elegant punch. Tapas $3-$9; entrees $21-$38.

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