D19 is a good après-ski and après-hike dining option in downtown Aspen.
This modern Italian restaurant is situated just blocks from the base of Aspen Mountain and across from Wheeler Opera House. Chef-owner Dena Marino, who also runs the oddly fig-less Wild Fig around the corner, named D19 for its opening date: December 19, 2005.
D19 has already garnered high praise over its short run. It’s been featured in Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure. My father and stepmother also beat me there, by a year; they both remembered liking it, though neither of them could remember why. Still, if they like a restaurant, the odds are extremely good that I’ll like it.
D19’s most interesting design feature was a brick and copper dome. On the sunny summer day we experienced, it was nice to sit on the patio, which provided a cool breeze and interesting people-watching opportunities.
The airy interior featured plenty of natural light and a well-stocked wine wall.
Even though we arrived early and found plenty of open tables, we were restricted to the bar. Allison and Jane ordered mojitos from the D21 menu, featuring drinks for people 21 and over.
My strawberry mint lemonade ($6) came topped with what looked like an entire mint plant and co-starred muddled strawberries, creating nice tart-sweet contrast.
We received a complimentary basket of warm focaccia served with olive oil infused with paprika, garlic and basil.
To drink, since it was unusually hot, we ordered a bottle of Pascal Joliuet Sancerre 2005, a dry white wine.
The menu was divided from D1 (appetizers) to D6 (entrees).
Allison ordered The “Roman” Artichoke ($15) a whole braised artichoke simply prepared with mint, garlic, red pepper flake and Pinot Grigio. Very nice starter, especially the hearts, which absorbed the spice blend.
To start, I got a half-order of ricotta cavatelli with “forever braised pork,” mustard greens and cippolini jus. The pasta fingers were very good, topped with big, tender pork chunks.
Jane opted for a light starter, “Teen” Field Greens ($12) topped with roasted peaches, Marcona almonds, Pt. Reyes blue cheese dressing. She seemed pleased.
My father was the big appetizer winner. Savory Prosciutto di Parma Zeppole ($13) were warm beignet-like rosemary “ham doughnuts” draped with premium prosciutto, drizzled with Urbani truffle oil and blanketed with a blizzard of “snowy” Reggiano. Heavy, but compelling.
For his entree, my father ordered Corn Fed Chicken On The Bone ($28), half a juicy bird set atop a blend of diced apples, cabbage, pancetta, cipollini onions and roasting jus.
Allison kept it in-state, ordering very good Colorado lamb sirloin ($31) with toasted farro and ramps. Medium-rare sheep slices were charred outside, locking in the meat’s juices, then drizzled with tangy Meyer lemon mint yogurt.
Jane bypassed a good-looking whole-roasted barramundi in favor of Pan Seared Halibut ($28) with wild mushroom-spinach salad, fennel and lemon-caper brown butter emulsion. Flaky white fish was fairly mild, but the accompaniments provided a nice boost.
Not one to pass up pig or fig, I ordered Kurobuta pork loin ($36) with soft polenta, fava beans and Mission figs. The portion was massive, and try as I might, I couldn’t eat every luscious, lean slice. Of course that might have been because I kept sampling everybody else’s food.
We ordered side dishes from the D4 menu section. Allison selected sugar snap peas con burro ($6). I normally prefer my snap peas with mule, but this version was good, crisp peas simply prepared with butter (burro means butter in Italian).
Our other side was a mix of cippolini, pancetta, apples and cabbage ($6). We were all convinced that my father wouldn’t want to part with the tantalizing side that came with his chicken, and we were right.
We didn’t eat dessert, since we were invited to a dessert and coffee party, but I still snagged Jane’s amaretti – a crunchy Venetian almond cookie that came with her coffee.
Driving from Denver on Friday, my cousin Jimmy was absolutely convinced there would be no good food. Happily, D19 was my family’s culinary salvation. If I had eaten the same meal in Los Angeles, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.