Coming in from the Cold at Rustique Bistro
Country French, with Altitude: Rustique Offers Quiet Comfort, Year-Round
When Rob Ittner founded Rustique Bistro, he began with a mouthwatering question: “When your grandmother makes something for you on a farm in the south of France, what is she going to make?” Ittner asked. “That’s our food.”
From the braised short ribs with carrots, potatoes and Brussels sprouts to the juicy roast chicken and infamous truffle macaroni and cheese, Rustique’s menu would surely make a French grandmother proud.
The restaurant’s terra cotta walls, rustic tile floors, warm lighting and barn-wood ceiling evoke the feeling of stumbling into a rural inn on a blustery fall day and getting exactly what you need to warm your belly.
“Our food is comfortable, homey, unstructured. It’s not meant to be fussed over,” says Ittner, who spent a year in the south of France as a young man and was taken with its simple, hearty cuisine.
Rustique opened during the “bistro boom” that swept the U.S. in the early 2000s, Ittner says, but unlike most of its Paris-inspired counterparts, his restaurant took its cues from the agrarian feel of rural France.
Like the country kitchens that inspired it, Rustique’s menu is heavily seasonal, with an ever-changing slate of daily specials influenced by the weather, the farm fields and the mood of head chef Tico Starr.
The restaurant sources regularly from local growers like Rendezvous Farm, Crystal River Meats and Avalanche Cheese, despite the difficulty in matching the ebbs and flows of Aspen’s tourist season with the peak of Colorado’s harvest.
It’s a recipe that has charmed Aspenites for 13 years. Locals are the base of Rustique’s clientele: Unlike much of its competition, the restaurant stays open all year. During the off-season, Rustique offers an off-season prix-fixe menu for between $29 and $35 along with an affordable—and wildly popular—bar menu.
“We try to recognize the locals, and take care of them year-round,” Ittner says. “Not everyone who lives here eats out at the more expensive restaurants.”
This fall, as the streets of Aspen quiet down and the leaves begin to fall, anyone seeking a little warmth would do well to wander into Rustique. Its doors will be open.