Like many of Aspen's best restaurants, Ellina is hidden underground in a cozy, stone-walled space reminiscent of Colorado's mining days. After descending the stairwell leading to the restaurant and being greeted by two cheerful bottles of orange-label Veueve Cliquot (Help myself? But, of course!) diners are escorted to the intimate and romantic dining room.This is the place to see and be seen in Aspen. Ellina features a palette of farm-to-table ingredients crafted by Chef Miguel Diaz into a selection of dishes worthy of their award winning wine list. (Silver Oak, Littorai…hello!) After hearing Aspen regulars rave like alllllll day about the Braised Artichoke Heart Bruschetta with organic poached egg, shaved truffles, creamy parmagiano – we had to try it. Yes, it's a $26 starter – but it's worth it. For good measure, we also tried the Rare Kampachi app with smoked sea salt, cucumber radish salad and blood orange caviar. At $20, this melt in your mouth crudo was well worth the investment. Aligning with the "eat local" mantra practiced by The Braised Colorado Lamb Shank with caramelized cipollini onions, poblano pepper polenta, lamb jus was sheer perfection. Moist, flavorful, juicy and absolutely fall-off-the-bone decadence. A must-eat in Aspen. On the evening we dined at Ellina, Barrmundi was offered with pan seared, potato leek ravioli, chanterelle mushrooms and yellow tomato sauce – a perfect, light alternative to the rich lamb dish and a contender for one of the Best Dishes We Ate in 2011. Seriously. For dessert, order the perfect rev-me-up dessert - Ellina's signature Afogato with house made caramel gelato, espresso and house made biscotti that is as indulgent as it is packed with caffeine. Feeling extra daring (or tired?) Order the Afogato Correcto, which includes a shot of grappa.
TIP: Ellina is not the easiest reservation to be had in Aspen. If you don't mind eating late, score a 10'oclock reservation and languish over a bottle of wine before heading out to one of Aspen's happening hotspots.