Restaurant Review - Head for the Rockies

Steaks and more at comfy Aspens

Aspens is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Yeah, it's in a typical strip mall in northeast Cobb, and the white Christmas lights currently bedecking the eaves are a bit much (even for the 'burbs). But walk in, and you feel like you've jumped to the Rockies.

Booths and chairs are softened by upholstered leather, cowhide pillows line up along benches facing the stacked brick fireplace, large pieces of Western artwork are highlighted along the wood walls, exposed timbers crisscross above - all for that ski lodge feel. You'll want to snuggle up and enjoy a mug of mulled wine before hitting the slopes.

But what else would you expect from a place called Aspens Signature Steaks, the newest venture and love affair of restaurateurs Christopher and Michele Sedgwick (owners of sister restaurants Van Gogh's, Vinny's and Theo's Brother's Bakery). After visiting Aspen years ago, they thought about starting a restaurant there. Instead, they brought Colorado to Atlanta.

The Aspen menu offers some of the best steaks in the city, on par with pricier flanks at Bones or Chops. Certified Angus beef cuts include prime rib, T-bone, filet, ribeye and New York strip. If you aren't in the mood for a hearty slice of cow, there are pork, seafood and chicken selections.

At Aspens, it's tempting to fill up on the delicious bread before you ever get to the entree. A hot loaf of whole grain bread made fresh at Theo's Brother's Bakery is set on the table with a terra muffaletta (ground bread crumbs, garlic, cumin, olive oil and caviar). The creamy spread begs to be devoured.

A laundry list of appetizers includes soups, salads and heartier items like blue lump crab cake ($12.95), which our server enthusiastically recommended. "Ajax" onion rings ($5.95) are softball-sized sturdy onion slices deep-fried and served with a Gorgonzola dipping sauce. The salty yet satisfying chopped salad ($7.95) includes garbanzo beans, hearts of palm, peppers, tomatoes, crumbled mountain Gorgonzola and basil-lemon vinaigrette tossed with romaine lettuce.

Steak options range from a 7-ounce Aspens filet ($18.95) to a 10-ounce chopped steak ($14.95) to a massive 20-ounce bone-in ribeye, cowboy ($24.95). The 7-ounce Aspens filet ($18.95) is modest in size, but every bite counts. Coarse salt and marinades season the meat and give it a sumptuous, rich flavor. The meat is slow and evenly cooked.

The steak comes with a large baked potato prepared to your liking, but I went with grilled asparagus. Other side selections include sauteed mushrooms, buttered spinach, baked creamed spinach, white cheddar grits, buttermilk mashed potatoes and classic thick-cut skillet potatoes.

Grilled pork tenderloin ($19.95), prepared with caramelized apple chunks in a brandy reduction and a side of horseradish mashed potatoes, is comfort food at its finest but doesn't come close to measuring up to the steak. Overcooked and dry, the four pork tenderloins needed the apple brandy sauce for even a tinge of flavor. Good, but not great.

After all this food, you may wish to pass on the dessert menu — but press on, anyhow. Unlike some restaurants with hearty main courses where the desserts are skimped on, Aspens serves destination desserts. Though not terribly inventive, the dark and white chocolate mousse cake must be experienced. A thin base of chocolate cake supports layers of dark and white chocolate mousse, which are sealed with milk chocolate ganache to create a cylinder of sweetness. The whole thing is surrounded by raspberry sauce and fresh berries.

In addition to its regular menu, Aspens offers monthly four-course wine dinners and sporadic tastings that feature selections from the 8,000-plus bottles of wine in its extensive cellar. For $69, you can experience a four-course meal paired with various wines. The wine menu is expansive and is updated on a monthly basis.??