It was an overcast afternoon when I hopped in a cab bound for Denver’s Historic Larimer Square. I stared up at grey clouds from my passenger seat window, they seemed to be looming over the city so I closed my eyes and wished against their rains. From the curb I pranced past a petite patio covered in rich green summer foliage and whisked myself through the front door.
Rioja Restaurant‘s interior features hand-blown glass fixtures, copper-topped bar and exhibition kitchen. I puttered about the space with my camera and had a delightful time mulling about the blazing oven where the restaurants signature scones are prepared each day (the smells here are divine). I was seated by the window nestled between the patio (perfect for pedestrian people watching) and Rioja’s cozy bar.
Jennifer Jasinski, chef and owner of Rioja was recently chosen as Best Chef Southwest by the James Beard Foundation in a ceremony at NYC’s Lincoln Center this past May. Long considered the “Oscars for chefs”, this marked the first Best Chef award for a Denver chef in the history of the Beard Foundation. The competition in Best Chef Southwest category covered chefs from Nevada, Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. Ms Jasinski has spent years striving to put Denver on America’s culinary map. Her acceptance speech is entirely adorable…
Rioja’s menu offers a European inspired approach to nouveau Americana cuisine. Food fans planning their first trip to Denver should book reservations in advance to ensure their properly planned pilgrimage pays homage to the Southwest’s most celebrated kitchen. My meal started off with a selection of house made bread (I of course had a sampling each which was then replenished out of necessity). Addictive rosemary and goat cheese biscuits, whole wheat rolls dotted with currants and candied ginger as well as lavender sourdough pretty much blow your mind after slathered in butter and plopped in the mouth.
Highlights from Chef Jennifer’s whimsical award winning menu include: chilled corn and coconut consomme, cardamom spiced pork belly with madras scented garbanzo puree and a delicate tortelloni filled with goat cheese and artichoke mousse scented with truffle. I’ll never forget the absolutely mind blowing sandwich which featured a massive buttery scone filled with grilled watermelon, virginia ham and pickled watermelon rind slaw which was served alongside crispy corn dog battered okra with a bad ass cilantro bacon aioli for dipping.
After enjoying a fine feast at Riojo you’ll find yourself walking out the door with a smug mug, borderline food coma, wonderful gastronomic bliss.
house made limoncello, bombay gin, ginger ale, cava, lime squeeze
Ramon Bilbao Reserva, Rioja
To Die For Bread Basket
rosemary goat cheese bisquit, whole wheat roll with currants candied ginger and sunflower seeds, lavender sourdough
Amuse the Mouth
coconut risotto ball, curry ginger sauce
Chilled Corn-Coconut Consomme
roasted baby heirloom tomatoes, coconut-basil panna cotta, baby corn, crispy coconut, micro basil
cardamom spiced kurobuta pork belly, madras curry scented garbanzo bean puree
roasted shiitake mushrooms, olive oil poached shallots, fruition farm’s sheep milk ricotta, lemon-extra virgin olive oil nage, micro basil
goat cheese and artichoke mousse stuffed pasta, artichoke broth, truffle essence, queso de mano cheese, chevril
Virginia Ham and Watermelon Sandwich
house made biscuit, grilled watermelon, pickled watermelon rind slaw, cilantro bacon aioli, corn dog battered okra
sweet goat cheese and black mission fig filled pastries, ruby port wine reduction
White and Black Cheesecake
blackberry filled white chocolate cheesecake, toasted black sesame ice cream, blackberry coulis, sesame nougatine, black sesame paint