Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Rioja - Denver Restaurant Week

How do you prepare for a Denver snow day? I eat at great restaurants as Denver Restaurant Week kicks off. This post is a long time coming, but I feel productive as I enjoy my last day in Europe. Life was so busy when I left Denver February 25. The Rocky Balboa Blowout Weekend started that Friday, DRW started Saturday night, and I had to leave that Monday.
If you love food, you must prioritize these experiences. I actually forgot about Denver Restaurant Week this year, but once I saw a friend post about her first DRW restaurant choice I flew into action from Madrid, Spain. I thoroughly searched the DRW restaurant list for restaurants fitting my criteria:
1. A restaurant I haven't attended or did in a very limited manner
2. More than 3 courses or very inspiring courses
3. High Yelp rating
I began opening tabs and then emailing restaurants for reservations. I probably sounded desperate: "Hi. I'm a Denver local currently based in Madrid, Spain. I tried getting a reservation through Open Table, but couldn't because it's disabled during those dates. Please don't make me call you because international rates are expensive (before I discovered GooglePhone in my Gmail account). I'm desperately missing my Denver restaurants and am free between 5-9pm. Please let me in with a friend. Thank you."
My friend, JessieMcD, came along for this Rioja adventure. She leapt at the chance to dine at Rioja's Chef's Table. It's funny, but they apologetically said they only had the Chef's Table available. Yes, please, twist my arm.

Intermission: the last two pictures show Jessie delighting in Rioja's fabulous bread. They range from herbal, fruit, and italian spice with cheese varieties. Decadence. Apply the butter and salt as liberally as you like.
Our waitress was immensely helpful. She explained Rioja's DRW menu, noting that their entire menu is offered with some surcharges in some areas and 2-3 shared plates because of their size. As an added bonus, they offered two specials included for DRW with no additional surcharge. My friend and I started with the shared "picnic basket" with a trio of artisan meats, warm pine nut crusted goat cheese, Italian Mountain gorgonzola, olives inside the cabbage centerfold, truffle fennel salad, orange confit, and almonds. This was finger food at its best.
Being seated at the Chef's Table helped our decision making process immensely. At several points, we asked our server what certain menu items. This and her fine descriptions helped narrow our choices. I selected the salmon special as pictured above.
My friend's pork tenderloin was the taste bud winner with its rich cardamom brine and applewood smoking. It was pure pork decadence.
The Chef's Table also led to indecision, most notably with desserts.
I wish I had better descriptions for you, the reader, but this post is 6 weeks overdue. Just know that Jennifer Jasinski is a master in her kitchen. You can trust Rioja to give you a fulfilling and sublime dining experience.

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