Rioja was one of the presenting restaurants at the opening reception for the IACP conference in Denver, and didn’t disappoint. Their offering of homemade arugula ravioli, oak barrel smoked chevre on brioche, and salmon tartare with Valencia orange gastrique was just a glimpse of what they could do.
On the last night of the conference, after the IACP awards ceremony, it seemed like Rioja was the unofficial post-ceremony nosh nook. Despite the throngs of people and our lack of reservation, we managed to score a seat in the front window.
The homemade pasta is spoken of so reverently that I wanted to try them all. I restrained myself and tried just two. To start, I had the pea pod ravioli with mushrooms, peas and spring garlic. The pasta was delicate and smooth, and the ravioli actually tasted like peas. It’s not often that you have a pasta filling that actually tastes like its description says. This was followed by the artichoke tortelloni with queso de mano cheese and truffle essence. I love artichokes and I love truffles. Need I say more?
The nice thing about Rioja is that they offer their pastas in appetizer and entree size, so two appetizer-sized pastas left me comfortably full with room for dessert. I couldn’t resist the beignets, served piping hot and dusted with icing sugar. Inside a fragrant (and deep-fried, yum) dough is tangy and sweet goat’s cheese and black mission fig compote. Paired with a sparkling muscat (with notse of pear, pineapple and lychee), it was a wonderful way to end the week in Denver.
Rioja’s surprisingly affordable: three courses and two glasses of wine only set me back $40, including tip and tax.
1431 Larimer Street