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
Posted in Restaurant reviews, Travel
Tagged artichoke, arugula, brioche, denver, figs, goat cheese, iacp, muscat, orange, pasta, ravioli, salmon, truffle
Clinton Street Baking Company
(Lower East Side)
The Clinton Street Baking Company was on my list of places to visit, and I managed to stumble upon it one morning. It was fate.
In fact, it was fate that I would eat one of the most amazing French toast breakfasts I’ve ever had. The French toast was actually thick pieces of rich, eggy brioche. It was lightly pan-fried, and then doused in bourbon-laced caramelized bananas and pecans. As if that weren’t decadent enough, it was served with real maple butter.
They’re also famous for their buttermilk biscuits. Unfortunately, I was so stuffed full of sinfully good breakfast that I didn’t try a biscuit.
It’s a teeny tiny place. If you have the luxury of going during the week, take it. It will be busy then, but nowhere near the madness that weekends probably bring.
Clinton Street Baking Company
4 Clinton St
New York, NY
I trekked out to North Van to visit my old boss today. It was great to see my former co-workers, but wow – lots of things have changed in 10 months. I only knew two people in the pastry kitchen – the other four people are all new. And most of the girls in the cafe are new, and had no idea who I was.
At least things are pretty much the same in the chocolate kitchen, where I used to work. At the height of the Christmas season, we produced more than 60,000 identical, perfect, delicious-tasting chocolates each week. It was an insane exercise in organization, efficiency and artistry. I definitely enjoyed the experience – and my fantastic co-workers – but at the end of the day I knew that I wasn’t cut out for the madness of 16-hour days on my feet, fuelled by expensive cappuccino and pastries.