Rioja is VERY GOOD

2012 February 15
by David Schlichter
Prosciutto cannoli from Rioja

Prosciutto cannoli from Rioja (crispy speck prosciutto shell filled with mascarpone, ricotta, honey, thyme. Served atop a compote of poached quince, Medjool dates, and hazelnuts.)

I can sum up the food at Rioja in exactly two words: VERY GOOD.

I tend, most often, to go to (and review) restaurants that make Good food at a reasonable price.  I love restaurants such as Snooze, where the satisfaction with/price of food ratio is off the charts.  Every once in a while, though, I like to eat a meal at one of the more expensive restaurants in our city–not the ones that are expensive just to be expensive, but restaurants that make unbelievably delicious food and happen to charge more, accordingly.

Thai scallops from Rioja

Rioja definitely qualifies as the latter restaurant type.  The meals at Rioja are pricey.  The food, though, is outstanding.  We went there for the first time last night to celebrate Valentine’s Day and were blown away by every dish.  Why?

Eating the food at Rioja is like eating dishes you see made on Top Chef.  It seemed that each dish we ordered inevitably contained approximately one or two items that I had cooked with (or could identify), paired with about four or five complimentary ingredients that I had either never heard of, never cooked with, or never considered pairing with the dish’s main ingredient.

Yet the flavor combinations within each dish were incredible. The off-menu salad brought together endives, blood orange, grilled royal trumpet mushrooms, goat cheese, avocado, arugula, cracked pepper, and a blood orange vinaigrette.  It was fantastic!  The prosciutto cannoli featured a savory crispy prosciutto shell filled with mascarpone, ricotta, honey, and thyme, served atop a compote of poached quince, Medjool dates, and hazelnuts.  Decadent, yet still light, this dish left us craving for more.

We also ordered the Thai scallops (served atop a lemongrass panna cotta, compressed pineapple, plantain tuille, coconut kaffir lime purée) to start our meal.  Full disclosure: going into this meal I feared scallops, literally.  In high school I had a bad experience with scallops that put me in the hospital, and after that experience I was scared of them and vowed to never eat them again, in spite of the fact that my doctor said that I didn’t have a food allergy.  Last night, I decided to eat a scallop, and it was incredible.  I’m no longer scared of scallops.

Colorado lamb two ways from Rioja

The Colorado lamb two ways–grilled t-bone, house made lamb merguez sausage, crisp couscous pillows, caramelized fennel–was delicious, particularly the t-bone way.  I asked for it prepared medium, and it came out a bit more rare than I am used to.  One bite in, though, and and that didn’t matter.  It was off to the races to see how fast I could finish it.

But the best dish of the evening, without question, was the butternut squash duck risotto, a five-spice lacquered duck leg confit served atop butternut squash-walnut risotto, with organic bok choy, Chai vinaigrette, tomato coulis, and preserved lemon yogurt.  The duck meat from this dish stuck to the inside of my mouth and teeth and was, without question, one of the tastiest foods that has ever entered my body.  PHENOMENAL!

All in all, this was definitely a meal to remember.  If you are looking for a Denver restaurant to go to for a special occasion, you would be wise to consider making a reservation at Rioja!

Rioja on Urbanspoon

The Good Life Denver is written by David Schlichter.  To stay in the loop, like The Good Life Denver on Facebook and follow @thegoodlifeden on Twitter!

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  1. Sue Schlichter permalink
    February 17, 2012

    You should/could be a food writer for the Denver Post or Gourmet Magazine (if it was still being published). We’re going to this restaurant when I (finally) visit Denver!

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