Beautiful Food at Bistro Vendome

Chef de Cuisine Dana Rodriquez flavors French fare with Mexican heart and soul

Of the three Larimer Square restaurants owned by Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch, Rioja, the flagship, has garnered the most acclaim. Euclid Hall, the newest and most radical, has a bold, meaty menu and a nose-to-tail utilization philosophy that created the most recent buzz. Meanwhile, Bistro Vendôme is the trio’s understated jewel — more pearl than diamond — tucked into a quiet courtyard just off Larimer Square that feels a world away from the Mile High City.

Just stepping into the courtyard where the entrance to Bistro Vendome transports diners from downtown Denver.

Last week I joined other food writers at a dinner that was something of a coming out party for Dana Rodriguez as Bistro Vendôme’s new chef de cuisine. Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and educated at the University of Monterey, where she studied engineering and computers, Rodriguez also owned a clothing boutique. She came to Denver to visit family but wanted to stay, which meant another career switch. She applied for a job at Panzano, where Jasinski was then executive chef. She was hired as a dishwasher, a lowly station but the first rung on the restaurant ladder that has started many a career.

Dana Rodriguez, Bistro Vendome's new chef de cuisine.

Jasinski recognized her talent, work ethic and promise, so Rodriguez transitioned to the kitchen, starting as a prep cook and moving through the stations until she was sous-chef at Panzano, a northern Italian restaurant. Along the way, she tapped into her Mexican roots and also worked at Tamayo at 14th and Larimer — an introduction to the restaurant-loaded street that is now her workday home. When Jasinski and Gruitch established Rioja just up the block eight years ago, they asked Rodriguez to join them as partner and sous-chef.

Now, Rodriquez helms the kitchen across the street at Bistro Vendôme. Since that first cooking job at Panzano, she has immersed herself and honed her skills in the cuisines of northern Italy, Mexico and France. Dinner last week was a procession of dishes that showed a depth of talent, a deft culinary touch in a contemporary French mode and a lot of heart and soul. Below is the meal Rodriguez that presented to showcase her style. I have to add that the duck was one of the best I’ve ever had (and I love duck so often order and/or prepare it).

The amuse bouche was a lovely little two-bite pork belly rillete on a round of toasted brioche. The wine: Billecart-Salmon, Brut Reserve, N.V.
The first course was a picture-pretty, sweet-and-sour assemblage of a pickled radish salad with strawberry coulis, fresh strawberries, marinated feta cheese and mache. The wine: 2010 Domaine de la Fouquette, Rose Cotes du Provence.
Seared orange nairagi, a Hawaiian striped marlin, atop a layered "ratatouille," with squash, eggplant, fresh tomato, red pepper sauce, olive tapenade and micro basil. The wine: 2009 Patrick Piuze, Chablis 1er Cru Montee du Tonnerre.
Duck duet consisting of moist, crisp-skinned duck leg confit and a slab of house-made duck liver pate, along with arugula, grapes, pickled red onion and sapa reduction. 2006 Domaine Bouchard, Peter & Fils 1er Cru Burgundy.
Pistachio souffle -- actually frozen pistachio mousse with a bit of sponge cake and cherry compote. The wine: 2004 Chateau La Rame, Sauternes.

Price check: At dinner, soups and hors d’oeuvres, $6-$12.50; Plats Pincipaux (main courses), $16-$24; Les Salades, $6-8; desserts $6-$7.

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