Popular Larimer Square eatery’s winter menu hits another culinary high note
Year after year, season after season, Rioja partner/chef Jennifer Jasinski and her kitchen cohorts put together dishes that remind me of a fine symphony but with tastes rather than sounds that are harmonious yet contrasting, beautiful and creative, and always pulled together from disparate elements ina way where the whole is better than the sum of its parts. The Winter 2013 menu, which I happily sampled last night, is yet another example of culinary creativity assembled by the gifted and amiable chef whom I consider the Belle of Larimer Square.
The evening’s selected Libation was a Pomeginger cocktail (pomegranate puree, house-made ginger syrup, vodka, sweet and sour and a splash of soda. Served in a martini glass, it was a sweet treat in a lovely ruby red.
Breads and rolls of various shapes and flavors enticingly presented.
Thick and velvety cauliflower-tahini soup with an inspired float of pickled pears, carrots and paprika yogurt. Wine: 2007 Mercat Brut Cava, Panedes.
A cold plate of Dungeness crab tossed in creme fraiche surrounded by cucumber gelee and crowned with paper thin cucumber slices, shaved heart of palm, piquant lime confiture and a bit of gray salt would make a refreshing summer salad, but it really works for winter as well. Wine: 2011 La Cana Albarino, Rias Baixas.
The third course combined assorted flavors and textures of the western Mediterranean: Spanish octopus that was both sweet and tender in a medley with squid ink-piquillo pasta, Basque chiles, pilquiilo peppers, crisp preserved lemons, poached orange zest and gremolata caper-chile emulsion. Wine: 2010 Torres Vina, Penedes — a charmed Muscatel and Gewurztraminer blend.
Delicious but difficult-to-photograph saffron-rapini ravioli with bites of spicy North African lamb Merguez sausage, PEI mussels, fennel nage, poached orange zest, red wine reduction, piquillo peppers and hariissa toast. Wine: 2010 Eugenio Bocchino Roccabella Nebbiolo.
Grilled tea-brined Snake River sturgeon, mushroom dauphine potatoes, wilted spinach-watercress, grapefuit with pomegranate-tea vinaigrette and pomegranate buerre rouge neatly divided into three little rows to mix-and-match or taste by themselves. Wine: 2011 Owen Rose Abotts Table Wine, Columbia Valley.
Pan-roasted venison, cooked medium rare, fanned out atop mixed grain risotto that was on the salty side (Carnaroli rice, pearled barley, steel cut oats and sunflower seeds) with caramelized quince, fennel, toasted oat-juniper brown butter and red wine reduction. I believe that reduction was the only component that appeared in more than one fish. Remarkable. Wine: 2006 Finca Allende, a Temprranillo from Rioja, the restaurant’s namesake.
Dessert was a heavenly crispy cashew-pistachio mille-feuille filled with rose and strawberry swirled Bavarian cream along with flavor and texture accents provided by dried strawberries, candied pistachios, crystallized rose petals and a drizzle of strawberry-Pernod honey. Wine: 2009 Banfi Rosa Regale from Italy.
Price Check: “Delicious Beginnings,” $7.50-$14.50 (plus $16.50 “picnic”); entrees, $18.50-$29; “Chef Jenn’s Handmade Pastas,” $9.50-$12.50 for appetizer size and $18.50-$24.50 for entree size; desserts, $8 (plus one item for $14.50).