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.
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).
Two beautiful new cookbooks feature recipes from The Fort and Rioja
Many of my favorite cookbooks are those associated with restaurants I love and/or written by chefs whom I admire. Two new books — one out for just a couple of weeks and the other to be published in another couple of weeks — fall into those categories. They are not just beautiful, but more significantly, they show how restaurants of different styles have elevated the local food scene.
Shinin’ Times at the Fort: Stories, Celebrations and Recipes from the Landmark Colorado Restaurant is Holly Arnold Kinney’s new cookbook, family memoir and tribute to Western tradition. It is out, and what a book it is. Its 260 glossy pages are filled with personal memories of growing up right in The Fort (her childhood bedroom is now her office). In addition to personal memories, the book honors the traditions, culture and cuisine of the frontier West with fabulous recipes and the gorgeous images by ace food photographer Lois Ellen Frank.
While Holly is not a chef herself, she spent hear early years in the family restaurant and knew the chefs and cooks who prepared her father’s recipes and introduced some of their own. She shares recipes, both immutable classics and updated dishes that reflect the best of both the past and the present. Preserving The Fort’s traditions and her own heritage, while keeping up-to-date, is a responsbility, a challenge and a joy, all of which Holly has wrapped into this one gorgeous book.
Holly is the rare (perhaps the only) person to have grown up in the second half of the 20th century but rooted in the first half of the 19th century. The restaurant that her parents established in the 1960s was inspired by Bent’s Fort, a fur-trading post along the Santa Fe Trail in southeastern Colorado. Sam Arnold, Holly’s late father, was an indefatiguable researcher who collected some 3,000 cookbooks, plus history books and artifacts from the Old West. After Sam passed away in 2006, she began researching and writing this book, part of her way of honoring her family’s legacy and the legacy preserved at The Fort.
Shinin’ Times at The Fort has only been out for a couple of weeks, but it has (not surprsingly) made a splash. It is one of Colorado Public Radio’s picks for “Holiday Books with a Western Twist,” and this evening at 7:00 p.m, Holly is appearing at the Tattered Cover on Colfax to talk about and sign the book. Click here to read my feature about The Fort and Holly Arnold Kinney in edible Front Range magazine.
When Holly and chefs at The Fort are ready to modify the menu, they always have to balance tradition with innovation. Jennifer Jasinski, chef and partner in Rioja, is under no such constraints. She can let her culinary imagination soar. When the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant opened in 2004, Jasinki’s creativity in the kitchen spurred the culinary revitalization of Larimer Square. This popular area with locals and visitors had tired and by-then uninspired restaurants, but Rioja juiced up the block .
Jasinski’s mentor, Wolfgang Puck, instilled in her the ability to create contemporary spins on traditional dishes by finding new combinations and new presentations. Her interesting and exquisite dishes can be called “perfect bites,” and in fact, the name of her new cookbook is The Perfect Bite.
Visit Denver organized a roving media event last night that included Euclid Hall, the newest of the three Larimer Square restaurants owned by Jasinski and her partner, Beth Gruitch. Chef Jen, who has the ability to flit from one restaurant to another and one task to another without breaking stride, was buzzing in and out of the kitchen, alternately passing out trays of hors d’oeuvres and showing off a first-bound copy of the new book. It should be available on or around December 20. It was my first glimpse at The Perfect Bite, 184 pages with 76 recipes (including her signature tasting menu). And did I mention that this book too is a looker?
Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.