Although still one stop away from our final destination, we spent some time in Denver to explore the city, meet up with my good friend Charlotte, enjoy the mountains and eat some great food. After a few review readings, it seemed clear that Rioja in downtown Denver was the place for us to go. It boasts an impressive mediterranean menu that is hard to believe could be as good as it claims, seeing that landlocked Denver and anything in the mediterranean seem like worlds apart. Ah, but how wrong such assumptions can be sometimes, and we lucked out with having that be the case with our Rioja experience. Just like at Lucky's Cafe in Cleveland, you can safely assume that if it's on the menu, it was made in-house, including and beyond the pastas, cheeses, bread, and pastries.
Instead of the waiter bringing you a measly basket of one type of bread, you are presented with an enormous platter of a variety of breads from which you can choose. From kalamata olive baguettes to chevre biscuits to orange fennel rolls to smoked lavender slices, the meal could have ended right there and I would have been a happy woman. Of course, it only continued...
The chef thoughfully split this warm Indian curry Fregola salad on three plates for us to share. Toasted Sardinian pasta, cashews, golden raisins, roasted garlic and fennel naan bread, tomato-red onion-cucumber salad, honey lime yogurt
Hand made mozzarella, wrapped in smoked prosciutto, grilled bread, oven-dried tomatoes, arugula, green olive pistou. Yet another spectacular starter.
Charlotte's pick of Caprese Gnocchi: ricotta gnocchi, house made burrata cheese, herb tomato salad, almond-basil pesto, guanciale (although she opted out on the cured lamb cheek which is guanciale). So many summer flavors, clean and fresh.
My and Mom's choice of Artichoke Tortelloni: goat cheese and artichoke mousse stuffed pasta, artichoke broth, truffle essence, queso de mano cheese, chervil. Ah yes, and a fried artichoke chip on top. Delicate and immaculate flavors.
Chilled S’mores Pot de Crème: chocolate custard, house made graham crackers, brûleéd house made marshmallow. Too bad licking plates in public isn't polite. I was dangerously on the edge.
Meyer lemon sabayon tart, pine nut cornmeal crust, Meyer lemon confit, pine nut brittle ice cream, lemon cello granita. Citrusss!!
On the wings of yet another great destination dinner, we finally set out for Paonia, the endpoint of our drive. It was fantastic to pull up the orchard driveway again after my winter hiatus, as we were slowly being exposed to the familiar mountains, valley, and landscape that haven't changed one bit. I was back at my 'special place', and knowing that there was a whole summer ahead of enjoying the area only made the arrival that much more exciting.
Since returning from the orchard for the first time this past fall (of '09), I felt like this place only existed in my stories and pictures as I described it to all of the people close to me at home. 'No really, I swear, that's how beautiful it is! And that's really where I was fifteen feet from a bear!' I guess that's why having my mom here was so special on many different levels; for one I was able to share this place with someone new, and also that now she can attest that it really exists! I think she also realized what a gem of a spot it is from her time here too, seeing that on our full day of exploring around she, Elane, and I did a walking tour of the orchard as well as up along the ditch where the mountain water irrigation water flows down into the orchard. I'm not sure how many times she said 'This is the best walk I've ever been on!' But it was a lot.
We munched on wild asparagus growing along the ditch for a mid-walk fuel up.
Just relax, will ya?
Probably having a fantastic conversation with Miko. Instantly BFFs.
But alas, all good things have to come to an end at one point or another. Our road trip west was finally complete. And as I dropped my mom off at the Grand Junction airport, I knew that the 'arrival' chapter of my summer in Colorado had closed; a trip that exceeded our expectations and will be one for the record books. But as I drove back down the highway back toward the green mesas and snow capped mountains, I knew there was still much more ahead of me. Much of course, revolving around food.
Much of course, placed on the fate of that darn fruit.
(for 'Part II' continue on to the post titled 'April 29th')