Dwell Denver presents, Hey Neighbor: Living La Vida Local, Rioja

Posted by Lane Walsh on Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 at 8:58am.

 

HEY NEIGHBOR

A guest blog by Danielle Bryan of paredownlookup.com

"Living La Vida Local"

Hey Neighbor, I don’t know about you but nothing makes me love a city more than having a list of favorites – especially favorite restaurants. Trying out new places is fun but there is a feeling of belonging that comes with returning to a place time and again.

When I moved back to Denver 5 years ago, I have to admit that I was a little nervous. I’d spent the previous decade in the great food cities of Chicago and Los Angeles. The Denver I remembered from my childhood consisted mostly of chain restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, I love some Cheddar Bay Biscuits as much as the next girl, but I feared for my food-loving style of life.

Imagine my joy upon discovering that I had moved back to Denver in the midst of a foodie revolution! One of the first Denver date nights my husband and I had was at Rioja. This turned out to be the first of many trips to this Larimer Square treasure. We just went again this weekend.

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The Rioja menu changes with the seasons, and their spring menu is my favorite. I cannot get enough.

On this particular night, we started our meal with the Fresh Bacon appetizer. I could have eaten six of these – do not make the mistake we did and split it! You will want this crispy, melt-in-your-mouth porcine treat all for yourself.

For entrees, I had the Smoked Pork Tenderloin with Spring Risotto (direct quote from our waiter, “The lady likes her swine.” Yes. Yes, the lady does.) My husband ordered the Brioche Crusted Alaska Halibut. Halfway through we switched plates. This used to drive my husband nuts, but he’s since figured out that he gets more food and a happier wife by sticking to this plan. Win! (Side note – mine was the best. The pea mascarpone-spiked risotto tasted like my grandma’s early summer garden. If no one were looking, I would have licked my plate.)

Finally, we capped off the meal with crispy, soft fig and goat cheese Beignets. Even the coffee was top tier. We were perfectly sated by the time we tipped our waiter and happily made our way home. We love Rioja. I can’t recommend it enough.

And how about you? Where are your favorite date night dining destinations? On the off chance that we can convince our car to drive some place other than Rioja, I’d love a recommendation! Thanks neighbor.

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Restaurant: Rioja for fresh seasonal fare with a Mediterranean influence.

Location: 1431 Larimer Street, in historical Larimer Square.

The Atmosphere is: Artistic and inviting, like the home of a well-to-do friend. Rioja boasts an open kitchen and an inviting bar. Even when it’s packed, which it always is, Rioja still feels cozy and personal. Bonus points in that I have never had a bad server. They are warm, relaxed, and incredibly knowledgeable about their food.

What to Drink/Eat: Anything. Really. The only advice I can give, besides trying all foods involving pork, is not to alter the ingredients. Chef Jen’s flavor combinations are to be savored and celebrated.

Value for the Price? Rioja can be as pricey as you make it. If you are dining on a budget, you’ll get an amazing full entrée for around $27. Rioja also offers half glasses of wine so that you can pair with each of your courses without losing your edge or your paycheck. We had an appetizer, drinks, 2 entrees, dessert and coffee for $104. Great value, memorable food. I’d pay double that to eat here.

Rioja would be Fabulous for: Date night. An intimate evening with friends. Pre-theatre dining. Impressing the in-laws with your impeccable taste.

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