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Vesta Dipping Grill

June 21, 2013

When trying to decide where we wanted to dine on our quick getaway weekend to Denver, my husband and I both pretty much came to the conclusion that a long-standing Denver restaurant near Coors Field in LoDo (Lower Downtown) would be a perfect and fun place for myself, my husband, my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law to enjoy and evening out.  Featured nationally on the television series “Tasty Travels with Rachael Ray” on the Food Network many years ago, and with pretty good reviews, we felt fairly confident in trying this place out.


Vesta Dipping Grill, established in 1997 in LoDo and created in an old warehouse building from the early 1900s that used to house a old spice factory, the restaurant plays on the influences of Vesta, the Goddess of the Hearth, in both the interior design of the restaurant and the food concept, design and presentation.  Prior to the opening of the Wynkoop Brewery and Coors Field in 1995, Lower Downtown was seen as one of the more troubled sections of Denver with vacant and rundown factories.  Led by Vesta, which opened its doors in 1997, and a few other establishments in the neighborhood, the LoDo section of Denver saw a revival that stands today with hundred of bars, nightclubs and restaurants.  The main concept of the restaurant is to pair good, seasonal food, with a variety of dipping sauces made flavor inspirations from all over the world and for all tastes to combine in perfect harmony a marriage between food and sauce.  Each entrée ordered at the restaurant comes with a choice of 3 dipping sauces to go with your meal from a selection of more than 20 different sauces.  The restaurant also pairs up three standard dessert sauces to go with all of their dessert options.


To start my meal, I ordered the mixed local greens salad.  Start with dried cherry tomatoes, sliced red onions, croutons and shaved Pecorino cheese and top it with a very light green garlic dressing.  The salad was light and flavorful without being over-the-top.  The dried cherry tomatoes added a nice tang from being dried rather than using fresh tomatoes.  The salad dressing was nice and light and paired well with the tangy tomatoes and salty Pecorino cheese.


My husband decided to order a charcuterie and cheese plate for the table.  The only thing was, one of the cured meat options was Berkshire pork headcheese, something none of us was about to try, so we asked the restaurant to substitute the headcheese for something else.  Served with toast points, sliced apples, cherry mustard candied walnuts, black pepper truffle honey and picked vegetables was a wide range of cured meats and cheeses.  The cheeses included comte Sainte Antoine, Grafton Village 2 year cheddar, Fourme d’Ambert, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam, and house made goat’s milk ricotta.  The cured meat included chimichurri lomo, chicken galatine, La Quercia prosciutto rossa, and we received pancetta in place of the head cheese.  The chimichurri lomo was quite interesting, cured on the outside with some sort of spice rub which was flavorful.  Everyone seemed to like the housemade goat’s milk ricotta, especially since most of us had never had goat’s milk cheese before.  The prosciutto is always going to be a favorite and the pancetta was good as well.  My husband especially enjoyed the Fourme d’Ambert, which is a pasteurized cow’s milk blue cheese which is one of France’s oldest cheeses dating back to the Roman times.  And I really liked the aged cheddar and the comte.


For his entrée, my husband went with the madras grilled venison.  As soon as I saw that on the menu, I knew he was going to go for it.  The venison was served over a bed of pomme frites, ginger ale oyster mushrooms, and a dried cherry butter reduction.  The restaurant’s recommended sauces were the Steuben’s chimichurri, pineapple pedy marmalade and red curry.  However, if you don’t like the restaurant’s suggested sauces, you can choose your own sauces from the list.  My husband certainly wasn’t having any of the red curry and substituted that for the ghost chili bbq sauce.  Both my husband and my brother-in-law opted for the ghost chili bbq, and they both really liked it.  On the restaurant’s menu, the ghost chili is marked with 3 out of 4 stars in terms of the heat.  The sauce is made from ghost chili peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, molasses and brown sugar.  The Steuben’s chimichurri was made of cilantro, parsley, onion, chili flakes, and cumin, a sauce which my husband described as “adequate.”  And the pineapple pedy marmalade was made from pineapple, bacon, white wine vinegar, paprika, coriander and chili powder, of which my husband said was very tangy rather than being sweet.  Of the three sauces he got, my husband thought the ghost chili was by the far the best of the sauces, whereas the other two sauces were just kind of there, but didn’t necessary knock his socks off.  And he loved his perfectly cooked medium rare venison, and you can’t go wrong with French fries.

Some of the other sauces on the menu included peanut sauce, made from ginger, garlic, onions, Thai chilies, cilantro stems, coconut milk, peanut butter, soy sauce, fish sauce and sriracha; spicy ancho sauce made from tomatoes, ancho and chipotle chilies, garlic, onions, thyme, marjoram and cumin; Thai mango sweet and sour made from Thai chilies, mango, garlic, star anise, and chamomile tea; wasabi syrup made from wasabi powder, lemongrass, ginger and shallots; Indonesian chili sauce made from sambal chili sauce, cucumber, red onion, mint, cilantro and lime; jalapeno ponzu made from rice vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, yuzu juice and jalapeno chilies; dried berry chutney made from dried cherries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries, apple cider vinegar, white sugar and black pepper; fig marmalade made from dried figs, onion, garlic, sugar, water and red wine vinegar; watercress pesto made from watercress, spinach, garlic, oil and lemon juice; and smoked onion crème fraiche made from smoked red onions, crème fraiche, salt and pepper just to name a few.  You can see the sauces run the gamut from super spicy and exotic to milder, fruity flavors.


I ordered the grilled beef tenderloin for my meal.  The entrée came with caramelized onion mashed potatoes, roasted tomatoes, hazel dell mushrooms (which I gave to my brother-in-law, and a veal demi sauce.  I asked for my meat to be cooked medium rare, but honestly, the meat in the middle came out a little too rare for me, just a touch underdone.  The restaurant’s suggested sauces with the meal included: black pepper aioli, roasted corn and sweet onion bbq.  I chose to substitute the roasted corn for Steuben’s chimichurri.  I figured that the chimichurri would go well with meat dishes, and though the sauce was ok, I thought it was lacking a little flavor.  I could certainly taste the heat from the chili flakes, and I tasted the parsley, but it could have used some more cilantro and perhaps some garlic or something else to give it some punch.  The sweet onion bbq, made from sweet onions, garlic, ketchup, tomato paste, worcestershire, and red wine vinegar was nice, but a little too sweet for my liking with the grilled tenderloin.  The black pepper aioli, made from garlic mayonnaise with coarsely ground black pepper was fantastic. It was rich and thick and creamy and went really well with the beef tenderloin.  The aioli was the real winner for my taste bud with the tenderloin.  However, I think that the star of the plate was the caramelized onion mashed potatoes served in a ramekin as a side dish to the meal.  The perfectly caramelized and sweet onions were layered on the bottom of the ramekin with the creamy mashed potatoes piled on top to the rim of the ramekin.  The potatoes were then topped with some sort of bread crumb mixture to create a nice crunchy coating and then put under the salamander for a few minutes to broil.  When you dug your spoon into the potatoes you ended up with a spoonful of creamy, flavorful mashed potatoes with a nice crunchy topping and a tiny bit of the sweet caramelized onions that paired perfectly with the potatoes and just melted in your mouth.  That was a true winner, and an idea that I can’t wait to try in my own kitchen.


For dessert, surprisingly, myself, my husband, my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law all decided to get different desserts.  You would have thought that we had come to this restaurant just for dessert!  Each dessert comes with three standard dessert sauces: crème anglaise made with vanilla bean custard; hot fudge made from Valrhona cocoa powder, espresso, condensed milk, butter, cream and sugar; and strawberry Cointreau made from strawberries, Cointreau and sugar.


My brother-in-law chose to order the sticky toffee pudding served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and fresh berries atop the pudding.  I will admit that I was so into my own dessert that I never asked my brother-in-law what he thought about his dessert.  But, I do assume that since he finished his dessert, he probably liked it.


I know my sister-in-law liked her dessert, the flourless chocolate espresso cake.   I do specifically remember her saying that she liked it, enough so that my husband tried it and told me that I should give it a try.  It was rich and strong, but not overpowering.  And it was creamy and smooth. A terrific indulgence.  The cake is served with hazelnut butter, espresso ice cream and hazelnut brittle.


My husband ordered the coconut semifreddo napoleon served with mandarin orange slices and fresh berries, lime syrup and ginger almond crumble.  The dessert was like the intersection of tropical flavors colliding with citrus.  This is one dessert where my husband loved the dipping sauces that came with dessert.  However, instead of dipping he just poured the strawberry Cointreau or crème anglaise right over the semifreddo cake.  He devoured the whole thing, and pretty much went through all of the crème anglaise sauce.


I ordered a dessert called Matty’s wacky apple.  It certainly was one of the most creative desserts I’ve ever seen. Essentially, it’s a caramel apple rolled in sweet crunch, similar to frosted flakes, and then refrigerated until the caramel is solid, and the sliced horizontally into rings which are cored.  It’s served alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream and served on a plate with a chocolate and caramel drizzle.  I loved the idea of it, and it was the perfect dessert to be able to make use of the dipping sauces since you could slice up the apples and dip them in each of the sauces.  However, I really wished that the Granny Smith apple that was used was less watered down and had more tartness to it.  Unfortunately, the apple, while crisp had no flavor to it – no sweetness, no tartness – so that took away from the flavor of the dessert.  But, I did love the idea of what they had created.

I think that myself, my sister-in-law, her husband and my husband all had a terrific time at Vesta Dipping Grill.  The concept of how they serve food and pair it with a variety of sauces is a unique and different one that none of us had ever seen before.  Though the execution of flavors in some of the dishes and sauces may have been a little underwhelming, that didn’t take away from the fun, and creative atmosphere of the restaurant and the fun, creative nature of the food.  We all enjoyed our dining experience at Vesta, and are glad we gave it a try.  I’m not sure I’d go back to Vesta on a return trip to Denver, but that is not to say that we didn’t enjoy our evening, and especially the company at the dinner table.  Vesta Dipping Grill is a fun, unique dining experience with some highs and lows, but most of all, it’s a different and creative concept all set within a hip, stylish and contemporary setting.  It’s an experimentation of flavors and textures and designs, and really, that’s what food should be about.

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