When one is a lover of food, it is an outward expression of passion that is seldom hidden from view. You see it in the way a person’s eyes roll dreamily within the sockets, that slow smile that creeps upon their face and the almost imperceptible nod of the head that says, “Oh yeah, this is so good.” These demonstrative gestures of appreciation are hard to miss.
These pleasures and more await the mouths of diners at one of downtown Denver’s most venerable dining institutions, Vesta Dipping Grill. Executive Chef Brandon Foster, his expert brigade of sous chefs and his entire kitchen staff will see to that.
Chef Foster, a self-taught man who began honing his incredible skills in the kitchen of a Best Western in the mountains of Colorado, is at the helm of Vesta. Along the way on his culinary journey to chefdom, he met the man who would be his mentor, Chef Tyler Wiard, Culinary Director of Elway’s restaurants and Top Chef Season 10 contestant. The rest, as they say …
What Makes Vesta Dipping Grill So Special?
It could be argued that the 23 sauces, a mainstay at the 16 year old American restaurant, are the crowd pleasers and the reason behind Vesta’s success … and that would be true. However, strip away the fanfare of those delectable dipping accoutrements to get to the basics and what do you have? Cuisine that is, at its very core, soul stirringly delicious.
A recent evening dining out at Vesta further convinced me that there’s more to great food than ingredients. One can work with the best meats, cheeses, vegetables, herbs and spices; however, without the talent and wherewithal, a dish can fall flat. This was not the case at Vesta.
Our meal began with a delectable amuse-bouche of parsnip curry soup served in a porcelain shot cup. It only took a couple of sips to finish this heat infused soup that was at once creamy and comforting. Honestly, there should have been more. A bowlful, perhaps? Maybe that is simply the gourmand in me speaking; I always want more.
The Smaller (appetizer) portion of the menu is ripe with greens, seafood and even Venison Kielbasa–all tempting small dishes to set the tone for the dining evening ahead. My naturally curious proclivities leaned heavily towards the Chinese BBQ Pork Belly, not merely because of the description but also the price: a scant $2. I was intrigued. I was also hungry and, despite the waiter telling me that the dish was a mere bite, I ordered it while my better half landed on the Pan Roasted Beet Salad.
Both plates were far from disappointing.
The pork belly–more two bites than one, thank the heavens–was not just in a class by itself, it was Dean of the University. That so much phenomenal flavor could be packed into such a diminutive morsel was perplexing. A thick layer of pork was topped by a pillow of comforting fat. The savory notes were a magical interlude across my tongue as, bit by bit, it practically melted away into nothingness. One order of the pork belly merely served to tantalize my taste buds. There had to be more; and, soon, there was. Without a hint of shame, I placed an order for two more portions. Naturally, I shared with my husband … but only one bite. Without hesitation I say, yes indeed, it was that good.
Not to be outdone, the beet salad was tempting in both presentation and taste. Replete with chunks of golden beets, MouCo camembert brulee and candied pine nuts drizzled with sherry vinaigrette, the flavor profile came together harmoniously without one ingredient dominating the dish.
At Vesta, each dish is accompanied by three of their signature sauces. The Chef has paired the chosen sauces for their complementary values of their respective dishes, but diners are free to vary the sauces to their liking. However, as a Vesta newbie I relied solely on the kitchen’s expertise and stayed with the recommended sauces.
Duck connoisseurs will find happiness at Vesta in selecting the Hoisin Grilled Boneless Duck entrée. This is one of those culinary delights that you daydream about long after the dish has been devoured. It is difficult to describe the beauty of the moment when that first luscious piece of fowl reached my waiting mouth. Astounded? Perhaps. Enchanted? It’s possible. Overjoyed? You’d better believe it. I think I heard the angels sing. Each bite and my mouth was awash in natural juices. The lovefest didn’t stop there. The slightly crispy outer skin crackled between my teeth as the essence of hoisin made my tongue do a little dance. And lest I forget, the tenderness. Oh so succulent, the duck surrendered without a fight to a knife, fork and the demands of my teeth. It was such a wondrous experience to delight in the duck that I was hesitant to try any of the dipping sauces. Why fix what isn’t broken? However, I succumbed to the sauces—peanut, plum demi glaze and miso beurre blanc—and found them each to complement the dish, especially the full and rich buttery roundness of the latter.
The best duck to ever cross my lips? I rank it among the top three thus far in my lifetime.
Praise also has to be given to the udon noodles served with the duck. I normally adopt the ‘take it or leave it’ attitude with udon noodles; on this plate, however, I devoured all of the peppery laced strands. Every last one.
The entrée special, Flatiron Steak, which my husband had served atop garlic fingerling potatoes (subbed for shrimp and celery root hash) and a few strategically placed Brussels sprouts, should be a menu staple. With sprouts that were crispy and slightly sweet, potatoes seasoned just so and a juicy and tender cut of steak that was as wonderful to look at as it was to eat, the entire dish was a subtle temptress to the senses. Embodying a succulent symphony of flavors, flatiron steak doesn’t get much better.
It seems almost gluttonous to speak of dessert after such a sumptuous meal, but I shall speak the words anyway. Yes, we indulged. While Matty’s Wacky Apple is said to be a crowd pleaser, I invoked my right to be contrary and, with little effort, worked my way quickly through a Chocolate Truffle Trio. Imagine if you will a flight of house made confections–butternut bon-bon, chocolate peanut butter cup and white Russian chocolate truffle. Thank heavens for small miracles. I didn’t have to imagine; all I had to do was sit back and enjoy. And I did, too.
With fond memories of the other side of the pond, my husband indulged in the wickedly delicious British import, Sticky Toffee Pudding. Suitably sticky, sweet and warm, it was first and foremost nosh-worthy in a major way. As was the entire meal, from start to finish.
I am not one to typically follow the crowd. I much prefer to forge ahead and blaze my own path in life–taking the good with the bad, the salt with the pepper. However, in this instance, I’m falling in step with everyone else and signing up for Team Vesta. The atmosphere boasts a casual and trendy vibe, the wait staff is accommodating and congenial, the price point won’t put too much of a strain on your wallet and, of course, the cuisine is worthy of accolades. It’s no wonder Zagat’s calls Vesta one of “America’s Best.”
Vesta is open for dinner seven days a week, Sun-Thur 5 p.m. – 10 p.m., Fri-Sat 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. Happy hour daily from 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Reservations strongly recommended.