Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vesta Dipping Grill

Vesta has been a LoDo staple for an extraordinary 14 years, debuting when LoDo was just beginning to carve itself out of an industrial section of downtown Denver, and withstanding constant growth and turnover in the busy area since then. Vesta has long been considered one of Denver's best restaurants, and 5280 Magazine recently put it at the tail end of their 2011 Top 25 Restaurants list.

We made our way through the bar-hopping Lodo crowd to Vesta's location at 18th and Blake last Saturday night. The interior feels very urban and hip, with brick walls, high ceilings, and dark lighting.

My husband and I met up with a couple of friends (ok yes the same bunch we keep eating out with). We started off with drinks and complimentary bread served with roasted garlic; the garlic was an unexpected and unique touch.

If you're wondering about the restaurant's name, Vesta refers to itself as a "dipping grill" because all entrees come with three of Vesta's signature sauces.

But before jumping into entrees, the four of us started with several appetizers and small bites.

First up was the Vesta Roll ($12):
Vesta Roll
The menu claims the tuna is "sesame seared", but it tasted completely raw to me (which was fine). I enjoyed the large chunks of tuna in each bite and the crunchy exterior.

Their appetizer special of the day, Scallop Ceviche ($10):
Scallop Ceviche
The scallops were served with heirloom cherry tomatoes and saltines for serving. I wasn't totally impressed with the saltines, but apparently it is a traditional ceviche accompaniment. Otherwise, the scallops had a wonderful firm texture and citrus bite.

Next up were the Superior Farms Lamb Ribs ($10):
Superior Farms Lamb Ribs
The ribs were coated in a tangy yogurt sauce and a pistachio-mint rub that I absolutely loved.

We also had the Chinese BBQ Pork Belly (each $2):
Chinese BBQ Pork Belly
The belly pieces were topped with orange slices, yuzu mayonnaise, and sisho. The small portion made for a very tasty small bite, which was balanced out by the tangy citrus flavors.

As an entree, I ordered the Sofrito Braised Short Rib ($26):
Sofrito Braised Short Rib

The Southern-inspired dish included garlic rainbow chard, manchego polenta (in layman's terms, cheesy grits), and a bath of smoked paprika jus. The ribs were perfectly cooked to fork-tender.

The suggested sauces, which I had with the dish (not pictured), were green chili gastrique, bacon aioli, and Steuben's chimichurri. The aioli had all the creamy, smoky goodness you would expected from something called "bacon aioli"; the chimichurri was traditional and my favorite accompaniment to the meat. The gastrique had an unusual sweet-and-spicy flavor profile, but I felt it was just too sweet.

My husband ordered the Boneless Berkshire Pork Chop ($24):
Boneless Berkshire Pork Chop
This Southwest-style plate contained adobada pork chop served with pulled pork chilaquiles and jalapeno cabbage slaw. Every bite was just as good as it looks.

The chilaquiles had a very different flavor and texture profile than my chilaquiles at Salt a few weeks back, but it tasted even better. It included a base of soft corn tortillas instead of crispy corn chips. Like my short ribs, the pulled pork was incredibly tender.

The pork chop was very well cooked, and seasoned to allow the natural pork flavor to come through. The colorful accompanying sauces were the suggested salsa verde, mango poblano salsa, and roasted corn.

To finish off all that protein, we ordered the French Toast ($7) and the Dark Chocolate Boca Negra ($8) for desserts.

French Toast
The French Toast came with cinnamon ice cream, whipped cream, and fresh raspberries. The accompanying sauces were strawberry cointreau, hot fudge, and creme anglaise.  It was a disappointing dessert. The French Toast was soggy and bland, made with a plain white bread. The ice cream had an icy texture.

Dark Chocolate Boca Negra
The intimidating-sounding Dark Chocolate Boca Negra - a rich, dense dark chocolate cake - was outstanding. Every bite was decadent hyperglycemic bliss. The cake came with the same dipping sauces as the French Toast, which were all very good but not necessary with the cake.

The only problem with the sauces for all our entrees and desserts? The dishes were already so well seasoned that they didn't need a lot of extra punch; I felt a little overwhelmed with the flavors of so many sauces.

With all the dishes we tried, every bite of meat or seafood at Vesta was high quality, perfectly cooked and expertly seasoned. Keep in mind, however, that between all the food we ordered and the various drinks we washed it down with, our meal at Vesta ended up being fairly expensive.

Vesta seems to suffer from a perception of becoming outmoded among a burgeoning Denver restaurant scene, but their fantastic food should withstand the test of time.

Casual Dining

 (8 of 10)

Pros: Overall great food
Cons: Didn't care for one of the desserts, expensive


Vesta Dipping Grill on Urbanspoon


  1. I loved it there...what really impressed me was that the sauces aren't even needed!!! The food tastes good itself!