Rioja Opens in Larimer Square

November 21 2004, 3:46 PM
Rioja's preview last Saturday night caused quite a stir with the local media and foodies, and plenty of them made it by the open house to sample the wares. (The restaurant officially opens tomorrow, November 22.) Spotted: CBS 4 anchor Stephanie Riggs and hubby, Westword editor Patty Calhoun and friends, City Councilman Charlie Brown (wearing a straw cowboy hat and sipping Chardonnay -- is that an odd combo?), Denver Post columnist Bill Husted, Bistro Boys Catering owners Paul and Diane DeLongchamps, PR whiz Wendy Aiello. Served up: An appetizer buffet full of meats, cheeses and salads for nibbling, with specialty items available from various stations in the exhibition-style kitchen. The favorite item at my table was smoked sturgeon, served with creme fraiche and chives on crispy flatbread -- a delicate, salty pizza of sorts. "I could eat this forever," gushed Paul Delongchamps as he savored round two of the tasty app. Creme brulee, pumpkin custard and fig beignets conquered many a sweet tooth. Sipped: Marques de Riscal rioja table wine (of course), and their signature cocktail, a ginger-pineapple martini. Chocoholics take note -- make a point to try the spiked hot chocolate, a thick, sweet handmade cocoa with a generous splash of Maker's Mark, topped with meringue. The scene: Housed in what was formerly Josephina's dining room, the room has been updated with mod carpeting, blown glass artwork, and copper counters at the bar and kitchen, but the exposed brick is decidedly Lodo. The new look got mixed reviews; one woman remarked that the glass art looked like "neon suction cups," and Husted thought the look to be too "Wolfgang Puck's." Personally, I kind of like it. It's fun, funky, a bit feminine. And considering that the all-female team that chef/owner Jennifer Jasinski has assembled (GM/partner Beth Gruitch, sous chef Dana Rodriguez, and assistant manager Jennifer Olsen), that's right on target. The preview at Rioja wrapped by 10 p.m., but several of us late-nighters kept the party going across the street at Capital Grille, where the house Stoli Doli was a perfect nightcap after all the rich food (and wine) at Rioja.