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FNCE 2009 Re-cap: Part Two, “Food Porn”

October 28, 2009

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Sunday night at Vesta Dipping Grill in downtown Denver, we sat down to some of the best food the city has to offer.  We started things off with the Sauce Sampler, which is all about getting familiar with five of the 30+ homemade dipping sauces that makes Vesta so special.  You can choose from sweet (such as Asian Pear Chutney or Pistachio Mint), savory (Rosemary Ginger or Roasted Corn), or spicy (like Salsa Verde or Sunset Hot) – or you can do as we did and let your server pick ‘em for you.  If memory serves, from right to left, we tasted Smoked Habenero Salsa, Black Pepper Aioli, Yuzu Soy, Peanut, and Vietnamese Chili.

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Do you see that tastiness right there?  Those are cloves of roasted garlic, just waiting to be smeared like butter across a chunk of chewy bread.  It was a challenge for a carb junkie like me not to eat every crumb of bread on the table, garlic and sauces aside, but I knew my entrée was going to be spectacular…

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…And it was!  That, my friends, is Madras Grilled Venison, served with pommes frites and ginger ale oyster mushrooms, with a dried cherry butter reduction that was just tart enough to balance out the sweetness of the venison.  I haven’t had venison that good in ages – firm and flavorful with no rangy aftertaste, nothing too tough to chew, just perfection.  I barely used my dipping sauces, although I highly recommend the Red Pepper Rica Rouille, made with roasted red peppers and named for the owner’s mother.

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This lovely plate belonged to Erika, and yes, those perfectly grilled morsels barely disguised by the salad are indeed scallops.  Garlic Grilled Scallops, with a cherry tomato-fennel salad to be exact, and let me tell you, toss that old “Never order seafood in a land-locked state” belief of yours out the window right now.  Erika was kind enough to share a nibble of her phenomenal scallops, and they were more tender than most of the scallops I’ve had here in Boston.

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Not to be outdone by my heavenly venison or Erika’s delectable scallops, Adriene’s Grilled Colorado Loin of Lamb was exceptional.  It had a lightness on the tongue that I don’t normally associate with lamb, and there was certainly nothing mutton-like about it.  You could almost imagine this little guy feasting on sweet grass all summer long, then munching on fallen apples in the last weeks of fall.  Apparently Colorado spring lamb is held in high esteem, being some of the best lamb you can find here in the states, and with its fig-port glaze and goat cheese campanelle pasta, this dish was certainly one for “Best of” books.

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The only picture of our sticky toffee pudding with vanilla whipped cream and tuile cookies.  As you can tell by the bite my photo interrupted, this was one dessert that wasn’t destined to sit on the table!

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As a nod to my Italian blood, I opted to end the evening with a glass of Sambuca, an anise-flavored, colorless liqueur traditional to Italy. Usually when I order Sambuca it’s all alone in its glass, so imagine my delight when my glass arrived as Sambuca con mosca, which translates literally as “Sambuca with flies.”  Not real flies, just roasted coffee beans.  I only recently learned that most people view the coffee beans as simply ornamentation, which is why most regular restaurants don’t include them.  In my family, including the three coffee beans was almost as important as serving the digestif in the first place because the beans represent health, happiness, and prosperity.

Needless to say, seeing those three little beans winking up at me from my glass was a very welcome good omen and promised the next two days at FNCE would be just as great as our first day.  I probably shouldn’t’ve eaten the one for health because I did end up flying back to Boston with a bit of a cold.  Otherwise it really was the best FNCE ever!

– Kara

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