Best Expense-Account Dinner 2010 | Rioja | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Scott Lentz

Everything about Rioja radiates perfection, from the flavors and flourishes on the plate to the wine list and waitstaff — which is precisely the kind of faultless experience you should expect when you're celebrating an anniversary, bar mitzvah, time off for good behavior or an extra five hours of furlough. If you're part of the precious few still flush with a no-holds-barred expense account, you may as well uncork a Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne for $185 before moving on to a 2006 Numanthia Termes Termanthia Toro for a mere $525. To complement your impeccable taste in grapes, chef Jennifer Jasinski turns out a similarly flawless menu, beginning with oysters Rockefeller, tuna prepared two ways, or a "picnic" of artisan meats and cheeses. Follow the bliss with Jasinski's paella gnocchi or her braised Wagyu boneless beef short ribs. And for dessert, beignets plumped with black mission figs and goat cheese and a glass of 2007 Mission Hill Reserve Riesling Icewine. When the bill comes, kiss the feet of your host and hope that he invites you back for a repeat visit.

The candies created by Seth Ellis Chocolatier are wildly expensive, but each small piece yields a sensational level of flavor. These candies are developed by Rick Levine, who's devoted to the natural and organic and would rather boil down a field of mint leaves to create the decorative green squiggle on a chocolate than resort to artificial flavor. As a result, the pieces are elegant and inventive — an unusual marriage of lemon peel and dark chocolate, for example, or Levine's nut-free take on the peanut-butter cup, which uses sunflower-seed butter. You can find Seth Ellis chocolates at Whole Foods or order them online.

A classic cocktail deserves a classy, classic setting. The Brown Palace's Churchill Bar is like an exclusive club, complete with comfy leather chairs and obsequious service — but the only membership requirement here is that you cover the cost of your drink. And what a drink: The Churchill features an extensive roster of premium spirits, including an impressive array of Scotch, and creates each cocktail with painstaking care, using heavy silver shakers and expensive crystal. Get really decadent and puff on a cigar while you sip your drink: This is one of the few spots in town with a cigar-bar exemption, and it sells more than sixty stogies on site. In a town full of great saloons, the Churchill is a true classic.

Sarah McGill

FBI agents make the best drinking companions because they never steal the limelight. They couldn't if they tried: After a rigorous background check, each is hand-selected by Uncle Sam specifically for his or her lack of blackmailable individuality. Then the agents are all meticulously trained to keep their yappers shut and to listen long and hard. There's no need to conduct an investigation to find these ideal drinking companions: You can always find one on a bar stool at the Stockyard Saloon. That's the legendary bar and restaurant adjacent to the historic Livestock Exchange Building in the National Western Complex, which happens to be home to the FBI's penthouse offices for violent crime, Indian country crime, violent fugitive, major theft, transportation crime and violent gang units. You'll know these agents when you see them: They're the ones who cling to your every word.

In Season is a tiny green shop with big ideas. Its motto — "If it's not from here, it's not in here" — means that the market only stocks products produced within a 250-mile radius of its location in Highland. So while you'll still have to swing by King Soopers for Tide and toilet paper, In Season's shelves are stocked with all manner of yummy and surprising foodstuffs, including bread from the Denver Bread Company, cheese from the Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Longmont, and pork chops from Socolofsky Farms in Larkspur. Eating pint after pint of Red Trolley ice cream might expand your waistline, but it will shrink your carbon footprint.

Tom's Home Cookin' is a stick-to-your-ribs dispatch for soul-food seekers and Southerners, blue-collar workers and chefs, chatterers, chewers and chicken chasers — the latter a devoted force of purists who know the difference between a great cluck and a forgettable one. There's nothing at Tom's we wouldn't kill for, but the fried chicken, profoundly moist with skin crusted the color of copper, flies right every single time. It's a sign of more goodness to come: peach cobbler, banana pudding, macaroni and cheese (it's the Velveeta, people), cornbread stuffing, candied yams and whatever else owners Steve Jankousky and Tom Unterwagner have on the day's chalkboard. But that chicken? That chicken would make even a hardened vegan fly the coop.

Molly Martin

By this point, we all pretty much know that just about everything coming out of Frank Bonanno's four kitchens — Osteria Marco, Mizuna, Bones and Luca D'Italia — makes our heads whirl like a spinning top. But just when you think Bonanno and his enormously talented kitchen crew couldn't possibly have any more culinary stunts up their sleeves, they add suckling pig — which is nothing like any suckling pig you've ever had — to Luca D'Italia's menu, which was already an extraordinary document that causes big, burly men to weep. The pig, stuffed with squishy, beautifully spiced, rich forcemeat and crowned with a salad of arugula and sliced apples sprayed with a sherry vinaigrette, straddles a puddle of deep-flavored pork stock and a superb chestnut polenta. Right now, at this moment, there may be no better dish in Denver. There's certainly no better Italian restaurant.

Mark Manger

Tarasco's awesome posole, the traditional Mexican stew that even gringos slurp for breakfast after a night of corruption and immorality, is ladled into a big white bowl with tender pork and pork bones and hominy. It's accompanied, as it should be, by steaming corn tortillas, plenty of quartered lime wedges, a heap of diced white onions and shredded raw cabbage. If you want to dust the posole with Mexican oregano or give it fire with diced jalapeños, the server will bring those, too, although the fiery tableside salsa — it's more like a chile paste — is more addictive than heroin. Once you've doctored it with all your garnishes, it's like eating Christmas in a bowl.

Steamed suckling pig and pork belly buns, roasted bone marrow, escargot pot stickers, tempura-fried cod, dumplings, shishito peppers, soba noodles and soft-serve ice cream: These all play starring roles on the board at Bones, Frank Bonanno's Capitol Hill noodle bar and the fourth soldier in his army of restaurants. Celebrated since Bonanno opened the doors at the end of 2008, Bones has amassed serious worshipers, a conglomerate of cultists who gather at the counter, where the heat and steam from the burners has them breaking out in beads of sweat — a badge of honor. But that's a small price to pay for getting to watch Bonanno's crew as they perfectly poach the yolk-y egg that wiggles and jiggles in a fantastically porky broth floating with faultless udon, ribbons of scallions and shards of roasted pig. It's a justifiably lauded vessel of fine swine that makes us squeal with joy.

Courtesy India's Restaurant Facebook

When Krishan Kappor relocated India's, his terrific curry house, from its longtime home on the perimeter of Tamarac Square to Tiffany Plaza, he definitely traded up in space. And the food is better than ever. The Punjabi-tempered menu may feature many of the same dishes that litter the boards of just about every other Indian restaurant in town, but Kappor and his kitchen crew continue to do these dishes right, serving up sizzling cast-iron platters of tandoori meats and seafood, turning out scintillating curries shocked with beautifully balanced spices that perfume the new, cavernous dining room.

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