100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes: Farrotto Piccolo at Basta

No. 33: Farrotto Piccolo at Basta
Chef Kelly Whitaker cooks almost everything at his intimate but lively Italian restaurant Basta in the same wood-burning oven where round after round of Neapolitan pizzas are also baked. A tricky, hands-on dish like risotto seems an unlikely choice for oven roasting, especially when vying for space with pans of seasonal vegetables, mounds of clams and precisely cut rectangles of fish, but Whitaker and his crew have the close-quarters jockeying down to an elegant dance. And to make things a little more interesting, he's also replaced the dainty arborio rice of standard risotto with farro — a type of wheat —  for an equally traditional but earthier, heartier whole-grain farrotto that marries well with the subtle wood smoke from the oven and the singular, rustic flavors of many of the menu's other dishes.

The dish is called "piccolo" because of the small size of the wheat kernels, which are paired with hen of the woods mushroom, shallot and chive. Whitaker and his crew rotate between the prep counter and the opening of the oven, adjusting and turning pans and pizzas to find the sweet spot for each dish being prepared. A copper pot holding the risotto gets a shake here and a stir there, and a momentary reprieve from the heat for a spash of white wine.

Once done, the farrotto is mounded into a shallow bowl and showered with pungent Italian cheese. Slighty thicker than risotto, the farrotto settles in the bowl but doesn't pool like its rice-based cousin. This isn't a mushy porridge; the kernels of farro maintain their individual integrity, offering a toothsome texture amid layers of flavor built from the cooking process. The flavors are almost entirely in the umami spectrum, with just the barest hint of acidity but with salty, smoky richness that pairs well with a variety of wines and beers. If you're not sure what to order from Basta's extensive beverage list, just ask partner and sommelier Alan Henkin for a recommendation — he'll steer you toward something perfect for your palate.

Although the Best of Denver 2015 edition is out, we'll keep counting down the contenders for the best dishes in the city in advance of Westword's Dish event on September 20, where many of our Best of Denver winners — along with other favorites — will congregate to serve up small plates. If there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section, or shoot us an e-mail at [email protected]

Hungry for more? All the dishes in our countdown are linked below.

No. 100: Chile Relleno at La Fiesta
No. 99: Gurage Kitfo at Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant
No. 98: Cochinita Pibil at Work & Class
No. 97: The Greggers Tongue Sandwich at Olive & Finch 
No. 96: Baum Cakes at Glaze by Sasa
No. 95: Goat hot pot from Viet's
No.94: Head cheese from Beast + Bottle
No. 93: Kettle Chips from Amerigo Delicatus
No. 92: Pork Belly Confit at Solera Restaurant and Wine Bar
No. 91: Tacos Campechanos from La Calle Taqueria
No. 90: Biscuits from Denver Biscuit Co.
No. 89: Clams and Chorizo at Gozo
No. 88: Aburi Sushi at Sushi Den and Izakaya Den
No. 87: Kimchi and Sausage Torta at City, O' City
No. 86: Mar y Tierra Molcajete at Paxia
No. 85: Crispy Pork Spare Ribs at Table Top
No. 84: Chips and Dip at Euclid Hall
No. 83: Chile Relleno Burrito at El Taco de Mexico
No. 82: Scallop Crudo at Stoic & Genuine
No. 81: Ceylon Curry Dosa at Khazana
No. 80: The Lambada Torta at La Torteria
No. 79: Pork Bulgogi at Dae Gee
No. 78: the Pulled Pork Pig Pen Sandwich at Boney's
No. 77: IPA Mac & Cheese at Hops & Pie
No. 76: Chiles en Nogada at Chili Verde
No. 75: Udon Noodle Bowl at Bones
No. 74: Cinnamon Rolls at the Duffeyroll Cafe
No. 73: Smoked Turkey Croque-Madame at Acorn
No. 72: Pickled Lake Michigan Perch at Trillium
No. 71: Oysters at Jax Fish House Glendale
No. 70: Venezuelan Tostadas at Empanada Express Grill
No. 69: Tahini Cauliflower from Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
No. 68: The Ham and Cheese Tartita from Maria Empanada
No. 67: Ronnie's Favorite from Rosenberg's Bagels and Deli
No. 66: Shoo-fly Pie from the Long i Pie Shop
No. 65: Czech Potato Pancakes at Sobo 151
No. 64: Fried Chicken at the Post Brewing Co.
No. 63: Braised Brisket Sandwich at Masterpiece Delicatessen
No. 62: The Scotch Egg from Argyll Whisky Beer
No. 61: Butternut Squash Ravioli at DiFranco's
No. 60: Sesame Balls at Vinh Xuong Bakery
No. 59: Curry Puffs at Suvipa Thai Food
No. 58: Diavola Pizza at Pizzeria Locale
No. 57: Chorizo Breakfast Stew at DJ's 9th Avenue Cafe
No. 56: The Rare Beast Sandwich at Salt & Grinder
No. 55: 48-Hour Short Ribs at Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
No. 54: Marrow Bone Brulee at Mercantile Dining & Provision
No. 53: Prawns and Pork Belly at Blackbelly Market
No. 52: Belgian Waffles from Waffle Up
No. 51: Nashville Hot Chicken at Lou's Food Bar
No. 50: Breakfast Burrito from Chickee's Lil Kitchen 
No. 49: Monkfish and Romanesco at TAG
No. 48: Cabeza Tacos at Taqueria El Trompito
No. 47: Pupusas Revueltas at Pupuseria San Salvador
No. 46: Sesame Pockets at Golden Plate II
No. 45: Tuna Mousse at Cart-Driver
No. 44: Tavern Tots at the Highland Tavern  
No. 43: Carne Asada Fries at North County
No. 42: Pho at Wonderbowl
No. 41: Shredded Bison at Tocabe
No. 40: Nachos al Pastor from Tony Guacamole
No. 39: Prosciutto Pop Tart from Bakin' Bakery
No. 38: Ham and Egg Congee at Onefold
No 37: Lao Sausage at the Asian Cajun
No 36: Pan Bagnat at Fuel Cafe 
No 35: Meatloaf Sandwich at City Bakery Cafe
No 34: Okonomiyaki at Kobe An