Vesta sits close enough to the Union Station Farmers' Market that executive chef Nick Kayser can make his rounds every Saturday and meet farmers, taste fresh produce and make selections for his menu. Not that he's toting a week's worth of veggies back to the restaurant to wilt in the walk-in fridge; instead the chef picks out farms and other food producers he trusts to create a steady supply of fresh, seasonal ingredients.
You can taste the result on Vesta's weekly Market Menu, which Kayser rewrites every Wednesday based on what's available and delicious. Early-season items like baby fennel, young greens, radishes and foraged morel mushrooms have recently given way to mid-summer zucchini, sweet corn and blueberries, for example.
But throughout the year, Kayser and his Vesta team turn the abundance of each season into preserved foods that find their way onto plates weeks or months after they've disappeared from market stalls and farm fields. So a mid-July dinner gets a boost from pickled ramps (whose brief season ended when the hotter days of June and July hit), fennel gastrique (a sweet-and-sour preserve made with equal parts vinegar and sugar) and mushroom conserva.
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With each Market Menu, an accompanying cocktail from bar manager Kari Cummings designed to complement the food and a seasonal dessert brainstormed by pastry chef Nadine Donovan are also part of the slate. Kayser recently learned about cornbread ice cream in Puerto Rico, so he and Donovan concocted a version made even better with the addition of blueberries; the ice cream is currently being served with grilled Palisade peaches that are now coming across the mountains from the Western Slope. Next week's could be different, though, since Vesta's ice cream flavors change as frequently as Denver's weather.
Produce suppliers for the Market Menu, as well as for the regular summer menu, include Acres at Warren Tech, Esoterra Farms, Altius Farms, Ela Farms, the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Growhaus and Mile High Fungi. So you don't have to stick with the Market Menu to experience Colorado's best fruits and vegetables — even a dish of baby octopus from faraway shores gets a Colorado touch with new potatoes and fava beans — but it's a light and refreshing way to experience a downtown favorite that just keeps getting better even after more than twenty years in business.
Visit Vesta at 1822 Blake Street from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 303-296-1970 or go to the restaurant's website for details and reservations.