Denver, Colorado, is a gateway to advanced skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and so many other wonderful outdoor activities so many of my athletic friends appreciate and pursue here. I love mountains, too, but we have an incompatibility issue… In a Mile High City – only a mile above the sea level – I’m besieged by the altitude sickness symptoms, feeling sluggish, light-headed, and having to literally drag my feet even to the most enticing places in this beautiful area.
That is not to say that I would abstain from whatever leisurely pursuits are still available to me in Denver – and those could easily fill out a weekend turning it into a pleasantly relaxing vacay.
On a Friday night my husband and I arrived at the capital of the Centennial State (formed in the year 1876), and I checked my list of planned activities. I soon realized that the pesky elevation fatigue wouldn’t let us hurry up and get here and there before the closing time. All I wanted was to keep awake at least until dark. We decided that everything else could wait, but we had to have dinner, and for that we went straight to Vesta – a reputable and very popular dining establishment awarded for its memorable food and drink as well as for its excellent service and ambiance.
Named after an ancient Roman goddess of hearth, usually personified by the fire, the restaurant, located in an historical 1800s building – a former spice mill – boasts the original brick walls and hard wood floors, a row of weathered wood pillars, an open kitchen, and a long stone bar under a copper roof that reflects the lights of six red-orange orbs with frozen glass “flames” positioned vertically along the counter.
As explains Josh Wolkon, the proprietor, those six artisanal light fixtures – the most striking feature of the interior – symbolize the priestesses of Vesta who served in her temple in Rome and had to guard the eternal fire in her hearth.
Whatever’s the connection with the virgin vestals, the fire at Vesta produces some really impressive grilled, roasted, and charred delicacies created by the Executive Chef Nicholas Kayser, who was awarded a Michelin star during his previous tenure in New York City, and sous chefs Steven Cox, Brian Hardy, and Wes Oswalt.
Vesta bread plate presents a rotating house-baked selection of fresh breads served with roasted garlic, black pepper truffle honey, and compound butter, while a charcuterie plate contains house-cured meats and Colorado cheeses – behold for example, salami fino, chicken liver pate and Haystack Mountain Cashmere cheese served with house-made mustards, fig jam, peppered honey, and candied walnuts.
Just these starters alone are great with the whimsical libations from the cocktail-driven bar, like Down by Law, Mezcal Last Word, and Where the Buffalo Roam. However, it wouldn’t be wise to miss on the small plates and mains at Vesta – all made with locally grown, organic and sustainable ingredients.
Be it braised pork belly with yuzu aioli; charred baby octopus on a bed of white beans and red cabbage; or a generous portion of extracted from the bone and pan-fried bone marrow – it’s hard to go wrong with anything at Vesta!
No matter how full you might feel after consuming Green Garlic Bucatini Carbonara or Madras Grilled Venison, try not to skip dessert. Executive Pastry Chef Nadine Donovan makes wondrous seasonal sweets, like Spring Crème Brulee with strawberries, rhubarb, lemon curd and white chocolate.
After a good-night sleep, induced by the substantial meal at Vesta, we were ready to explore the city over the weekend.
Denver Art Museum is an imposing architectural wonder that consists of two buildings – the original one, resembling a fortress, designed by the famous Italian architect Gio Ponti, and the newer Hamilton Building – a jagged shimmering titanium fantasy by Daniel Libeskind, inspired by the snowy peaks of the Rockies.
There’s a wealth of art pieces exhibited at the museum’s galleries – from more than 70 000 in the entire collection – ranging from Native American art of more than 100 tribes to Western and Asian, classic and contemporary, derived from the permanent collection, and currently on display in temporary shows.
On a much smaller scale, in more than one sense, The Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys is located in the historic Pearce-McAllister Cottage, and holds an impressive amount of tiny doll houses populated by well-dressed dolls, furnished and decorated in the most meticulous fashion with glass, metal, and even pure gold objects measured from half an inch to a pinky size.
Of life-sized fully furnished and decorated historical mentions, Molly Brown House Museum, formerly a property of Margaret Brown, or the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” and Byers-Evans House Museum provide fascinating guided tours and a glimpse into the bygone era. Interestingly, the guide at one of the house museums noted in the course of our excursion that on his tours he encounters mostly out-of-towners. Denver residents rarely explore the fascinating past of their gorgeous city. Perhaps, they have a reason for that – the surrounding nature is too good to miss on a day in or a day out.
By the end of our short trip to Denver, I felt energized enough to explore the outdoors. We ventured no further than the Red Rocks Amphitheatre – famous for all the musical stars that graced its stage over the years, but also for the legendary red rocks that surround it.
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