There are so many moving parts on the Vesta Dipping Grill menu, & they’ve been moving in so many ways, shapes & forms for so long (14 years & counting), that the fact the majority of them still do it in sync—not all & not always, but many & often—is kinda remarkable. That’s to the credit of chef Matt Selby, ever the playful pup, & his partner Josh Wolkon, a Boston boy who moved to Boulder in 1995 (so did I) and opened Vesta in 1997 (the year I moved to Boston, only to return a decade later). But Northeast-Southwest-corridor connections aside, I genuinely like the place, for the logical reason that it’s one of Denver’s most reliable go-tos (same goes for its sibling Steuben’s, come to think of it), with a mod, moody vibe & a fun, solidly executed, mix-&-match repertoire that, like my life, hinges on an array of globally inspired condiments. If you’ve still never been, or if it’s been a while, give it a whirl.
Here’s what said whirl might look like—at least if, à la moi, you’re all about small plates. The user-friendly entree portion of the menu is worth a look-see too: each dish, almost invariably a grilled meat + starch + veg (nothing wrong with that), is listed with 3 suggested sauces/dips, of which there are currently a whopping 36. But then again, they’re really the mainstay of any meal here, so I’d just as soon sample as many as possible, & the best way to do that is via appetizers.
Whatever you order, you’ll get a little something to start with—always appreciated as a sign of forethought welcome. The last time we were here, we were served amuse shooters of bacon-potato soup; this time, it was just the usual head of roasted garlic with country bread, but that crushed bulb of blistered, spreadable, sinus-tingling cloves was more than enough.
If it weren’t for the fact that the Director & I were dining with an old friend we hadn’t seen in years—the guy who introduced us back at The Foxhead in Iowa City in 1994, actually, in front of whom I didn’t want to seem like the grubber I’ve totally become—I’d have ordered both the sauce sampler with pita & the salsa sampler with chips. As it was, I went with the former, for which we chose pistachio-mint sauce, wasabi cream, bacon aioli, & smoked habañero salsa; the 5th, by my request, was chef’s choice, which turned out to be Korean garlic BBQ.
Of these, the aioli was the standout for its eggy richness, punctuated by smoky-salty cubes of slab bacon, & the pistachio-mint remains a favorite, though it seemed a little less carefully balanced than it did when I included it in a dip round-up in the current issue of 5280—there was something slightly but oddly sweet about it. The wasabi cream, meanwhile, was way too sweet—a problem I also recently encountered at Rackhouse Pub. A survey of recipes online doesn’t at all explain why this should be the case, so I’m bamboozled. The Korean BBQ sauce was nice though—light & fruity on the one hand, funky with sesame on the other—as was the simple, fresh, flame-bright salsa.
Ever the highlight, lamb ribs are extra-meaty little suckers, given Middle Eastern zing with a pistachio-mint crust cooled by a drizzle of subtly perfumed, softly evocative rose-blossom yogurt.
Shrimp fried in soy butter were harder to resist than I thought they’d be; in a tangy, crunchy batter that didn’t, however, overwhelm their own flavor, they barely needed dipping in the jalapeño ponzu & sambal they came with.
Conversely, roasted vegetable–potato samosas missed the mark, being kinda mealy & bland on their own, but the heady sauces that accompanied them—a red curry redolent of ginger, garlic & cayenne & a saffron-tinged, velvety roasted-corn cream enriched with butter—were satisfying enough to repurpose for the extra pita.
Finally, though the cheese selection wasn’t especially novel, it was hard to fault: Humboldt Fog, Mouco camembert, aged gouda, gorgonzola, fresh crumbled chèvre. And though the accoutrements didn’t exactly match the menu description—by “pickled vegetables,” I expect more than cornichons, & by “cherry mustard,” I expect cherry mustard, which didn’t show—the black pepper–truffle honey pulled its musky, floral weight.
After all that, there’s so much else that appeals—smoked venison sausage with pickled onions, scallion tater tots, pommes frites with cherry butter—that I wonder if I’ll ever get around to main courses. But I don’t wonder hard. For me, the joys of Vesta inhere in the little things.