Strawberry Fields Forever

FEATURING: Executive Chef Dana Rodriquez, Bistro Vendome, Denver.

Strawberry-and-Radish, Mark Woolcott Photography, The Patrician Palette LLCOne of my favorite memories is walking the streets of Paris for the first time. (Four days of bliss.) The streets were narrow and the cobblestone alleys heavily rutted. The buildings were ancient and ornate with balconies trimmed in frilly ironwork. The air was filled with smells of bread, sweets and meats. It was overwhelming. I was definitely in another world and I felt I belonged there. An old man walked past me with his arms full of freshly-baked baguettes, and it just made me happy. They smelled so good. I had to have one.

There wasn’t much money because I was a poor student travelling with a backpack. But I could afford a baguette, grapes, a wedge of brie, tomatoes and some wine. My Swiss Army knife made quick work of the tomato and easily uncorked the wine. It was heaven and very liberating to be on a budget and to eat so well.

That was then. Thankfully, today I can afford a more elaborate meal. Entering Bistro Vendôme at Larimer Square was a trip down memory lane for me. While located in the heart of Denver, I can feel, see and smell a moment of Paris again. Sweeping red drapes invite you in, the wooden floors creak a little and gold-leaf lettering on the plate-glass windows announce that this place is très Français.

The menu has classic French menu items such as Moules and Steak au Poivre. Not everything is heavy, though. Their new Chef de Cuisine, Dana Rodriguez, has introduced some new items that I found particularly creative and fresh. The stars of the evening for me were the pork rillette and the strawberry salad. The salad was beautiful in presentation as well as flavor – served with pink and white pickled radishes, a burgundy-colored red onion jam, and a pink strawberry vinaigrette.

Bistro Vendôme passed the baguette test, too. They were introducing a new baguette made just for them – perfectly crusty on the outside while soft and chewy on the inside. It had a surprising mélange of spices sprinkled on the crust that were held on by a sweetened mustard glaze. It was divine. I’d go back just for the bread and that strawberry salad.

Bistro Vendome
Chef de cuisine – Dana Rodriguez
1420 Larimer Square
Denver, CO 80202

Salade de Fraises et de Radis

aka Strawberry and Pickled Radish Salad
(Rewritten by TPP for general consumption)

8 ounces clean strawberries
1 cup sparkling rosé (We use Lucien Albrecht, Cremant d’ Alsace Brut Rosé)
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
½ cup olive oil
Pinch of salt, white pepper and sugar

1 pound mixed radishes (Easter egg, French breakfast, red, purple or watermelon)
4 cups water
2 cups white or champagne vinegar
1 cup sugar
½ cup salt
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon white peppercorns

1 cup square cut French feta cheese (we use Valbreso)
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup chopped chives

1 red onion, finely diced
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup red wine
½ cup sugar

Make the coulis: Place all ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth.
Pickle the radishes: Place all ingredients in a pot and boil for 5 minutes, strain and pour over the sliced or cut radishes for 15 minutes. Strain the water and cool down radishes for ½ hour.
Marinate the cheese: Mix everything in a plastic bowl and let it marinate for one day.
Make the jam: Place everything in a pot and simmer until juice is a thick, syrup consistency. Place on a plate until cooled.

On a rectangular plate, place 2 tablespoons of red onion jam down the center and length of the plate. Top the jam with 8 pieces of pickled radishes, 3 cubes of marinated feta, with sliced fresh radishes and mâche on top. Cut one strawberry into quarters and arrange on one side of the jam with one line of strawberry coulis on the other.

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