Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Vita, Denver (Highland)

Did you see the episode of HIMYM* about “occupational hotness,” the theory that certain professions create a veil of perceived sexual juju. For example a perfectly handsome nurse is seen as an overly-sexed up caretaker, and firemen imagined with flat abs and girth.

*How I Met Your Mother, the best show on network telly.

Vita suffers from a form of occupational hotness. “Location litmus.” Cuddled into the über hip section of Lower Highland, next door to Lola and down the street from Linger, with rooftop patio seating and sweeping city views of Denver across the Millennium Bridge, Vita is one of the more popular girls in school. Perfectly coiffed, coming from the right family, holding hands with the quarterback.

But I expect more from a prom queen. 

Went for Denver Restaurant Week. Arrived on time (even a bit early) but the otherwise bored yet (oddly enough) constantly coffee drinking hostess told us our table wasn’t quite ready. No worries, a girl can always use a quick trip to the loo. You can tell a lot about a place by its bathroom. An outdated bathroom with toilets that had to be flushed twice to sink a small amount of paper. 

Led through the modern but cozy interior and upstairs then seated on the perimeter of a large party. I think I counted 12 of them, loudly celebrating a birthday. It’s not clear why they weren’t happily huddled next to the bar downstairs, near the barking televisions and the loud talking. Instead a few random two-and-four tops out for a lovely quiet evening ended up pooled around the party goers, feeling as if we’d left our invitations at home. Feeling like we crashed Jake Ryan's bash. After spending a good 20 minutes with the battleship of a table, taking drink and food requests, a wide-eyed and wildly scribbling waitress came over, took our cocktail order then asked without making eye contact, “Do you know what you want to eat now too?”

Um. Okay. Ordered–actually strike that reverse it–reordered and repeated our order several times as she stayed distracted by the party table and arms reach away.

At least the martini was good, although the blue in the blue-cheese stuffed olives I requested lacked any tart zing or taste. More akin to Oreo Cookie filling. And it wasn’t until it came time to pay I realized a $1.00 surcharge per drink for the stuffed variety. Vita charges $9 for a Grey Goose martini; expect and anticipate paying $10-$12 for a top shelf cocktail, especially at the swagger spots in LoHi. I wouldn’t have batted at three martinis, $10 each on my bill. But a dollar more for a bit of bad blue? It’s not good marketing. In fact it’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad marketing. 

First course appetizers were the best of the three. Tuna Tartare piled over two large round wonton crisps had a slightly sesame oil aftertaste and perfect crunch. The Seven Hour Pork, braised in cherry and habanero sauce, served with pickled red onions, green onions and house fried chips a little sweet for my taste, but interesting in method and plating. 

The salad course was fine but unmemorable, the sweet pepper and applewood smoked bacon in both the Spinach and Romaine worthwhile. How sad is that sentence? 

Oh, and sullen pepper guy, a grunt of acknowledgment goes a long way when the cheeky redhead tries hard to engage you, make the evening and our short experience together a little more lively than simply grinding and clearing a fork. 

Main course Steak Frites, mostly a chewy mess. Once grizzle cut through a soft bite of medium rare and velvety meat could be found here and there. Of the accompanying sauces the Horseradish Cream was a winner, but the interesting sounding Black Cherry Demi-Glace tasted more like flat cherry cola reduction. The Blackened Sea Bass with spicy charred crust and super white flaky fish hit the mark; the odd textural pairing of Sweet Potato and Crawfish Hash worked, with soft bites of potato and chewy (in the right way) texture of the shellfish. 

I’ve heard the $9 Honeysuckle Mint (16 oz. glass, Skyy Vodka, St. Germain, lavender, mint and honey) is worth a sip and a sit on the roof.  But I’m more likely to take my Benjamin’s up the street to LoHi SteakBar (killer Steak Frites and service) or over the bridge to My Bros. Bar for a Johnny Burger and end-of-shift shot of Ouzo with Paul or the soul-affirming green tea broth rice soup at Sushi Sasa. Or into the Baker neighborhood when (fingers crossed and god willing because there’s no better scotch egg in town) Argyll reopens later this spring.

The prom queen has big competition.

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