Coming Soon

Sarto’s Brian Laird Talks Pasta and Passion for Italy

By Ruth Tobias  |  November 26, 2013
Credit: Ruth Tobias

Though it won’t be opening until spring 2014, Brian Laird and Taylor Swallow's upcoming Sarto's, a contemporary Italian eatery and market in Jefferson Park, is already stirring up local cravings. So we asked Laird - the longtime Barolo Grill chef who got his start with Kevin Taylor and also spent some time at the much-missed wine bar Sketch (he’s since been consulting up in Winter Park) - to share some of his experiences (in the kitchen and at the table) and give us a little taste of what to expect.

Zagat: Tell us about the cicchetti you’ll be serving at Sarto’s; we’re most familiar with the term in connection with the tapas bars of Venice.

Brian Laird: Those small plates are what we’re most excited about incorporating. We’re building an eight-seat counter, like a sushi bar, that’s just my little station. Nothing will be set in stone; sarto means “tailor” in Italian, so I’m there to tailor food to your liking. What can I do to facilitate your culinary adventure? What are you in the mood for? 

Remember how Sketch had that two- or three-seat bar that I stood in front of and cooked? I loved that. I did fine dining at Barolo and I understand that to the hilt, but what I learned from Sketch is how to do what I do in a much more approachable way. I’m tired of going to places where you have a choice of an 8- or 16-ounce steak; if you only want a couple of bites of meat with some greens, great. I’m sensitive about waste - if I’m not going to eat a huge amount, then don’t give me a huge amount.

Z: You’ve done a lot of traveling and studying in Italy. Any memories in particular that might have influenced you in terms of this project?

BL: I would have to say one lunch at Gualtiero Marchesi in Erbusco, probably 10 years ago. I still remember it: the stuffed cuttlefish pasta, done so tender, the risotto, pheasant and cigars at the end... I have journals and journals in which I’ve written down every single thing I’ve eaten in Europe, every wine I’ve tasted. A passion for Italy was one of those things that just hit me on my very first trip, from the first plin I ate to the last gelato I sucked down and every espresso I had along the way.

Z: Ah, your plin. We have our own fond memories of eating that at Sketch.

BL: I really want to make that pasta my legacy; I want it to be what everyone starts talking about. Agnolotti are Piedmontese ravioli, and around the town of Alba in Barolo, the claim to fame is a smaller type of agnolotti - plin just means “little pinch.” It’s going to be my last meal, along with veal tartare.

We did a version recently at a dinner party stuffed with three cheeses and roasted artichokes in a sunchoke purée. But we’ll change the filling up - cheese, vegetables, meat.

I studied for a month with Massimo Camia at Locanda nel Borgo di Antico in Barolo, and it was he who helped me to learn how to perfect the plin. A lot of Italian cuisine comes across as very simple - and it is. But there are secrets. You’re using the same simple ingredients everybody else is using and getting a completely different result.

Z: Without giving away any of those secrets, can you tell us what else you’re looking forward to?

BL: I’m going to be doing a lot of game birds, like pheasant and quail, depending on the season. I hope at this point we’re all eating fresh, seasonal ingredients - I’m one to say you’re not getting raspberries or blueberries in February. We have a great pizza oven, and we’ll be cooking most of our meats and birds in that, Florentine style. Probably it will be used for rotisserie more than pizza.

That said, we’ll also offer pizza in the retail space, which will sell my fresh pastas and sauces, as well as grab-and-go salads, soups, panini.. You want two inches of this pizza and two inches of that one? It’ll be on the sheet pan, ready to cut. Just tell us when to stop.

2900 W. 25th Ave.