Ex-Barolo Grill chef Brian Laird tapped to be the new exec chef of Russo's Kitchen + Tavern

Brian Laird 2.jpg
Lori Midson
Six months ago, Mark Dym, the owner of Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza, 2129 Larimer Street, was interviewing potential chefs to oversee a new temple of gastronomy at Vallagio at Inverness, an urbanized, retail, restaurant and residence development spearheaded by Peter Kudla, the COO of Metropolitan Homes. The Vallagio, which already showcases the unassailable kitchen talents of Parallel 17 owner/chef Mary Nguyen, who opened Street Kitchen Asian Bistro last month, will soon be swelled with several more restaurants, including a second Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza, a Biker Jim's outpost and Russo's Kitchen + Tavern, which, Dym told me last Thursday night, would be ruled by Brian Laird, the former executive chef of Barolo Grill, who spent nearly thirteen years presiding over that line.

Russos interior.jpg
Lori Midson
The new Russo's Kitchen + Tavern at the Vallagio at Inverness

When I chatted with Dym, Kudla's partner in the Vallagio enterprise, last year for a Chef and Tell interview, I asked him to name Denver's current culinary genius; his answer was Brian Laird. "The guy is completely off the charts and yet so underrated," he told me. "What's so cool about Brian is that he's actually in the kitchen cooking. I love his creativity, passion, quirkiness and energy, and he always has something new he's working on. Every time I go in for dinner, he just cooks for me. Last time it was cantaloupe soup with sour cream gelato, and I gotta tell you, it's the most memorable dish I've had in Denver. When you let him loose, he's just fantastic."

That dinner -- and many others at Barolo -- were never far from Dym's mind, so when he started thinking about a chef to power the kitchen at Russo's, Laird was front and center. "He's one of my favorite chefs in Denver, and while I talked to a lot of chefs about Russo's, they weren't the right fit, so I approached Brian, who, at the time, declined, but we continued to talk and started exploring a consulting opportunity," says Dym.

And then, last month, Laird left his post at Barolo Grill. "I got a call from Brian out of the blue right after he left Barolo, and we started to talk again about the opportunity at Russo's. I mean, who's better than Brian? Nobody," insists Dym. Laird said he'd think about it while sunning and surfing in Hawaii, where he's been spending the last few weeks decompressing.

Soon after he arrived, Laird texted a Hawaiian landscape photo -- the kind that makes us all wish like hell we were in Hawaii right now -- to Dym, along with his decision. "Hey, Mark," it read. "This is where I was when I decided, what the fuck? Let's do business!"



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8 comments
Mlautner
Mlautner

Brian didn't last long.  This restaurant is terribly overpriced.  The menu is not exciting.  Definitely Russo's is not an asset to Vallagio.

C Madigan
C Madigan

I hear that Brian Laird and Peter Kudla have parted ways, and that the menu at Russo's will be revamped.  Do you know what's up with this?

eCurmudgeon
eCurmudgeon

Nobody expects the "unexpected Italian" cuisine!

Alan_carbone
Alan_carbone

Stuffed peppers? Please.... I don't see this marriage lasting very long!

Mantonat
Mantonat

I'm drooling over those Italian craft beers. Italy is craft brewing's biggest secret, combining the creativity of American brewers with the potent and flavorful food-friendly beers of Belgium.

Lori Midson
Lori Midson

What a great comment, Jeff. Thanks for posting!

Jeff
Jeff

The news keeps getting better for us south suburbanites. When I moved to the Greenwood Village area from Speer a couple of years ago to be closer to my job and family, I knew that I would miss the all of the cultural and artistic outlets, but didn't realize how much I had taken for granted being surrounded by great chef-driven neighborhood restaurants.

As one would expect, I found the 'burbs to be mostly an endless row of nothing but Macaroni Grills, Red Lobsters, and Outback Steakhouses. Sure, some mostly-reliable Denver quick service joints had an area outpost (Little Anita's, Smashburger, Pat's Cheesesteaks, Brothers BBQ) and there were plenty of clubby steakhouses (Del Frisco, Flemming's, Brooks) turning out fairly tasty prime beef, but there were no real bistros, trattorias, or even local diners run by chefs who cared about their food.

All that seems to be turning around though -- largely thanks to the Vallagio development (and, to a lesser extent Southglenn and Landmark - each of which has a jewel or two among its mediocre chains). Mary Nguyen is doing some pretty amazing things at Street Kitchen -- tasty soup dumplings, pork buns, and a couple of noodle bowls that the guys at Bones would be proud to call their own. Their cocktail menu alone is enough to make me a regular. In the last week we've got the news of Biker Jim setting up a new shop/culinary playground at the Vallagio and some French dude taking over the old Mel's space on Orchard.

I'm not a huge fan of Mark Dym's pizza, especially when we've got The Oven and Pizza Republica out here, but I'm definitely curious about the new joints he's got a hand in. I'm always excited about new breakfast places, which the unfortunately-named DC Stax promises to be, and Russo's has sounded interesting from the get-go too. The news that Brian Laird will be running the show at the latter has made my day.

I know that Laura Shunk was nonplussed by her visits to Barolo Grill at the end of Laird's reign, but I'm unswayed. I was devouring amazing meals from his kitchen when Shunk was still ordering Happy Meals. I know what he's capable of. I really like the look of the Russo's space in the pic above (how much money are they blowing with the finished restaurant sitting empty for months?), and the fact that they've picked a top-notch toque who really, really knows Italy to turn out "unexpected Italian" cuisine has me all giddy. Now if only someone can convince Alex Seidel, Jen Jasinski, and Frank Bonnano to set up shop out here in IKEA-ville...

Lori Midson
Lori Midson

Peter picked those up from Eataly in New York...I was drooling, too. I wonder if there's anywhere in Denver that sells them.

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