For months, Brian Laird has been plotting under the radar, slowly and methodically working on lease negotiations for a new restaurant in Jefferson Park, and finally, just last week, Laird and his business partners, Taylor Swallow and Kajsa Gotlin, inked a deal on a century-old corner space at 2900 West 25th Avenue.
The deal has been a long-time cooking for Laird, who spent thirteen years behind the burners at Barolo Grill, exiting that kitchen in early 2011, and then cooked at various other restaurants, including the now-closed Russo's Kitchen + Tavern as well as Sketch, where Laird had returned to his Italian roots, turning out superb housemade pastas.
Sarto's, his new 4,000-square-foot restaurant, which also trumpets a market, deli and pantry, is Italian in scope (the name means "tailor" in Italian), and indicative, says Laird, of what he's wanted to do all along: "a Northern Italian restaurant that's welcoming, friendly and affordable with a lightened, contemporary, localized and refined focus."
The 85-seat restaurant, which boast two patios, is slated to open in early fall, and when it does, guests can expect a multitude of surprises and innovative elements: Laird will build a cicchetti -- Italian for "tapas" -- eight-seat bar, where he'll serve a ever-changing roster of hand-sliced meats from a candy-apple red slicer, charcuterie, cheeses, raw oysters on the half-shell, crostinis and whatever else he feels like dispensing. No two days, he says, will be the same in terms of what's available.
Much of what comprises his dinner menu will emerge from a wood-fired oven tucked into a prominent corner of the partially open kitchen. "That's the showpiece," declares Laird, and his plan, he adds, is to grill vegetables, meats, fish, breads, pizzas and even salads in that oven, stroked by oak and various other flavor-imparting woods. Pastas, of course, will be a huge part of the of the lineup, too, and roving, dim sum-style carts, strewn with small plates, antipasti, wheels of cheeses and risottos will maneuver their way through the dining room, and guests will get "tick-off" sheets to mark what they'd like to order. An antiqued after-dinner drink cart will roam through the dining room, as well.
A u-shaped bar will seat sixteen, and it'll be separated from the main dining room, walled with windows overlooking the patios, by a harvest table festooned with vases of fresh flowers and bottles of wine. Two-tops will squat along the north side windows and the remaining tables, says Laird, will be higher tables and six-tops that peer into the adjacent pantry -- a Euro-style pantry and marketplace that will expose dowels hanging with fresh-made pastas, visible from the sidewalk, along with panini, sheet pizzas, housemade soups and sauces, grab-and-go sandwiches, wines and beers to consume on the premises, a selection of olive oils, risottos and bags of Caputo "00" flour and a fresh meat-and-seafood case, plus another for deli meats and cheeses. "Pretty much everything that we'll sell in the pantry are ingredients that we're also using in the restaurant kitchen," Laird explains.
Other attributes of note: a chef's table; bread-baking and pasta-making viewing area; a private party/business meeting room; and a separate kitchen entirely devoted to cooking demonstrations and wine seminars.
The restaurant, which will undergo massive renovations between now and autumn (Laird says that the pantry will be unveiled first), will be open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, while the hours at Sarto's pantry will likely be from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Brunch, notes Laird, will be introduced later.
"I'm really, really stoked to be a part of this emerging neighborhood," says Laird. "This kind of cooking is my passion and what I've always wanted to do, and this space is the perfect place to see those dreams come to fruition."
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