Cafe Society

Exclusive sneak peek: Russo's Kitchen + Tavern

Late last week, Brian Laird, the executive chef of Russo's Kitchen + Tavern, which opens on Thursday at Vallagio at Inverness, trotted out a non-stop medley of dishes during a staff tasting and orientation -- and we were lucky enough to share in the food coma.

And Laird, the former chef of Barolo Grill, whose kitchen he reigned over for more than a dozen years, has a renewed sense of energy, a new spring in his step, and a seasonally driven, ever-changing menu that he's crazy-excited about -- in part, because he owns it. "This menu is my style of food, and I'm super-excited about the fact that I have the freedom to play with -- and expand the repertoire of -- my ingredients," says Laird, whose board is steadfastly suited to his own personal fancies and whimsies. "I love not being trapped by one specific cuisine, or region, and while my menu definitely leans toward Italian food, there's a lot of stuff on there that I personally really love," he adds, pointing, for example, to his chile water, a popular Hawaiian table condiment.

"We're not here to complicate dishes," notes Laird. "Simple dishes are best, and that's what my cooking style is all about." And now that he's a chef and a restaurant operator, Laird understands that the bar is set high. "This is what I've been working toward for a really long time -- this is the dream -- but that also means that there's a lot on my shoulders," he admits. "Everything goes by me now, and being able to bring up a new generation of cooks and chefs is super-cool -- there's a tremendous amount of gratitude in that -- but we need to make sure we do a kick-ass job."

Judging from the dishes he turned out during the tasting, he's well on his way to doing just that. Flip the page to get a sneak peek of what Laird has in store.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson