Reader: With Brian Laird going to Russo's, things are looking up in the southern suburbs

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Yesterday, a reader wondered if the restaurant-packed Berkeley neighborhood in northwest Denver was suffering from too much of a good thing. But the revelation that Brian Laird was heading south to Russo's Kitchen + Tavern, one of several restaurants slated for the Vallagio project in Englewood or Centennial (depending on which map you're reading) came as only good news to a reader in the southern suburbs.

As Jeff wrote:

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 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, Fleming'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. The 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 (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 Bonanno to set up shop out here in IKEA-ville...

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