If you’ve ever seen someone on TV or on the silver screen open a bottle of Champagne with a sword and thought, “damn that’s a cool party trick,” Sarto’s is here to help you impress your friends and live out your swashbuckling, sword-wielding fantasies. Sarto's new brunch is one of the most unique in town — with Saber Saturdays and Sundays to add to the weekend fun. Simply purchase a bottle of bubbly, Gruet Blanc de Blanc ($42) or Montesia Franciacorta ($63), and you’ll be treated to a personalized sabering lesson. As if that's not cool enough, a “Champagne Olympics” is potentially in the works for next summer, so practice refining your technique now (because beer is so pedestrian).
If you haven’t checked out Sarto’s sexy spot, which is doing it’s best to class up Jefferson Park, you’re missing out. Bathed in elegant grays and adorned with potted plants in white ceramic containers, the elegant dining room gets an added boost of sophistication from staff wearing chic pinstriped aprons attentively bringing you branded purse hooks and taking your order to a backdrop of classical music. No matter how warm our server made us feel, we felt a little underdressed for brunch (offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday).
My first question was "Why is an Italian restaurant teaching an ancient French art?" Turns out, it’s just a skill owner Taylor Swallow became passionate about after working at Sigh in Sonoma, California, where the owner of the bubbles bar passed the knowledge onto him. After that, he was hooked, paying it forward by teaching his own staff and now the people of Denver — and accumulating a collection of sabers in the process. Sabering works best with traditionally made Champagne, sparkling wine or cava (the colder the better) as the pressure in the bottle is stronger as a result of how it’s processed. After the bottles are filled at the winery, the tops are removed to add more yeast during the fermentation process, and once the bottle is recorked, the glass is weaker, allowing for a cleaner break. Swallow showed us how each bottle has two seams under the foil and how to identify the more pronounced one, which is what you’ll be aiming for. Sliding your saber along the head at a 45-degree angle, all you have to do is follow through along the neck like a softball swing.
I was most concerned about where would we be doing this bottle popping as two babies were seated precariously close to our table and I don’t think the mothers would’ve appreciated the target practice. Luckily for all, we were taken around to the side patio for our bottle decapitation. Sarto’s will eventually be putting up a backstop to collect the far-flung corks and possibly to judge distance and accuracy, but for now, the only rule is to aim away from passersby (although I secretly enjoyed having an audience).
It's a bit nerve wracking that there’s no practice round; you have just one shot to do it right and see how well you paid attention to the tutelage. I was handed a blunt object that I at first mistook for the saber's scabbard, but it was actually the sword itself. Looking more like a modern shoehorn or MOMA paperweight than a dagger, which made it very clear it was the training saber, the upside: it was almost impossible to injure yourself. Whatever the weapon, it doesn’t take much muscle, as physics does most of the work. So after a count of three my bottle was smoking with a satisfying pop.
Afterwards, glasses of Champagne were delivered to our table in what looked like fancy test tubes and beakers straight out of science class to mix with seasonal fruit juices. And of course, if you’re not a fan of the bubbles or don't want to splurge on a whole bottle, Sarto's offers cocktails by the glass, including a "bespoke" make-your-own option.
Brunch isn’t common in Italy, so Swallow and executive chef James Rugile used a bit of creativity to develop a menu they imagined would be popular over there, with Mediterranean takes on American breakfast items, like bomboloni cinnamon doughnut bites and sides of cinghiale (wild boar) bacon, thicker and chewier than traditional American bacon.
A shrimp and polenta (the Italian version of grits) dish was artfully prepared and packed with gourmet market-fresh ingredients, while the quiche featured sharp Parmesan, salty pancetta bites and sun-dried tomatoes baked in a crispy crust. Attention to detail was evident even in a side of arugula salad touched with sun-kissed olive oil dressing, candied nuts and mandarin oranges. Since this was the first weekend of brunch for Sarto's, the kitchen was still toying with the recipes. Rugile offered a different version of the shrimp and polenta than what was described on the menu, encircled it with a ring of salsa verde instead of salsa roja, a nice touch he thought would be lighter for patio dining under the beating summer sun. The polenta was topped with strips of fresh fennel and each herb and spice accentuated the smoky, barbecued shrimp (which sadly didn’t have an even number for sharing), ensuring that I would be back to try the rest of the menu — and to hone my ninja sword skills.