Sarto’s Tailor-Made for Denver Foodies

Brilliant new Jefferson Park restaurant is latest west of I-25.

002As soon as I received the invitation to a food sampling at Sarto’s, I knew I’d like it. Brian Laird, who spent a decade or so at the estimable Barolo Grill, is the man behind the food. And I liked being there as soon as I walked in the door, because the coffered wood ceiling promised (and delivered) a relaxing setting. Sure, the popular loft look of exposed brick and open ductwork has had its visual appeal, but it’s hard to converse without shouting and hard to hear without straining — and it has become a cliché, hasn’t it? By happy contrast, Sarto’s with white walls, gleaming floors and lots of large windows brings the relaxing ambience of a Mediterranean café Denver. The wood absorbs crowd noises, making dining what I think of as a grown-up delight.

Big windows, clean lines, wood floors and sound-absorbing coffered ceilings are simple yet elegant. Note the pinstripe fabric. (Sarto's photo)
Big windows, clean lines, wood floors and sound-absorbing coffered ceilings are simple yet elegant. Note the pinstripe fabric. (Sarto’s photo)
The back bar is pretty in aperol-pink, just one of the clever design touches at Sarto's.
The back bar is pretty in aperol-pink, just one of the clever design touches at Sarto’s.

The backstory: Taylor Swallow started daydreaming about owning a restaurant for long that he had 20 years of notes — many made in Italy. In 2011, he and his then-fiancée, Kajsa Gotlin, kept returning to an osteria in Verona. Across the street was a sarto shop — sarto being Italian for tailor. They returned to Colorado and started looking for the right restaurant space. They found it in the Jefferson Park neighborhood. Sarto’s is the name, and trailoring is the decorative theme, from the door handles that look like sewing needles to the pinstripe upholstery fabric to the collection of antique Italian sewing machines in the private dining room. Sarto’s is divided into several parts: booze bar and cicchetti bar at right angles to each other, dining room, the pantry for grab-and-go items that is opening shortly and the spacious patio for warm weather. BTW, cichetti is Italian for small plates — rather like tapas.

Custom door pulls that look like sewing needles set the tailor tone for Sarto's.
Custom door pulls that look like sewing needles set the tailor tone for Sarto’s.
Brian Laird, commander of Sarto's kitchen.
Brian Laird, commander of Sarto’s kitchen.

While Sarto’s was progressing from dream to reality, Taylor and Kasja got married, and Taylor also connected with Brian Laird “to pick his brain” about Italian fare. Turned out that Brian was itching to captain a kitchen again. It takes someone with Brian’s talent and experience to make a dream like Taylor’s come into being. The dishes that the kitchen sent out were more meat-heavy than I customarily eat, but every single one was fantastic. The anticipation of the neighborhood, local foodies in general and Brian Laird fans in particular seems to have been fulfilled as soon as the doors opened.

Pickled vegetables as a pre-appetizer.
Pickled vegetables as a pre-appetizer.

Most dishes were sent out for the table rather than as individual portions. Here are some we sampled — happily.

Sarto's vitello tonnato, made with thinly sliced veal top round, a classic Piemontese tuna sauce and capers.
Sarto’s vitello tonnato, made with thinly sliced veal top round, a classic Piemontese tuna sauce and capers.
Heap of bresaola carpaccio and ham with olives and shaved Grana Padano served for the table.
Heap of bresaola carpaccio and ham with olives and shaved Grana Padano served for the table.
An artistic platter of mini-sweet peppers filled with Piemontese tuna sauce on greens.
An artistic platter of mini-sweet peppers filled with Piemontese tuna sauce on greens.
This risotto made with carnaroli rice slow-cooked with crimini mushrooms and finished with Parmigiano Reggiano didn't photograph well, but it is one of the finest risotto versions I have ever eaten. It is not on the current menu, but a seafood risotto with shrimp and basil pesto is.
This risotto made with carnaroli rice slow-cooked with crimini mushrooms and finished with big flakes of Parmigiano Reggiano didn’t photograph well, but it is one of the finest risotto versions I have ever eaten. It is not on the current menu, but a seafood risotto with shrimp and basil pesto is.
Sausage and peppers are a staple of the East Coast Italian-American kitchen. Sarto's version is made with Polidori sausage, roasted peppers and a fine marinara sauce.
Sausage and peppers are a staple of the East Coast Italian-American kitchen. Sarto’s version is made with Polidori sausage, roasted peppers and a fine marinara sauce.
Chicken cacciatore made with plump thighs, peppers, tomatoes and onions.
Chicken cacciatore made with plump thighs, peppers, tomatoes and onions.

Cocktails (including a trio of aperol spritzes, still and sparkling wines mostly from Italy (plus a riserva list of $60+ bottles for special occasions) and a variety beers quench thirsts. Price check: Antipasti, $8-$9; Cheese and meat boards and chef’s selection of three cicchetti (small plates),  $9-$15; salads, $7-$9; primi/pasta, half order,$7-$8 and full order, $13-$16; secondi/griglia, $13-$22 plus to $30 for two); tradizionales (popular Italian dishes in American restaurants), half order, $8-$9 and full order, $12-$16; seafoods, market priced by the ounce; accessories (sides), $4-$7; “accessories” (add-ons), $2-$6. Sarto's on Urbanspoon