2009 Fine Dining Hall of Fame: Barolo Grill

2009 Fine Dining Hall of Fame: Barolo Grill

ADDRESS: 3030 E. 6th AvenueCUISINE: PiedmonteseCHEF: Brian LairdOWNER: Blair TaylorPHONE:(303) 393-1040WEBSITE: www.barologrilldenver.comOPENED: 1992PER-PERSON DINNER CHECK AVERAGE WITH BEVERAGE: $100SEATES: 95AVERAGE WEEKLY COVERS: 200BEST-SELLING DISH: Barolo duck — braised duckling, seasonal vegetables, tomatoes and garlic rosemary roasted potatoes

Lingering over a meal at the Barolo Grill [3], local restaurant reviewer Pat Miller started to feel guilty as she looked around the crowded dining room and bar packed with people waiting to be seated.

“I thought maybe we should give up this table,” says Miller, the host of the weekly, Denver-area restaurant radio show, “The Gabby Gourmet.” “It was a Wednesday night, and it was a mob scene.”

Miller ranks the Barolo Grill [3] highly in her annual Gabby Gourmet Restaurant Guide for its Northern Italian cuisine, wine and atmosphere. The 14-year-old establishment also has consistently been named among the best restaurants in Denver by local media and Zagat.

Critics such as Miller point to owner Blair Taylor as the key to the restaurant’s success, and Taylor gives the credit to chef de cuisine Brian Laird and the entire staff who go with him to Italy every year to learn more about the food and the region. The trips continue to improve their knowledge, expertise and level of service, Taylor says.

Taylor closes the restaurant for a week every year to give the staff a vacation. Most, though, go with him to Italy’s Piedmont region near the French and Swiss borders. Employees buy their own plane tickets, and the restaurant pays for lodging and meals. Often many of the wineries and restaurants they visit host them.

In Italy waiters visit vineyards and meet the winemakers, and Barolo’s chefs have the opportunity to learn from Italian chefs. After the first trip a year after Barolo opened, Taylor noticed guest checks increased and the restaurant improved exponentially.

“Trying to recreate an Italian experience without anyone other than me having been there was sort of faking it,” Taylor says.

He opened Barolo Grill on the edge of Denver’s Cherry Creek North neighborhood in December 1992 after his first trip to Piedmont. It was the third restaurant venture for this Chicago native who had majored in hospitality at the University of Denver. He worked for a wine importer and then opened Chives, a high-end French restaurant that he converted to a California wine bar after the oil bust in the 1980s. He sold the Denver restaurant two years after starting Barolo Grill.

Barolo’s menu, designed by Laird, focuses on the regions of Piedmont, Tuscany and the Veneto. Laird, who started as a sous chef, has been Barolo’s head chef for the past eight years.

“I can’t say enough about how spectacular a job he has done,” Taylor says. “Italian food is elegant, yet simple. You have to blend those two elements together, and not everyone gets it. A lot of chefs just want to overdo stuff and make the dishes heavier and too many layers. Italian cuisine is beautifully simple, clean without being fussy, and he gets that.”

While Barolo Grill has continued to attract regulars and special-occasion diners, it has not gone unscathed from the recession. Business entertaining is down. Employees began worrying this winter about being able to afford airfare to Europe, so for the first time in the restaurant’s history, Taylor planned a staff trip to California’s Sonoma and Napa valleys in July.

“We have people who have been to Italy five to seven times and had never been to Napa,” Taylor says. “There are actually a lot of great Italian-related wineries and great Italian chefs there, too.”

MENU SAMPLER

ANTIPASTIProsciutto con Fragole thin-sliced prosciutto with fresh strawberries & traditional balsamic $11

Aragosta Crêpes chilled Maine lobster salad rolled in herbed crêpes served with crème fraîche $11

INSALATECuore di Lattuga “Liguria” romaine hearts in a Ligurian style with garlic-anchovy dressing, served with capers, eggs, cherry tomatoes & parmigiano reggiano $10 …add extra white Mediterranean anchovies $2.50

Insalata di Polpo e Pomodoro Mediterranean octopus carpaccio with a cherry tomato relish $9

PRIMI PIATTIGnocchi con Porcini alla Fonduta House-made potato gnocchi with fresh porcini mushrooms & fontina cheese sauce $20

Risotto con Asparagi e Parmigiano Reggiano with asparagus & parmigiano reggiano $18

SECONDI PIATTI

Anitra al Barolo braised duckling, seasonal vegetables, tomatoes & garlic-rosemary roasted potatoes $24

Lonza di Maiale con Asparagi e Patate polenta crusted pork tenderloin with steamed asparagus & curried mashed potatoes $27

CONTORNIFagioli Verde e Broccolini con Pancetta sautéed haricot verts, broccolini & fried pancetta $9

Funghi alla Stagione sautéed morel, cremini & porcini mushrooms $12

DOLCI Crema Brûlée (for two) $10

Warm apricot cobbler served with honey & buttermilk ice cream $9

Yogurt gelato with braised rhubarb, rhubarb juice $8