So far, Valiani's tinkering has been subtle, but it has still frustrated some of Grand Street's die-hard fans, who were miffed not to find old standbys like Tuxedo Shrimp or Jammin' Salmon on the menu anymore. By the end of the month, Valiani will have eighty-sixed more dishes and redesigned others. Say good-bye to the Thai Pie and the Basmati Hearts, hello to Red Chili Garlic Shrimp and a Maine Lobster Martini.
The energetic and outspoken Valiani moved his family to Kansas City after a long tenure in California, including a five-year stint with high-profile chef Wolfgang Puck (at Spago and Eureka) and two years overseeing his own restaurant, Jianna, in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood.
But when Valiani's partnership in Jianna ended, he was eager for a change. And his Omaha-born wife, Kaymie, wanted to move back to the Midwest, so Valiani was receptive when PB& J cofounder Paul Khoury made a surprise phone call to tell him about the Grand Street position. "It was positive for me to see, after my own unhappy restaurant partnership, what great teamwork Paul and [PB&J partner] Bill Crooks had -- lots of honesty and integrity and future potential," Valiani says. "I wanted to be part of that."
Valiani has installed his own crew in the Grand Street's kitchen. And he has lots of ideas about how to create a vital "new buzz" for the restaurant, which is now competing for customers with a slew of hot, new Plaza restaurants. Valiani wants to bring in younger diners ("The loyal customers of our future," he says) without alienating the restaurant's core audience -- most of whom are over thirty and have patronized the Hal Swanson-designed dining room for more than a decade. It's a fine line to walk, but Valiani thinks he's the man for the job.
"It's a six-month process," Valiani says. "Three months to acclimate to the town, two months to install some new ideas and one month to reap the dividends."