Byblos Uptown – The jewel of north Toronto

byblosuptown
RestaurantByblos Uptown
Location2537 Yonge Street
CityToronto
Phone(416) 487-4897
Websitebyblosuptown.com
Dinner for two $120

Bonjour b*tches,

Byblos first opened its doors in the entertainment district in 2014, and still has a vibe that most restaurateurs envy. After two successful locations — one in downtown Toronto and one in Miami, Byblos has now expanded to another location at Yonge and Eglinton. Byblos Uptown took over the former North 44 space and opened in December 2018.

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Same sign, new location.

Like its sister restaurants, Byblos’ cuisine aims to bring lively eastern Mediterranean flavors to Toronto, with strong influences from both traditional and local ingredients. Having been to the downtown Toronto location multiple times, and always walking away très satisfaite, I was excited to venture north of Bloor Street to experience the coastal Mediterranean cuisine.

The Byblos chain is owned by Hanif Harji, CEO of ICONINK, and his partner Charles Khabouth, Chairman of the same international hospitality and lifestyle group. Similar to their other restaurants (Mira, KOST), they don’t cut corners when it comes to decor. The bright and sleek space made it feel like I was dining in Marrakech — a temporary (and welcome) respite from Toronto’s frigid winter.

As for the layout, it spanned two floors, with the dining area on the main level, and a bar and additional seating up top. What I liked about this location was the open and airy concept — complete with soaring ceilings. Dim lighting and mixed decor elements (gorgeous woven light fixtures, ancient rugs, plush earth-toned furniture, plate-paneled walls) contributed to its polished yet comfortable ambiance

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Woven light fixtures in the dining area.
Byblosuptown
Beautiful painted plates added uniqueness to the space.

Walking into the restaurant on a Monday evening, Byblos had a pulse unlike most restaurants in the neighbourhood. Tables were full, and the vibe was convivial. And after experiencing the aroma from the kitchen, my stomach was thanking me for having made a reservation pour moi et mon amie.

At first glance, both the food and drink menus shared similarities to the other Byblos outposts. But, they didn’t fail to infuse some of the personality of its new ‘hood. Par exemple, the cocktail menu featured a boozy concoction called Uptown Girl, featuring house-made spirits. There were also new seafood dishes, such as the ras el hanout black cod ($36), a seared fillet laid over a rich buttery sauce with charred scallion, black olives and rose petals. Before we could dig in, we had a glass of bubbly.

The food menu, designed by executive chef Ben Heaton, drew influences from Morocco, Turkey, Israel and included a wide selection of sides, salads, appetizers, and wood-fired flatbreads that strive to impart a unique flavor. Sumac, za’tar, dukkah were spices of choice. Lamb and seafood were popular meats, and apparently, the lamb has a five-day process from kitchen to plate. 

From the moment we walked in, we were treated like royalty. Coats were promptly checked, and we were escorted to our table with a prime view of the kitchen. Service was seamless under the general manager, who floated by to check in. Several staff had been plucked from both the downtown and the Miami locations to open Byblos Uptown — and it showed. They were knowledgeable and doting, but never intrusive.

Our exotic food adventure began with two dishes that our server suggested: eggplant kibbeh ($16) and roasted red beets ($14). A vegetarian delicacy, four asymmetrically-shaped kibbeh showed up in a dish that matched the overall décor. These savoury, deep-fried treats were served with zucchini flower, bahrat, and a house-made yogurt. Sinking my teeth through the golden chickpea batter and into the warm eggplant interior provided evidence that it had touched fire from the kitchen’s wood burning oven, like most other dishes. It was simply divine, and I only wished there had been encore plus.

byblosuptown
Eggplant kibbeh.

Up next were the roasted red beets, beautifully presented on a ring of thick, tangy labneh — a strained yogurt with flecks of caraway and pistachio. Both the presentation and taste were exactement what I would expect. The accompanying barbari bread, a dense Persian flatbread, was delightful — spiked with a surprisingly sweet topping that had been applied a bit too généreusement. Byblos’ version of barbari was long and thin, as opposed to being shaped like a beaver tail. Although it was a brilliant pairing, the labneh and beets could have been consumed solo. I only wished there had been more beets to provide some earthy balance and textural variety to the dish.

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Roasted beets with labneh.
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Barbari.

The emblematic dish was by far the grilled whole branzino ($39). It arrived deboned and was plated by our server. A thick layer of vibrant chermoula sat on top of the fillet, its exotic arômewafting from the plate to my nostrils. Cooking on the grill allowed the flavours to seep into the fish’s flesh, contributing to the perfect first bite. This traditional chermoula was zapped with saffron toum (a Lebanese garlic sauce) and garnished with bitter watercress. Ma bouchewas flooded with flavour, and the soul of the eastern Mediterranean from this dish was très authentique.

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Grilled whole branzino.

A side of roasted Brussels sprouts ($14) were not the type of vegetable you’d dread eating. Byblos’ version was roasted, then tossed in tahini and yogurt. Every few bites, a chunk of briny halloumi provided a textural surprise.

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Brussels sprouts.

Desserts flirted with eastern Mediterranean flavours and ingredients. The hazelnut chocolate mousse ($12) was an artistic chef d’œuvre that had been thoughtfully created. Appearances aside, it strayed from the typical chocolate mousse. A frozen mousse interior was surrounded by a chocolate coating. While this part was delightful, the shallow pool of coffee molasses provided an off-putting sweetness. On the side, a bland sweet cream with hazelnuts, kadaifi and caramel tuile made this dessert more decadent than most.

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Hazelnut chocolate mousse.

In the midst of a stale restaurant climate uptown, Byblos is a true jewel. Bite by bite, Byblos delivered an intoxicating experience for all senses. Its magazine-worthy interior, unparalleled service and refined menu make Byblos le choix idéalfor a memorable evening. 

Bisous,

Mme M. xoxo

4/5 étoiles

La rubrique de Madame Marie

1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2
 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3
 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4
 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5
 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.

Piano Piano — Didn’t hit a high note

pianopianotoronto
RestaurantPiano Piano
Location88 Harbord Street
CityToronto
Phone( 416 ) 929-7788
Websitepianopianotherestaurant.com
Dinner for two (brought wine)$80

Bonjour b*tches,

Piano Piano is a place that adores attention and has received plenty of accolades. Its façade screams “Look at me, look at me!”. Colourful blooms cover the building’s façade, breathing some life into Harbord Street. You simply can’t miss it as you pass by. But, is the food as bold as the décor?

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The view from Harbord Street.

For years, the same building was the former home of Splendido. This upscale institution was synonymous with fine dining. Its food was inventive and complex — borderline chi-chi. After almost a decade, chef and owner Victor Barry (Café Cancan) decided it was time to strip down the poshness, and reinvent his restaurant as a welcoming, soulful space. Enter: Piano Piano. According to the Italian phrase it’s named after, “Piano, piano va lontano,”it’s all about slowing down and savouring delicious food with special people.

On a samedi soir, my date and I ventured to Piano Piano to see if it would hit a high note.

There was a convivial energy that was immediately evident as we entered the expansive space. Large groups laughed while scoffing down monstrous servings of pasta and bubbly-crusted pizzas. Les amoureux gazed into each other’s eyes as they sipped wine. Contrary to what one might expect, there were parents with young children, enjoying a family dinner.

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The dining area.

The bold floral motif from the building’s exterior continued inside. Floral art added minimal splashes of colour to a rather dark interior. Stylish velour banquettes lined the walls and sparkly chandeliers added some pizzazz. It felt more like a nightclub than a warm and welcoming Italian restaurant. And, with tables jammed together, I was practically rubbing elbows with my neighbor. On a more positive note, nearly every seat had a prime view of the open kitchen that was busy churning out overflowing plates of pasta and other carby dishes. I also liked the large communal tables that lined the center, emphasizing the importance of good conversation with good company.

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Large communal tables make Piano Piano a great spot for group get-togethers.

Our server acknowledged us like old friends, placing a menu sur la table. Even the menu was playful in its newspaper-style format. And, the range of appetizers, pizzas, pastas, mains, sides and desserts were familiar with hints of uniqueness. If ordering a la carte isn’t your preference, they offer a family-style menu — a selection of house favourites for $59 per person.

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The menu is updated each season.

A quick glance at the wine list revealed many bottles of Italian wines that were reasonably priced ($40 to $80). One of the perks was the option to bring you own wine, which we took advantage of. Unlike many other restaurants, Piano Piano doesn’t force you to leave the kids at home. It has a kid’s menu of Italian favorites for your petits chéris.

We ordered three dishes to share. Burrata is ubiquitous with Italian restaurants, but Piano Piano’s smoked version ($19) left an indelible impression dans ma bouchePourquoi? The snowy mound was dream-like: It was supported by a bed of endive and its texture was luscious. The sweetness from grapes and raisins softened the hit from the roasted garlic. When smeared onto an accompanying slice of toast, it was utter perfection. It would be a pity to leave any of this on your plate (don’t forget to dip your bread in the brown butter).

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Burrata.

A range of pastas were available in half ($17) and full sizes ($24). There was something for tout le monde — egg yolk ravioli, pumpkin agnolotti and meatballs, to name a few. Our full-size Canestri alla Vodka ($24) was served on a platter and was enough to feed a small family (we ended up taking half of it home). The hollow, shell-shaped pasta was lightly coated in a tomato, mascarpone and vodka sauce and was accented by chili and seriously spicy pork ‘nduja. A generous layer of Parmigiano took the heat down a notch. While it was rich and delicious, the ‘nduja’s oiliness detracted from the overall dish.

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Canestri alla vodka is worth the larger portion.

Not everything struck a chord avec moi, including the roasted scallops ($28) — one of the menu’s lighter options. Although it was colourful, it was a carelessly plated dish. Five flaccid scallops that had been sitting under the heating lamp for too long sat on purple and green endive. Segments of citrus added some brightness and the sprinkling of sesame seeds was an afterthought. I was saddened that the endive was soggy from being dressed with a heavy hand. There was nothing noteworthy about this dish, and it certainly couldn’t justify its trop cherprice tag.

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Roasted scallops.

All that to say, there were no missteps in service at Piano Piano — a common theme with Barry’s restaurants. It was efficient and polished, while still being friendly and casual. It’s the type of restaurant where anyone can find their place à table– from young children to adults. While Piano Piano hit some delicious notes, it didn’t leave a lasting impression. 

Bisous,

Mme M. xoxo

3/5 étoiles

La rubrique de Madame Marie

1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2
 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3
 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4
 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5
 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.