|Location||88 Harbord Street|
|Phone||( 416 ) 929-7788|
|Dinner for two (brought wine)||$80|
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 bouche. Pourquoi? 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).
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.
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.
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.
Mme M. xoxo
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.