Restaurant Review: Hitting all the right notes at Piano Piano

The iconic Victor Barry slows things down with an excellent reboot


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Piano Piano’s chopped salad with polenta

Image: CJ Baek

Victor Barry had Splendido. He was chef/owner and it was fancy and delicious and beautiful … and not so full. Because fancy is over. It’s gone the way of quiche and French onion soup. Also, Mr. Barry (so he says on the menu of his new resto) wanted to slow down and be more family-focussed.

The slowing down part is why he named the new place Piano Piano (which means “go slow” in Italian). The family part is why his two-year-old daughter’s art is on the walls and the place is informal, family-friendly and inexpensive. Lotsa pizza ’n’ pasta.

It’s where Splendido was, but the resemblance stops there. A complete redo has rendered the big tall room casual and cool, punctuated by bright splashes of colour, with white wood café chairs and space-age quartz tables. And inside and out, huge bright pics of flowers. A bit much with that.

When he closed Splendido, Mr. Barry said things would be cheaper and more casual. Clearly Toronto foodies have fallen for his $22 pizzas and $24 pasta mains, ’cause the place is packed.

The new pizza oven sends forth crispy crust pies, not the thinnest (which is fine) with wonderful trad toppings. My fave is the unfortunately named Fun Guy with roasted mushrooms, mozzarella and fior di latte, arugula and parm.

They also do some terrific pastas. Spaghetti with clams and mussels is superb — fresh nicely cooked sea critters very jazzed with pancetta, lemon, garlic and parsley, on fat al dente noodles. They also do a big — really big — raviolo stuffed with pale green spinach ricotta purée and a slightly cooked egg yolk, so when you cut it, a golden river oozes out, which goes great with the brown butter and parm on top.

Carb-haters will find some moderately entertaining proteins on the menu: Brick chicken ($58 for two) is a combo platter of roasted breast with deep-fried leg. Both feature great crisped skin and good spicing. The roasted part could be cooked a tad less. The bird sits ceremonially on a big round platter of puckery kale salad with lovely pickled onion, olive and a bit too much lemon. Better judged is the raw sea bream app with avocado, chili, lime pineapple and just a hint of coconut. The other starter that works super well is chopped salad — coarsely chopped salami, olives, feta, Brussels sprouts, crisp polenta, arugula and dandelion, all very well dressed.

’Tis an irony that Mr. Barry downscaled Splendido so his family could be a greater part of his life, but work/life balance will likely elude him if he stays in the kitchen of Piano Piano to ensure the high quality that the arriving crowds are there for.

Piano Piano, 88 Harbord St., $100 dinner for two

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Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine. Follow her on Twitter @JoanneKates.

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