Victor Barry is no stranger to the restaurant industry. As the former owner of Splendido, which is sadly no longer open but was at one point a Toronto staple and one of the country’s finest restaurants, Barry has certainly had his fair share of experience around food. His newest venture is Piano Piano, an 80-seat spot where Splendido used to sit that boasts a bit of a whimsical vibe and a wonderful, Italian-inspired menu that places a large focus on pizzas and pastas.
Almost the exact opposite of Splendido, Piano Piano does away with the pretentious, stuffy stylings and bank-breaking tasting menus. Instead, it brings with it a more casual, laidback vibe and floral-themed design, both of which fit in with the restaurant’s name as well – Piano Piano is taken from the expression “piano piano va lontano” (Italian for “slow and steady wins the race”).
With its solidified status as one of the city’s hottest new spots, you can imagine our excitement when we finally got a chance to check it out for ourselves last week. Upon arriving, the first thing we noticed was Piano Piano’s funky decor, with an open kitchen roaring to life in the back of the restaurant while a fun-filled soundtrack played over a packed house. To say it’s an about face from Splendido would be the understatement of the year, but so far, we’re digging it.
After being seated promptly, Victor came over to introduce himself and offered up two of what he proclaimed were the best gin and tonics we’d ever have. That’s not the first time I’ve heard that. Far from it, in fact. But Victor Barry is a man of his word and what he brought to the table was not only the best G&T I’ve ever encountered, but hands-down one of the best drinks I’ve ever had the pleasure of sipping on.
With that out of the way, it was time to dive into Piano Piano’s exciting menu and begin our culinary journey, one which would result in a truly pleasing dinner.
Sea Beam Crudo (with Coconut, Avocado, Chilli, Lime, Pineapple, Olive Oil): An excellent way to kick off the meal, the crudo presented us with some well-balanced flavors that really brought out the taste of the sea bream, while still providing a nice, citrus undertone to tie it all together. Light, tasty and perfect for sharing, each bite of this refreshing appetizer was simply delightful.
Smoked Burrata (with Garlic Bread, Dates, Espresso, Sweet Garlic Oil and Pumpkin Seeds): Creamy, soft and very fresh, the Smoked Burrata was another solid appetizer, boasting a satisfactory helping of cheese that warms your palette up perfectly for the main event.
Egg Yolk Raviolo (with Spinach, Ricotta, Parmigiano and Brown Butter): Easily the highlight of the meal, the Egg Yolk Raviolo was recommended by our waiter and we’re certainly happy we followed his lead. Though you only get two pieces of pasta, they make for an absolutely mouth-watering experience.
Each oversized piece of ravioli is packed with green spinach, ricotta and a duck egg yolk, which oozes out as your knife cuts into the noodle. With a little bit of parm and brown butter on top, it’s simply to die for and one of the most interesting and delicious pastas we’ve ever come across. A bigger portion would have been welcome, but that aside, this one’s a surefire winner.
Rigatoni Carbonara (with Pancetta, Egg Yolk, Parmigiano and Black Pepper): A dish for true pasta lovers, Piano Piano’s carbonara is a bit on the lighter side, as the typical creamy sauce is done away with in favor of a lighter version, which works just as well and probably packs less calories. It’s no less tasty than what you’d find elsewhere, and the fresh noodles, made in-house daily, are cooked to perfection.
Rapini (with Spicy Pork ‘Nduja, Lemon, Chili, Garlic and Parmigiano): Another highlight of what was an all-around excellent meal came in the form of this little side dish. Now, I’ve had rapini before, but I’ve never seen it served quite like this, nor has this healthy, nutritious vegetable ever arrived at my table packing such an excellent fusion of flavors. Simple yet executed perfectly, the lemon, chili, garlic and parm work harmoniously to bring an exciting taste to the rapini, while the spicy pork is just the cherry on top.
Piano Piano may be miles away from Splendido, but it’s certainly no less of a showcase for Victor Barry’s passion for food and talent in the kitchen. With a familiar but overall solid menu offering, and some excellent dishes, the new restaurant is an easy pick for those in the mood for a hearty Italian meal, cooked with flair, gusto and a true love for fine cuisine.
After an hour or so of superb service and delicious eats, we walked away from our dinner feeling fully and completely satisfied, excited by Barry’s new venture and looking forward to seeing what his inspired mind will think up next.
All photos taken by Nikki Leigh Mckean