Piano Piano is the latest incarnation of Splendido, which for many years has anchored the dining scene on leafy Harbord Street, in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood.
Last December, Splendido owner Victor Barry closed the restaurant and rebranded as Piano Piano, serving rustic, hearty Italian fare built on first-rate ingredients.
The name, incidentally, comes from piano piano va lontano, an Italian phrase that translates as “slowly, slowly we go further.”
And the kitchen does, indeed, go further, turning out deliciously soulful Italian fare.
Barry and his team reinvent the Caesar salad by grilling the romaine and pairing it with anchovies and pork belly. Chopped salad — so big it could be a meal on its own — is loaded with sliced green olives, feta, crispy Brussels sprouts, cubes of crisp polenta and salami, and dandelion greens.
Escargots are uncommonly plump and tender. They sit in an intensely garlicky butter, loaded with minced parsley (it’s divine mopped up with excellent grilled bread).
Spinach, ricotta, parmigiano and runny poached duck egg fill a giant, tender raviolo lavished with brown butter.
Barry and his kitchen brigade do a fine job with mains, too. There’s delicate sea bream, and grilled octopus, meant for two but big enough for three, garnished with dandelion greens and roasted fingerling potatoes.
We finish with soft-serve sundae accessorized with sweet Ontario strawberries, caramelized white chocolate and shortbread. But the showstopper is three-layer ginger carrot cake, a gigantic piece (meant for two people) iced with gingery, rum-scented icing, doused in custard sauce and garnished with vanilla ice cream, rum raisins and spicy pecans.
Boasting a high ceiling, huge wall-mounted mirrors and an open kitchen, the space is a delight, managing to be casual and upscale all at once. On a Thursday night, the room buzzes with energy.
Accommodating 120 people for seated dinners and 150, cocktail style, the main-floor restaurant is available for group buyout (and combined with the downstairs area, can host 200, reception-style). The downstairs private room hosts 30 for seated meals and 45, cocktail-style.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 25 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,200 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.