It isn’t often where you hear me singing the praises of a new Toronto restaurant. I can happily say I enjoyed everything about my dinner at Piano Piano at 88 Harbord Street in Toronto.

This spot was the former home of the upscale and classic restaurant Splendido. The Chef, Victor Barry was chef and owner of Splendido for about 8 years. His food there was complex, decorative and more pretentious. He wanted to slow down and, “smell the roses”, so to speak, and spend more time with his family. Thus the birth and transformation of Piano Piano, which comes from “piano piano va lontano”, an Italian phrase that translates to, “slowly slowly we go further”. His new philosophy of a more balanced life is good for everyone. This can now become a neighbourhood place or a destination that you are more likely to visit regularly, so it is a win-win for everyone. He gave the place a new facelift and replaced it with a less fussy and more casual eatery. It is decorated in a floral motif. When you drive or walk up to the restaurant it kind of reminds you of the hand painted walls in Wynwood in Miami. The flower motif continues inside and is feminine and whimsically decorated (not my cup of tea). It is an 80 seat space and I am told that the chefs 2-year-old daughter contributed some of her own artwork. The booths and chairs have now been traded for bistro chairs. They have gotten rid of the tablecloths. The kitchen is now open and on view for all to see the action.

There was a private wine cellar in the basement previously, and now it will be called, “Piccolo Piano”, a casual 28 seat pizzeria with a kids play area – brilliant! For $28 you can get a three-course meal with things like pizza, calamari, chicken wings and soft serve ice cream. What a great concept to be more family oriented!

The menus look like a newspaper. I like the idea that wine is priced at $40, $60 or $80. You can also bring your own wine too.

The pastas we had were perfection. The ravioli con bolognese with ricotta, parmesan, pork and beef was so good I was glad our waiter brought by some homemade bread so we could lap up every last drop. The caccio e pepe agnolotti with ricotta, black pepper and parmesan was the best I have eaten outside of Italy. They were delicate and flavourful. You can get the pastas in an appetizer or main course portion. For our main we shared the brick oven chicken for two. There was roasted as well as fried chicken in this dish, which also included kale, dandelion, pickled onions, and olives in a chicken rosemary gravy for $58. It was served in a cast iron skillet and was sensational. The chicken was moist and succulent. We ordered some russet potatoes with a malt mayonnaise and some fabulous shishito peppers in a sweet raisin agrodolce sauce.

When I return I want to try some wood fired pizza, but it did look a little too charred for my taste. Our neighbours seemed to be enjoying their veal parmesan. There is even a cheeseburger on the menu and I presume that it must be good as well.

I am usually not a fan of Italian desserts but even here the dolce was great. We tried two dishes, the ginger carrot cake for two served with the creamiest pumpkin ice cream, rum raisins, and spicy pecans. They pour a crema fresca over it tableside. The cake was very moist and tasty. The lemon cheesecake made with goat cheese and mascarpone and cream cheese with a brûlée top was rich and decadent with just the right amount of tartness.

Our waiter Adi was helpful and friendly and a real pleasure having him serve us. I was also happy to hear that they are open 7 days a week for dinner only at this time. This place may become my go to family place. The chef is dedicated to serving crowd-pleasing ,unfussy food that was simple, delicious and very satisfying. Chef Victor’s food is bursting with flavour and makes me extremely happy. His well-earned reputation and skill do him justice to every dish he creates.

Highly recommended.

Happy Dining,
Shanea

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