he Gist: "We want to be a place you come to a lot," says Owner Victor Barry.
The idea here he says, is "to be loud and fun and energetic, with music that makes you bounce to it a little bit." Barry loves Michael Jackson but has been instructed that he’s only allowed one M.J. song a night.
Piano Piano is quite the departure from Barry’s former Splendido, closed after last service on December 31, 2015.
"The tasting menus at Splendido were to create a dream. But, now we have two young kids. We wanted something more simple and less stressful and somewhere the girls could grow up in," he says.
Wife Nikki Leigh Mckean says, "We love the neighbourhood (they live close by), the restaurant and the space." With two young daughters (Charlotte 2, Sofie 10 months), they "built a luxury restaurant to accommodate what was going on in our own lives."
Splendido was "brain food" according to Barry. This is "delicious, sink-your-teeth-into it, soul food. That’s Italian food."
It’s not Barry’s first foray into Italian fare. He worked at his Uncle John’s Pizzaria called Volcanoes in Niagara Falls for six years when he was younger. It’s also the only way he says he’ll stop eating so much pizza.
Grub: "This is about easy and fun. We're just cooking tasty, simple, simply delicious Italian food," Barry says. "Approachable food at approachable prices and so much better than you're used to having it."
The very family-friendly, casual restaurant might not "blow your mind" as a tasting menu might, Barry points out, but it’s meant to fun.
There are four menus in total:
1. Regular menu for the upstairs dining room - Select from snacks, appetizers, pizzas, pastas (availables in two sizes – app and main), mains, sides and desserts.
2. Piccolo Piano menu ($28 pre-set menu for downstairs dining room)
3. Condensed Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free menu
4. Kids menu. For the kids menu, Barry & McKean sat down with Nutritionist Danielle Binns from Holistic Solutions for Moms and Their "Little Ones" to create a menu that Barry says, "One, kids will actually eat, and two parents will be happy that we are offering healthier delicious fun meal options."
While Barry used to call the pass, now you’ll find him most nights at the pizza station, grinning ear to ear.
Libations: Tony Alfarano, Manager & Sommelier, had the difficult task of creating a wine list in just three categories - $40, $60 and $80. There are three to five in each category with varietals from Italy, Spain, France, US and Canada to name a few.
Cocktails are reigned in too, price wise. Six variations are $12 each. Beer is available in draught, can and bottle.
Deets: There are 105 seats in the open concept space (at Splendido there were a mere 48) and six black velvet stools at the kitchen bar. Soon there will be room for 28 more downstairs (deets below).
Fixtures & Fittings: The new space designed by the couple with designer Tiffany Pratt, looks chic and upscale but is very comfortable
Barry says, "We brought a huge personal touch to the restaurant here." There are photos of the couple’s daughters and their wedding in the kitchen and a "Ponycorn," (what Charlotte calls a zebra) located near the bar, taken by Mckean in Kenya some years ago. Two-year-old daughter Charlotte is also the artist behind the wall of the 20 painted canvases.
The chic factor started with the wallpaper at the entrance. It was the first "design thing" the couple chose with Pratt and they went from there. Liking brass, gold, black and flowers (it’s Barry that’s obsessed with flora), it became more "luxe" as they went along.
The kitchen was opened up and painted and a wood-burning pizza oven by Jason Schubert (who worked with Barry in 2004) was handcrafted in the space. They added a new flat top, pasta boiler, and stove. New plates were bought and a kitchen bar was made (guests can interact with the pastry chef and those on garde manger).
And the bathrooms? Insane. There’s no way you’re not taking a selfie in here.
Off the Menu:
Snacking toasts come three ways on the menu:
- The best way to get your omega-3s? The insanely fresh Marinated Sardines ($9), with chips, banana pepper, and chimichurri on thick grilled bread.
- Smoked Salmon on Toast ($9) served with crema fresca, capers, and chives brings a brunch feel to dinner.
- In the mood for something smooth and creamy? Choose Ricotta on Toast ($9) with olive oil, maple syrup, and seeds.
Sandwich meets pizza with a blistered crust Bologna Pizza ($20) topped with mozzarella, fior di latte, San Daniele mortadella, pistachioes, red onion, and Parmigiano.
Or go twenty thousand leagues under the sea with Spaghetti Vongole e Cozze (app $15/main $23) featuring clams, mussels, pancetta, lemon, garlic, chili, and parsley.
Veal Parmesan ($27) is a whopping veal chop served on the bone, breaded and topped with tomato, sopprassata, basil and mozzarella.
Ginger Carrot Cake (for two) ($18) is not only the biggest dessert you’ve ever had, it’s dinner and a show. Presented on a covered cake stand, the glass top is removed and a large doze of crema fresca is poured over the moist cake. As if that weren’t enough, it’s accompanied by pumpkin pie ice cream, rum raisins, and spicy pecans.
How Cool is This?! Because the neighbourhood is full of families, and the upstairs could seem a bit fancy, those looking for just a quick, casual bite,can pop down to the former private dining room downstairs (open in mid-April) which will feature $5 beer, a cheap glass of wine and Negronis. It will have a separate pre-set $28 menu (Brooklyn-style pizzas served on pizza trays to share, Caesar salad, meatballs, with soft serve ice cream sundaes for dessert) and a small kid-friendly nook for with chalkboard walls, books, tickle trunk and play tent.
p.s. Also seriously cool - The gold swan faucets in the bathrooms. Off the charts. You’ll want to pry them off and take them home (please don’t).
At the Stove: Victor Barry, Jeff Lapointe, and Ali Grundman
FOH: Jeff Dinan, Matthew Roulston, and Tony Alfarano
Head Honchos: Victor Barry & Nikki Leigh Mckean
Visiting Hours: Sunday-Wednesday: 5-10pm
Map It: 88 Harbord St. (at Spadina)
Phone It In: (416) 929-7788
Check out our Facebook page for more photos.