Piano Piano took the place of long-time dining stalwart Splendido on Harbord Street. It's still owned by Chef Victor Barry and his wife Nikki. He jokes the type of Italian here is “New Jersey,” and his comforting flavours attest to that.
The name of the restaurant comes from the Italian phrase “piano piano va lontano,” scrawled on hot pink coasters, meaning “slowly slowly we go further.” It means in the bustling city of Toronto, we shouldn’t forget to take breaks and relax, ultimately getting more out of life by taking it slower.
The breathtaking space is whimsical but sophisticated. Artwork by their daughter blends with high art pieces and metallic chandeliers.
There’s a bit of an open kitchen concept going on with bar seating where you can peer right in.
Charcuterie ($49) comes on an old school silver platter. Our is loaded with chunky parmigiano reggiano, olives and marcona almonds, crispy chicken saltimbocca with sage, flat sheets of lardo with fennel, and hot salami with fried rosemary.
Mac n’ cheese fritelle ($9 alone) are crunchy outside and molten inside, elevated by prosciutto and rosemary.
Toasts piled high with fatty mortadella ($9 alone and a decent size) are probably spiciest on the plate, topped with grated cheese, hiding super hot pepperoncini underneath.
The lardo is meant to be paired with airy gnocchi fritti ($9 alone), crusty fried pasta balancing out greasy fat. Grilled bread also comes with the platter.
The chopped salad ($18) is a lighter but still various medley of flavours to start, bitter, crispy kale pairing nicely with caramelized brussel sprouts and creamy, crunchy, large chunks of polenta, with sharp feta and olives, nuggets of salty salami and dandelion.
Canestri alla vodka ($16, $24 for a larger portion) is good enough to fight over, with a creamy tomato, chili, mascarpone sauce perfectly balancing salty, spicy pork ’nduja.
The “Bitter” pizza ($22) is Barry’s and our server’s fave, creamy fior di latte and sharp parm laden with bitter, grassy wilted dandelion and kale brightened up by lemon, garlic and chili.
Cocktails ($13) highlight refreshing, punchy ingredients like tonic or jalapeno. The menta rosa combines rum, mint, and ginger beer for a sort of mashup of a mojito and a dark and stormy lifted by limoncello and raspberry.
The large, open space is dominated by a huge arch on one side, though less intimidating seating is available at the front window and bar. Servers whirl around a central cupboard-like station, keeping the feel of a giant Italian dining hall intact.