In often taking kids to restaurants, we’ve occasionally been told that we are brave parents. Crazy, perhaps even inconsiderate, might be another term used to describe our behavior, especially by those who are absolutely unwilling to risk a restaurant meltdown, but in reality, it’s not all that hard. A backpack filled with a few toys, some coloring books, crayons, and perhaps even a small tablet is all we ever need to keep the kids quiet and behaved at restaurants. However, if this still seems like a risk, we’ve discovered a restaurant that no parent should avoid. It’s a place where a family can enjoy a meal from a truly renowned chef, while fearlessly bringing the kids along, because they won’t be disturbing anybody. The place is called Piano Piano and allow me to relay its wonders.
Disclosure : Our meal was complimentary but, as always, opinions are TOTALLY ours!
Victor Barry opened Piano Piano 2016. If you are familiar with the Toronto restaurant scene, you might know Barry as the previous owner of Splendido, which closed its doors on New Year’s Eve in 2015, shortly after being named the 5th best restaurant in Canada by a prestigious panel assembled by canadas100best.com. Why, you might ask, would Barry close the doors of a 25-year old Toronto institution? Family, that’s why. Barry has two small children and decided to start a new family friendly venture in the same venue where Splendido used to serve its famous tasting menu.
We walked into Piano Piano on a rainy November night. The Little Monkey, tired from staying up too late the night before, had fallen asleep in the taxi ride over and needed 10 minutes to calm down. As I waited outside with the kids, Yashy went in to assess the surroundings. We were told that we would be dining in a separate kids area called Piccolo Piano, which was a relief because the upstairs was quiet and refined, with low lighting through the bar and dining area; it is not an area kids would enjoy. After a few minutes, we were taken downstairs through a separate entrance, meaning we did not have to walk though the main dining area. Downstairs, we were met with a well lit environment, a main dining room equipped for 4 to 5 families, complete with a separate play area for kids. The space was designed by Tiffany Pratt and the decor was stunning, as is all her work.
The play area is the masterful touch of Piano Piano. Our kids were immediately drawn to the wall to wall chalkboard, where they went to work on their masterpieces while Yashy and I eagerly reviewed the newspaper-like menu for the most mouth watering options. The drink section featured six cocktail options. I opted for the Rosemary Negroni while Yashy choose the Piano Piano Spritz. The restaurant also had about two dozen wine options, but limited beer choices. One of those beer options, fortunately, was the excellent Silversmith Black Lager. Both cocktails were quite good and so our night was off to a great start.
The appetizer list featured six options as well. We naturally ordered the Calamari Fritti, the Little Monkey’s favorite, and on the advice of our waitress, choose the Escargots as well. It was a great choice. After browsing a few online reviews, I gather that the Chopped Salad is a great dish as well. The menu also has a Charcuterie and Fromaggio (cheese) section, reasonably priced at $9 per board. For the mains, we wisely sought our waitress’ advice again and landed on the appetizer portion of the Pumpkin Agnolotti (all pastas are available as an appetizer or a main). That dish, made with sage, brown butter, parmigiano, and amaretti, was excellent! Subtly pumpkin flavoured with a melt-in-your-mouth texture. I’ll be ordering this dish every time I visit Piano Piano.
Knowing that Barry’s favorite dish is pizza, knowledge I picked up from the menu, we asked for the Spicy Sicilian and weren’t disappointed. The pizza, Italian style, with thin crust and some sogginess in the middle, is perhaps best eaten with a knife and fork and is not to be missed.
As for the reason for choosing Piano Piano, the kids, they could not have been better served. Barry and his wife sought the advice of a nutritionist in putting together a mix and match kids meal that even the pickiest of children would enjoy. Each child gets to choose his or her food from a list of available options and their food is served in a kid friendly tray. The Little Monkey went with the meatballs, the melon, and the broccoli, while the Little Man dined on meatballs, blueberries and guacamole, regrettably sharing some of the delicious guac with me after I asked about a dozen times. A well rounded and balanced meal can be enjoyed here.
Piano Piano clearly gets families. There are bathrooms downstairs with change tables in both the Men’s and Women’s areas and the entire dining room is separated from the main section on the ground floor. In addition to the fun playroom and appealing menu, a TV is set up with Netflix to calm them down once they reach the DefCon 5 excitement level that tends to happen when kids play with newfound friends. We put on a little Paw Patrol as we unwound from the meal and left the restaurant feeling very relaxed, which is likely an unchartered feeling for some parents after an evening out with the kids.
The new restaurant has opened to mixed reviews, but we had an amazing evening, having really enjoyed our meals and the great service. I suspect that those familiar with Splendido’s high end fare must be a little surprised when they dine at Piano Piano, where the experience is quite different. Barry and his team look to be experimenting with some of the dishes, but there is one thing that previous patrons of Splendido know for certain, Barry has the skills to create some truly memorable meals. We look forward to going back again and again as the restaurant matures.