Magic and Pasta at Piano Piano
Anyone who knows me or has stumbled across my Instagram feed knows that pasta and pizza are key indicators on my happiness barometer, so I was all geared up to check out Piano Piano, a vibrant, family-friendly Italian restaurant making waves for it's inviting atmosphere and high-quality, food for all ages.
The first time I went to Piano Piano was on New Year's Eve, which as we all know is an evening already fraught with equal measures of expectation and disappointment. I was immediately taken with the room. It's a long, open-concept room with high ceilings, that somehow evokes feelings of warmth and intimacy. Everything about Piano Piano feels modern and carefully chosen, right down to the eclectic combinations of wallpaper. I liked it there immediately and I wanted so badly to love the food too.
That first night, it became evident almost immediately that something was amiss. The restaurant seemed to be understaffed, as there appeared to be a small handful of servers covering every table. I had heard so much about the perfectly gooey, crust-blistered, foldable pizzas and the perfectly sauced, not-too-al-dente pastas - what you might say they're best known for - but as with many special occasion menus, this one ventured into different territory. It was heavy on the seafood, which, aside from a few dishes lacking in seasoning, was well prepared and fresh. It just wasn't what I had been looking for and it wasn't balanced with enough variety for me. The first course consisted of a delightfully stinky blue cheese - and I love a good, stinky cheese - the funkier the better, but in this case it was too much of a good thing. Unfortunately that's all I can remember, as it was such a massive piece of cheese for just two people with only a few small crackers provided, and we couldn't shake the flavor from our palettes the rest of the evening. We did request bread, as ours was unfortunately forgotten, along with our olives. We only knew to ask as we saw them being served to other tables. A cocktail had already been forgotten at this point as well, so things weren't exactly off to a swinging start, but I was still determined to enjoy what was yet to come.
My mood improved significantly when the truffle gnocchi arrived. There's truly nothing like pillowy, handmade pasta and thinly shaved truffles to set the world right again. That dish was sensational and to be honest, more in line with what I had hoped to see, so it helped to counteract the fact that our wine pairings were forgotten a couple of times as well. Our server was apologetic and kind and I could sense the stressful weight of the situation that must have been on his shoulders with so many tables to tend to. It wasn't a terrible evening, there were some solid dishes, the wines - once they arrived - were nicely paired and the staff was friendly, but it did reaffirm my belief that dining at restaurants on special occasions like New Years is akin to eating out during one of the "liscious-es" (Winterlicious or Summerliscious). I've come to believe that those kinds of occasions and events lend themselves to too much experimentation and unease and I don't believe it's a true representation of what a restaurant is capable of. I know many people - diners and industry people alike - argue both sides, that if a restaurant is good, it should always be good, but I also believe that it's possible a restaurant, even a good one, can have an off-night, just as it can have winning dishes alongside some misses. It's why you'll never find a food critic worth their salt writing a review after eating somewhere only once. With that in mind I recently returned to Piano Piano with a couple of my fun, food-loving pals (@socialdelicious and @juliafoodiaeatsandlifts) and I am so glad I did.
We ordered several dishes to share amongst ourselves - my favourite way to eat. I'll be honest, I'm an only child and much like Joey on friends, I don't like to share food (or much of anything else), but the appeal of eating a greater variety of foods outweighs my desire to hoard a singular dish all to myself.
We ordered two appetizers, the caesar salad with boquerones, pork belly, grilled romaine, radicchio, endive, and croutonand, and the gnocchi fritti. The caesar salad was smokey with layers of charred and tangy flavours and textures. An extremely creative approach to a timeless dish. It was a tad overdressed which did make some of the lettuce wilt, but I am a fan of sauces and dressings, so that didn't bother me too much. The only dish we didn't love was the gnocci fritti. The lardo was perfectly rich and creamy, melting in my mouth, but we found the airy pasta crisps too dry and the dish just didn't quite come together for us.
We ordered two pasta, the canestri alla vodka with tomato, chili, mascarpone, parmigiano, and spicy pork ‘nduja, and the bucatini carbonara, with pancetta, egg yolk, parmigiano, and black pepper. The canestri alla vodka was the winner for me. I love the shape of those little pasta pockets that hold the silky sauce so well and land like a pop of flavor in your mouth. Yum! That's the kind of dish I would want to tuck into a big bowl of all to myself curled up on the couch, while binge-watching Netflix. You know what I mean.
The stand-out dish for all of us though was the Pretty Woman pizza. And, look how pretty! It was topped with fior di latte, tomato, caper, parmigiano, black olive, red onion, anchovy, and sicilian oregano. That blistered crust, perfectly thin, just the right amount of toppings for maximum flavor without weighing it down too much. I'm still thinking, talking and daydreaming about it.
It's obvious to me now what Piano Piano does best and like I always say, no matter how great the restaurant, you still have to order smart if you want to get the most out of your experience. What I meant by that is if you really do value every dining experience and want to get the most out of it, it doesn't hurt to do a little research ahead of time and to order what the restaurant is best known for - their bread and butter - or in this case, pizza and pastas. It doesn't mean you can't discover unique and unexpected treasures by taking a chance on something in the moment, but I personally prefer to be prepared.
I come by it honestly with a family of serious eaters behind me. I come from a long line of people who need to know not only where their next meal is coming from, but exactly what and when it will be. During summers up at our cottage, we would still be licking the sticky, cinnamon bun icing residue off of our fingers after breakfast when someone would inevitably ask, "so, what's for lunch?". Considering the long line of food-obsessed humans I come from, it's no surprise that my dining experiences are so significant to me. For my family, food is the one sure thing we can rely on to anchor our days and count the passage of time, meal by meal. That's why making the most out of every culinary experience is so important and why I returned to Piano Piano. I'll be back again for more of that pizza!