Hometown: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Occupation: Owner and Executive Chef, Piano Piano
Years lived in Toronto: 10
Years worked as a chef: 8
Accolades: Splendido ranked #5, Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants (2015)
What is your earliest memory about food?
Strangely enough, I think the earliest memory of food I can have is when we got a microwave for the first time and we had microwave popcorn. For some reason, that’s what’s coming to my mind right now. And I love popcorn.
What do you love best about Toronto’s food scene?
The best thing about Toronto’s food scene is just the diversity of it and the amount of solidly good quality restaurants that we have in Toronto. We don’t have the Thomas Kellers, like the Per Ses, The French Laundrys because we don’t really have diners who I feel like quite want to eat at that level, so there’s only a small few of us who are really trying to push that end.
You can get great food – any kind of great food – here in Toronto. Indian, Chinese, Japanese. Everything. Italian, Spanish now, Ethiopian. There’s just great food to be had in Toronto. Now, that being said, there’s a lot of shit, as well, but that’s with every city. You can go to New York and if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re gonna get some shit food, right? But I guess that’s what this website’s about.
Name the top restaurants and dishes that you think every visitor to Toronto should try.
Campagnolo, which is an Italian eatery. They have a burrata and grape dish that they do that is delicious. I know the chef. He’s a friend of mine, and I go there and every time, I order the same thing. I order the burrata, then I order the spaghetti, and then I order the budino. And I don’t even order anymore. I just sit down and they feed me because I’m not ordering anything else. It drives [Chef] Craig [Harding] fucking crazy, but … I love it, and that’s why I go there, because it’s delicious.
Another restaurant, a really good friend of mine just recently opened a couple of weeks ago. It’s called Alo. It’s a tasting menu-only restaurant. He’s only been open shortly, so I can say one dish that I had there that was incredible was this ragu of cockscombs and beef tendon and chicken gizzards and truffles and shaved, cured frozen foie gras. That was a great dish, but again, you might not have that on the menu. Just enjoy the tasting menu while you’re there.
Bar Raval and Bar Isabel. They’re both kind of the same thing, they’re Spanish tapas pintxo bars. At both of those places, anything that’s in the tapas pintxo kind of area, you’re safe to order. I was just there for lunch two days ago. I had stracciatella with white anchovies with toast, I had jamon with manchego on toast.
Rodney’s Oyster Bar. If you like oysters, they do the best oysters. It’s incredible. Crushed like, 72 there one night. Just oysters and beer on a hot sunny day. It’s perfect.
What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with?
Vegetables in general, for sure, but I fucking love truffles. I don’t care what anyone says. That’s one thing that I love, love, love. Truffles, white asparagus, tomatoes, peas, matsutake mushrooms, any sort of game that’s wild because we’re not allowed to serve wild game in Canada except for Newfoundland. And seafood. Really good quality seafood, but we believe that cooking most fish is not allowed. Mostly just lightly kissed by fire, and lightly cured. Mostly raw, though.
What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?
Little Italy has had this resurgence of good restaurants opening up. There’s like this one corner in Little Italy that’s got La Carnita, DaiLo, Woodlot, Bar Raval, and then TTS is just down the street. I think it’s the best place to eat right now. Campagnolo’s just down the road from them, so a lot of good restaurants right around there. Great, easy restaurants, not like super fancy 3-Michelin star restaurants, but good, fun places to go eat, and get good food for good value.
Describe your “perfect dining out day” in Toronto.
We’d start out for breakfast at Rose and Sons. I’d have a beer, cappuccino, and I’d probably have some sort of ridiculous breakfast sandwich melt. It’s kind of like flat-top cooking, good bacon, really greasy, greasy, greasy diner. But it’s not like old-school greasy. It’s kind of like new-school greasy.
So from there I’d go to Sam James Coffee Bar, which is just down the street from us. And they got the best coffee in the city, for a cappuccino. Second of the day.
Then I’d go to Bar Raval for some pintxos for sure, sitting on the patio.
Quickly head over to Oyster Boy, crush a couple dozen oysters while drinking beer.
Mid-afternoon snack, I’d go to Queen Margherita Pizza for a pie. I love pizza.
Then there’s The Harbord Room, which is across the street from my restaurant. I’d go for a cocktail. I’m a big fan of drinking a martini before dinner, but if I were to tell you a good cocktail at The Harbord Room, I’d probably go with the Ronald Clayton.
I’d go to Alo for dinner. Put yourself in Patrick Kriss’ hands and just enjoy yourself.
Following that, I’d go to a bar called TTS, Toronto Temperance Society, which is hands down the best bar in Toronto. The cocktail [to get] there is the Petey’s Muddle. It’s so good, but don’t plan on remembering anything after this point of the night.
And then after Toronto Temperance Society when you’re absolutely wasted, you go to Taste of China in Chinatown. If there’s king crab, order king crab. It’s gonna cost you like, $600, but it’s delicious.
And then the next day, I’d go for a triple bypass.
What’s one dish in Toronto that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with the recipe yourself?
It was the shrimp and grits and it was at a restaurant called Acadia (no longer open). I remember eating this, and I was like, fuck this, I could eat this all day long.
Since it’s Toronto, we have to ask: what are your favorite stores/stalls in St. Lawrence Market and/or Kensington Market?
With St. Lawrence Market, there’s a place called Carousel Bakery, and have a double peameal fried egg cheese sandwich. That’s pretty good.
What food is your guilty pleasure, and where do you go to get it?
Pizza Gigi’s. They do super late night pizza. They’ll deliver pizza at like, 4 o’clock in the morning. It’s amazing … thin crust, double cheese. Perfect, perfect, perfect, with a can of Coca-Cola. There’s really no better food and drink pairing than Coca-Cola and pizza. It’s delicious.
Since this is a site geared for travelers, are there any favorite restaurants or bars at Toronto Pearson Airport or in Toronto’s hotels that you particularly enjoy visiting?
The only thing I know that I can say I would go to is Caplansky’s at the airport. it’s smoked meat sandwiches, like smoked brisket.
If you’re in the Shangri-La, there’s the whole Momofuku complex that’s there. They’re awesome. The Hyatt rooftop patio’s pretty fun. The Ritz-Carlton during the summer time’s got a nice outdoor patio. That’s actually kind of a really cool little spot.
What would you say every visitor must see or do before leaving Toronto?
It’s kind of cheesy and touristy, but go to CN Tower. If you can do the walk on the CN Tower, that’s awesome. And catch a Jays game because it’s the perfect thing to do in the summer. Like on a Sunday afternoon, Rogers Centre is packed usually, and tickets to go see a Jays game are super cheap. Doing the walk along the edge of the CN Tower is a little costly, but going to a Jays game, eating a hot dog and drinking a beer, is pretty perfect to me.
Chef Barry’s Shortlist:
Piano Piano, 88 Harbourd Street (The Annex); Italian, dinner only daily.
Campagnolo, 832 Dundas Street W (Dundas West); Italian, dinner only daily.
Alo, 163 Spadina Avenue, 3rd floor (Queen West); contemporary French, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
Bar Raval, 505 College Street (Little Italy); Spanish, breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night daily.
Bar Isabel, 797 College Street (Little Italy); Spanish, dinner and late night daily.
Rodney’s Oyster House, 469 King Street W (King West); seafood, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
La Carnita, 501 College Street (Little Italy); Mexican, dinner only daily.
DaiLo, 503 College Street (Little Italy); new Asian, dinner only Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.
Woodlot, 293 Palmerston Avenue (Little Italy); Canadian, dinner only daily.
Toronto Temperance Society, 577 College Street (Little Italy); bar, open daily (membership required).
Rose and Sons, 176 Dupont Street (Rosedale); diner, breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.
Sam James Coffee Bar, 297 Harbord Street (Little Italy); coffee house, open daily.
Four other locations in Toronto.
Oyster Boy, 872 Queen Street W (West Queen West); seafood, dinner daily, late afternoon Saturday-Sunday.
Queen Margherita Pizza, 772 Dundas Street W (Dundas West); pizza, lunch and dinner daily.
Two other locations in Toronto.
The Harbord Room, 89 Harbord Street (The Annex); Canadian/bar, dinner daily, late night Friday-Saturday.
Taste of China Seafood Restaurant, 338 Spadina Avenue (Chinatown); Chinese, lunch, dinner and late night daily.
Carousel Bakery, 92-92 Front Street E, Upper Level 42 (St. Lawrence Market); market open Tuesday-Saturday.
Pizza Gigi, 189 Harbord Street (The Annex); pizza, dinner and late night daily.
Caplansky’s Delicatessen, Toronto Pearson International Airport, Terminals 1 and 3; deli, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Momofuku complex (Noodle Bar, Nikai, Milk Bar, Daisho, Shoto), 190 University Avenue (King West); Asian, various hours depending on restaurant/bar.
The Roof Lounge, Park Hyatt, 4 Avenue Road (Yorkville); rooftop bar, open daily.
DEQ Terrace & Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto (King West); bar, open daily.
CN Tower, 301 Front Street W (Entertainment District); open daily.
Toronto Blue Jays game, Rogers Centre, 1 Blue Jays Way (Entertainment District).
About the Chef: It was Chef Victor Barry’s first job at a pizzeria in his hometown that would mark the start of his successful, lifelong career. As a teenager, he made the decision to pursue cooking professionally, which led him to restaurants in Toronto and England, the latter being where he would develop his deep passion for fine dining at the Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park.
He returned to Toronto in 2005 to work at Splendido, highlighting the best local Canadian ingredients in his ever-changing tasting menus, and establishing the restaurant as one of the city’s top fine dining establishments. Over the years, he also took on more responsibilities outside of the kitchen, ultimately transitioning to become the sole owner of Splendido in 2014. On New Year’s Eve 2015, Barry closed the fine dining restaurant, and several months later, he opened a casual Italian eatery called Piano Piano at the same location.
With one restaurant under his belt, Barry says that he’s interested in opening up more. Concepts like a French bistro, a “kick-ass” burger shop, or a “loud and obnoxious” Italian trattoria complete with red and white checkered tablecloths are currently on his mind. “The end goal would probably be to own a small inn in the countryside, probably in the Niagara wine region, but right now … really would like to open up a bunch of really cool, fun, exciting, loud restaurants.”