New Reviews: The Playpen and Pizzeria Libretto’s outpost on the Danforth
A first-rate pizzeria and a ’70s resto-lounge
550 Danforth Ave., 416-466-0400
Rocco Agostino and Max Rimaldi, the team behind the west end’s Pizzeria Libretto and Enoteca Sociale, are approaching the status of restaurant imperialists with their third spot. The new Danforth location is a less frenetic version of their wildly popular Ossington Avenue pizzeria. Tables span two floors, so the space feels less cramped, and the owners have made the merciful decision to take reservations. Luigi Encarnacion, former executive chef at the ROM’s c5, is in charge of the kitchen, and his fine dining experience shows in the appetizers, like delicate crab ravioli in a ridiculously rich sea urchin and chanterelle cream sauce. There are two wood-burning ovens manned by young pizzaiolos turning out Libretto’s signature blistered, charred and chewy Neapolitan pies. One superb variation brings smoked tomato sauce, caramelized onion, pork belly and bomba, a spicy Italian relish. Aggressively attentive servers clear plates before they’re clean. An excellent list of affordable Italian and Ontario wines. Mains $10–$18.
842 Gerrard St. E., 416-907-9761
It takes chutzpah to open a restaurant in a grim plaza on Gerrard near Carlaw, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s husband-and-wife team Johnny Katsuras and Laura Prentice. For the last two decades, they’ve run a string of east end resto-lounges, including Liberty, Gus, Lolita’s Lust and Tomi Kro. The new place, according to the owners, is intended to evoke both the 1970s playboy lifestyle and a Las Vegas casino. And they have succeeded in making the room feel like a lounge on the Love Boat. Heavy bronze light fixtures stretch out across the ceiling like octopuses, and the windows have been covered in Mondrian-style panels that cast a disco glow on the crowd of Riverdale parents and their teenage kids. However, they all seem to be enjoying their meals, chatting with the servers like regulars, and the international menu offers some good food. A thali platter stars terrific butter chicken that could easily compete with the best versions a few blocks over in Little India. A caramelized fig with thick yogurt and a drizzle of honey is a nice finish, but the pasty fig would be much better in season. With entrées around $20 and an affordable wine list, we predict the place will become a neighbourhood staple—in spite of its misguided playboy theme. Mains $19–$25.