Ciao Wine Bar, Toronto

Maybe a handful of Torontonians bemoaned the loss of the old Flow last year, but that sorry spot was often deserted and had died in the minds of Yorvillers long before that. Now, the latest Liberty Group organism, Ciao Wine Bar, has taken over the spot in an attempt to bring the masses back. More casual and rustic now, the refurbishing of the two-level restaurant is in evidence but the diversity of the space won’t astonish you.

Of-the-moment rustic wood finishes like butcher-block table tops? Check. Au courant Enomatic wine serving system? Check. A crowd of skanky middle-aged ladies and CEO/Producer types with gold cards? Check. Thin-crusted pizzas, DJ-delivered music, just-off-the-runway waitstaff… the list goes on. Like Flow (and Movenpick before it) the restaurant space is huge – over 8,000 square feet divided into two levels and a mezzanine, with capacity for 250. But regardless of the new overhaul, the space is still oddly dull, smacking as more of an airport lounge than a Yorkville eatery.

Arriving at Ciao for the first time can be disorienting. You’re greeted at the entrance by a lone woman who directs you up to the dining room (upstairs) or to the bistro (downstairs), which will surely be filled with a contented bunch of beer drinkers by the time you read this. While the basement is an underground rustic cellar with – an alabaster pizza bar that spans the entire length of the room – the main dining room looks as it always has, but with new “rustic” furniture. Expect an animated Yorkville-esque crowd to take over the space, grooving to dj tracks and washing their prosciutto panini down with endless glasses of Absolut on the rocks.

You’ll be tempted to remain planted on a stool with your $10 cognac, flirting with the hard-body staff. But to not venture intop the high-ceiling dining room up above for a taste of Chef Roberto Punzo’s Italian fare would be a grave mistake. Pizza is clearly the main ticket here: The San Matteo pizza is heavy with mozzerella and garlic with doses of spicy Italian sausage and rapini. The classic Caprese comes loaded with cherry tomatoes, bocconcini and arugula. Smoked salmon, red onions and Italian cream make a rich base for the Salmone pizza. Spicy Italian sausage, tomato and mozzerela make thePuzzi, with dots of Gorgonzola and onions.

Good for the Liberty Group – the people behind Spice Route, C Lounge, Courthouse, Phoenix and Tattoo Rock Parlour – for having the almost insouciant confidence to kill Flow and let it off its leash with Ciao . Flow won’t be missed, but it’ll be a long time before I can get the image of that ecstasy-soaked divorceé mounting the martini bar black out of my head.

Address: 133 Yorkville Ave, Toronto, ON
Contact: 416-925-2143
Cuisine: Italian
Area: Yorkville
Venue: Restaurant, Lounge
Hours: Daily 11:30 am – 2:00am
Price Range: $$$ (Expensive)
Payment: Master Card, Visa, American Express

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