You know gentrification is happening when things start to appear where you least expect it. About a few months ago while waiting in my doctor’s office, I saw out in the window, across the street where a Vietnamese pho restaurant used to be, was a light box sign the read, “Mr. Ciao” and a moustache. Turns out, amongst the Chinese grocers, Chinese herbal shops and pho restaurants, an Italian restaurant was going to open — IN CHINATOWN.
Granted, a Chino Loco opened in the neighbourhood (that place still puzzles me, and I have yet to try it) and my beloved Andrea’s Gerrard St. Bakery is around, but I seriously thought it was strange that an Italian restaurant was opening in Chinatown. Surely, it does signify a change in the area given the fact that closeby, Leslieville/Riverside which is north of Chinatown are going through some significant changes.
My relatives from Edmonton, Alberta are here in Toronto for a week (they are leaving today) and we finally had a family dinner with everyone together on Friday at Mr. Ciao (my mother originally wanted to go to a Chinese buffet, but because it’s $30/person and none of us can eat ten fully loaded plates of food, we skipped out on the idea. Plus, we were too lazy to drive).
With a party of eight, the restaurant had no room on the patio so we were seated in the back of the restaurant. I apologize in advance that the photos will not be great as it was pretty dim, which for some of the older folks made it hard for them to read the menu.
The decor appeared to lean towards an eclectic mix of exposed wood, raw brickwork and salvaged items, like the Old Spaghetti Factory door (??), and a table with a lacquered poster of Lego figures (my 9-year old cousin loved that table).
We ordered a few things to share among us, mostly the pizzas, which our server told us was unique to Toronto. Unlike traditional pizza dough baked in an oven, Mr. Ciao deep fries the dough for about 10 seconds then puts on the topping before finishing the pizza in the oven. A unique take on pizza, The Pizza Fritta, is considered the first in the city.
We ordered the Salmon Pizza Fritta ($18), with house smoked salmon, marscarpone cheese, capers and red onions.
The Margherita Pizza Fritta ($14) with basil, tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella.
The Peking Duck Pizza Fritta ($17) with roast duck, char siu (BBQ pork) sauce, black beans, wasabi peas and scallions.
My father had the Seafood Linguini with marinara sauce ($18). For $18, it was very disappointing. Portion was small, and the pasta was definitely straight from the dried variety. My 15-year old cousin’s Rigatoni Bolognese (not pictured) didn’t fare any better. Small portion and looked homemade for the price tag.
The highlight of the menu were the pizza frittas. The fact they deep fried the dough gave it crunchy yet still soft inside, but it was difficult to cut into. Taste-wise, the peking duck pizza fritta was the best out of the three we ordered, the five-spice on the char siu sauce was prominent and so was black bean. There was not a lot of meat on it though.
Service was very slow, and thankfully they had a small play area (family friendly!) that sort of entertained my 9-year old cousin who was getting bored. Part of the disappointing experience was that the food came out lukewarm (aside from the margherita pizza that we ordered after getting our food and realizing it might not be enough). It was like our entire order was sitting in the kitchen because our margherita pizza came shortly after ordering.
I don’t think it’s worth another visit. For the price, it sadly does not reflect in the quality. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by other restaurants, but I do expect better when I’m paying $18 or more for a plate of pasta.
Sorry Mr. Ciao, but it’s definitely ciao forever for me.
598 Gerrard Street E
Toronto, ON M4M 1Y3