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Introducing: Aria, the new Italian restaurant by the people behind Noce

Aria’s onyx bar and Moooi light fixtures

For years, Noce has been quietly turning out exceptional Italian food to a loyal coterie of regulars at the corner of Queen Street and Walnut Avenue. Now Aria, the long-awaited sequel to Noce, has opened its doors at a very different location—the main floor of the 30-storey Telus Tower, right next to the ACC. The project is a result of years of planning, which started after the head honchos at Telus, Noce regulars, personally invited owners Elena Morelli and Guido Alberto Saldini to set up a second restaurant in their not-yet-built downtown headquarters.

Morelli and Saldini, who for 18 years have cultivated an Old World-style service at Noce, have brought the same attention to detail to their new 110-seat venture. But the feel here is very different: where Noce exudes traditional sophistication, Aria is contemporary and cool. Still, even with an onyx bar that stretches across a third of the room and a large patio slated to open in May, this is no trendy resto-lounge; the focus is still on the food.

A few members of Noce’s core team—head chef Eron Novalaski, sous-chef Matthew Dorner and pastry chef Steve Song—have been transplanted to execute a menu much larger than Noce’s, but with a similar philosophy and more modern presentation. Dishes include Noce staples like buffalo mozzarella with oven-roasted tomato ($18), as well as a range of Italian classics prepared in innovative ways, such as baby cuttlefish with citrus, chilies and fresh marjoram ($18), grilled octopus and warm panzanella salad with a roasted chili vinaigrette ($18), lobster salad with avocado, corn and fennel purée ($20) and roasted Ontario quails with bone marrow, polenta, wild mushrooms and foie gras jus ($32).

Architect Stephen Pile and his team were tasked with bringing warmth to a  space with floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch almost 30 feet high. Notable decor details include a two-storey wine cellar, polished concrete floors, steel curtains on the south windows and red accents on the red and white banquettes and signature Carlo Moretti glassware.

But the real ambiance is provided by the dramatic Moooi lights that float above diners like dandelions gone to seed, and by the work of two Canadian artists: Laura Wood, whose two commissioned oil paintings look like chandeliers seen through a pleasant grappa-induced haze, and Dennis Lin, whose massive wooden sculpture, called Aria, unfurls delicately through the upper stratosphere of the restaurant.

Aria, 25 York St., 416-363-2742, ariaristorante.ca.

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