First Look Inside Chinatown’s Highly Anticipated ‘Kissa Tanto’ At 263 E. Pender St.

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I took a good long look inside the highly anticipated Kissa Tanto restaurant in Chinatown before the weekend. As you can see from the images below, it’s taking shape nicely. The kitchen is much larger than I originally imagined it to be and it looks as if it’s completely finished save for the tile work. As for the bar and dining room, it’s getting easier to picture both finished. I really dig the raised platform with its gangster table (already nicknamed “the hot tub” by the trades), as well as the little nooks on both sides of the balcony. I can’t wait to see what it’ll look like come opening day next month. For a refresher on the concept, here’s an excerpt from our first post on the place back in June of last year, followed by an official release that is set to be posted shortly.

Tannis Ling, owner of the award-winning Bao Bei, is opening a new restaurant in Chinatown with her long time executive chef Joël Watanabe and sous chef Alain Chow. The trio secured the second floor 2,200 sqft space at 263 East Pender St. back in February and have yet to start construction. Conceptually, however, they’re well on their way.

What they’re aiming for is an irreverent 75 seat hideaway with a 50s/60s feel to it, and instead of reprising the Shanghainese meets French concept that worked so well for them at Bao Bei, the food here will cleave to mostly Japanese and Italian traditions. That might sound a little odd, but the two cuisines have a lot in common when you think about it, everything from “mama” comforts and crudos to tatakis and noodles — not to mention the devotional fetishization of simplicity. “We’re always into doing something different,” Tannis says. “This opens up whole new avenues for us.” Service will be limited to dinner only, five nights a week.

The name? Kissa Tanto — “kissa” being an old Japanese word for “cafe” and “tanto” being the Italian word for “much” or “a lot”. Dig it.

The bar, which is slated to be a long one at 16 seats, will focus on era standards like Singapore Slings and Amaretto Sours. “No crazy infusions,” Tannis insists. As for wine, they’re building a list of naturals and planning for a sake program. They’ve always rocked a top drawer bar at Bao Bei, so I don’t expect it’ll be much different at Kissa Tanto.

As for the space itself, it’s been commercially dormant for many years. The jade-glazed terracotta tiling on the exterior is pretty cool, but beyond that I’m in the dark (I’ve yet to see the inside). A proper description will have to wait until after they take possession, which will be at some point later this summer.

Here’s the official announcement:

Tucked away in the upper story of a faded Chinatown storefront, the people behind Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie – owner Tannis Ling, executive chef Joël Watanabe and sous chef Alain Chow – have partnered up to bring a small slice of vintage glamour to the city with their 80-seat Japanese-Italian concept, Kissa Tanto.

From the Japanese term, jazu kissa, which refers to the vanishing 1960s jazz cafés of Tokyo and the Italian word tanto, which translates to ‘a lot’, Kissa Tanto is a darkly poetic nod to a lost time when it was okay to drink whiskey and listen to jazz on vinyl all night long.

“We want to create a space that gives people a sense of escape to a different time and place – a nightly celebration, even if there’s no real reason to celebrate,” says Ling.

The menu, composed by Watanabe and Chow, is inspired by the delicate flavours of Japan in concert with the warmth of Italian cuisine. As the “House of Plenty” moniker suggests, expect generous selections of super fresh seafood, meat and handmade pasta.

Feast on chawanmushi, a savoury Japanese egg custard with saffron and parmesan on Koshihikari rice; plum-cured Coho salmon with lemon-pickled walnuts, arima sansho, and Tokyo leeks ; and kasu-braised pork ragu on fresh tagliatelle.

Watanabe is known for drawing flavours from different cuisines and arranging them in unexpected combinations – a style that has garnered him a faithful following both city wide and internationally. Having grown up in Montreal with a French-Canadian mother of Corsican/Italian parentage and a Japanese father, Watanabe is excited to incorporate his diverse heritage into the Kissa Tanto menu. In the spirit of freedom and improvisation, Watanabe and Chow intend to allow the food to evolve naturally, balancing both familiar and unusual flavours and textures to surprising and harmonious effect.

Heading up the cocktail program at Kissa Tanto is Wendy McGuiness. As bar manager, the veteran virtuoso (Chambar, Royal Dinette) will be instrumental in applying that hip 1960s mystique into the cocktail program.Guests can look forward to imbibing cool updates of retro classics: think Swizzles, Amaretto Sours, Singapore Slings and Irish Coffees.

The wine list, curated by Layla Shea (Burdock & Co, Farmer’s Apprentice), will feature mostly European selections with a natural focus. Family-produced Italian wines rub shoulders with some natural local gems along with eclectic by-the-glass sakes, sleeves of Asahi and a rotating selection of local craft beer.

The room, designed by Ste Marie (Bao Bei, Savio Volpe, Ask for Luigi), is dramatic yet intimate. Moody jewel tones play off gleaming wood, delicate textiles, subtle Japanese elements and Art Deco lines to create an atmosphere reminiscent of the jazu kissa of the 1960s. The design is an ode to the Hotel Okura Tokyo, a modernist design masterpiece (set to be demolished this year) with a wink to the work of Italian designer and architect, Giò Ponti.

Slated to open April 2016, Kissa Tanto is located at 263 East Pender Street and will be open for dinner five nights a week. For more information, visit www.kissatanto.com and follow on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook. (@kissatanto)

NOTE: Kissa Tanto is looking to hire a pastry chef and a host. To apply, send your resumes to hello [at] kissatanto.com.

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