When Centro announced that they were closing their doors a few months back, it was the end of an era. It was a sign of changing times around the iconic Midtown restaurant. The demographic of the neighborhood has shifted – no longer a destination for the debonair diner who cares only for valet parking and pristine white linen – instead you’ll find families who care for great food and friendly service ruling the region.
Twenty-five years ago when Armando Mano opened Centro it was a restaurant like few others in the city of Toronto. His goal was to survive a quarter century, and that’s exactly what he has done – with an appetite for virtuosity and a large portion of success, might I add. Yet, after so many years, he was ready to rid his establishment of the exclusive aura and bring his business down to earth.
“I live in this neighborhood and have seen it transform drastically since 2005,” says Mano. “The population density has shifted as a result of the Yonge and Eglinton condo boom. There are more young families. Everywhere you look there’s a friendly atmosphere and I want everyone to feel welcome in my restaurant.”
I grew up but two blocks from Centro, and remember passing by their towering glass doors and trying to peek through the dark curtains each time I passed. There was a presence – an untouchable emanation – I dreamed that one day I might be able to seat myself in their resplendent dining room. Unfortunately for me, that day never came, but for the Yonge Street young’uns of 2013 they no longer have to dream. Enter Vita Sociale.
“People want to go out for dinner as they are, and I want to provide them with great food – handmade pasta, wood oven pizzas – without having to take out a second mortgage” Mano tells me.
The new façade of Vita Sociale has paneled windows that open up to the street. Inside there’s exposed brick on the walls, elegant yet comfortable red leather chairs, and the delightful musk of freshly burned wood from their pizza oven.
Trying to stay as true to himself and to the neighborhood he loves, Mano will not be taking reservations between Sunday and Wednesday, and Thursday through Saturday reservations will only be accepted before 6pm or after 8:30pm.
“If you can’t walk in with your stroller and your family and get a table then I’m not going to be happy.”
Amongst the things that haven’t changed is Executive Chef Symon Abad, and Mano’s commitment to quality. Mano is loyal to the credo that “the difference between excellence and mediocrity is attention to detail.” If there’s a statement that best represents Mano’s career throughout the years it’s fair to say that’s it.
Here’s to the next 25 years, Armando. I think I’ll be joining you more often this time around.
Image courtesy Vita Sociale’s Facebook page.