Early in 2010, Vaughan, Ontario became host to an impeccable and fuel-injected dining scene. Autostrada (Italian for “highway”), at 3255 Rutherford Road in Vaughan, has quickly become a substantial success, boasting a journey into the world of Italian cuisine, from Milan to Naples, to the Tuscan region and the spicy flavors of Sicilian fare. Few restaurants enjoy the almost instant glory Autostrada enjoys. One might say that the community was unabashedly hungry for a high quality, larger-than-life experience at a reasonable price point.
Autostrada delivers exactly what it promises: a journey that is loaded with impressive and deliciously unique stops along the way. The venue offers a total size of 6,300 sq ft, seats approximately 270 patrons, and is split into several signature zones. At the time II BY IV Design Associates was secured to design and build the venue, the space presented many unique challenges that required careful planning to resolve. “It is a very large space with 22 ft ceilings,” says Dan Menchions, a Partner at II BY IV Design Associates Inc. “We had to work with existing, structural columns, a sunken area, an atypical floor plan, and impressive windows with an unimpressive parking lot view. Basically, we gutted the entire
space and started from scratch.” The team set to work to make features of oddities, capture and create the intimacy of Italy, provide a veritable feast for the eyes, and brand the restaurant unlike any other. “The exterior does not match the interior at all,” says Menchions. “You open the doors and, wow! It is quite a beautiful change.”
At the entrance, one gets the first glimpse of original Autostrada color and texture. The hostess greets guests from behind a leather-finished statuario marble desk that thrusts in contrast toward guests from a gleaming, high-luminosity beveled glass wall panel. 3M films applied to the glass provide the rich ripe tomato, or racing, red hue. Here, the team also took the opportunity to add a revenue stream to the client’s business by featuring a merchandising area for specialty, Italian olive oils available for purchase.
From the entrance vestibule, the restaurant fans to the left, right and back with distinct zones. To the left, banquette seating in the Main Dining Room features a number of design elements that signal a very fast ride into keen visual interest and excitement. The feature wall measures a massive 20' wide by 14' tall, looming skyward from seated patrons, It is affixed with an intricate and oversized, custom-crafted, three-dimensional lacquered installation of a Pirelli tire tread. Routed MDF panels give the wall its compelling three-dimensional shape. Lit from the top and bottom, the Tread Wall is luminescent, bold and graphic, and is a significant contributing element to the branding of Autostrada. “The Tread Wall is great texturally, it gets a lot of response from people,” says Menchions. Balancing the highway theme to other elements in the room was finely tuned work. Menchions and the design team warmed the space by incorporating home kitchen aspects of white oak butcher-block tables and contoured Eames chairs with dowel wood bases. Adding another layer of classic Italy, the space is anchored by white speckled Terrazzo floor tiling.
Beyond the borders of the Main Dining Room sit the Pizza Bar and Private Dining Room. The Pizza Bar is alive with a plethora of design elements including a market-style charcuterie, where pancetta, hams and other finely cured deli meats hang on full display next to a ceiling height woodpile that fuels the pizza oven on the right side of the bar. Behind the statuario marble work area where pizza chefs compose myriad creations, the pizza oven is clad warmly from ceiling to floor with a blaze of mini-mosaic style tiling in brilliant red-orange that gives the impression the entire wall is of fire. The Pizza Bar has quickly become a favorite feature of Autostrada, where people congregate for aperitifs to standing room only capacity.
The private dining room is something of a design feat. Seating approximately 35 people, the square footage of the room is modest, however the ceiling towered well above proportion. To achieve balance and intimacy, we dropped the ceiling, incorporated a dropped installation of baton lighting that is matchstick-strewn baton lighting fixtures, and introduced strategically placed, massive downward-facing, rear-view mirrors, as it were, to reflect and ground one’s gaze back down into the room. The walls are clad with undulating white oak paneling that also feature mirrored, internally-lit, open-fronted boxes that again showcase the fine wines available at Autostrada. Exiting the room, one passes through impressive, 11' sliding, sublimated glass, pocket doors that are custom fused-fused in red with the Pirelli tire tread once again.
Moving into the center of restaurant, the Sunken Dining Area is encircled by a specialty laser-cut, custom lacquered MDF screen of inverted trapezoids, which are the symbol for highway on Italian road signs. “The MDF is fantastic for this installation as well,” says Menchions. “You get those nice, smooth clean lines. And it was easy for the installers to install and finish. Like one big jigsaw puzzle.” Again, this zone has countless design features layered with precision to achieve the many goals the brand hits. In the centre of the room, a single six-seater table is enwrapped by a mesh fabric “scrim” that is printed with a nostalgic Italian scene of people in culture. This scrim is retractable and also provides
a natural stage for another placement of the dropped baton that further illuminates the sheen of the scrim. The unique, scrim centerpiece is surrounded by a three-quarter moon of butcher-block tables, parson chairs and settees emblazoned with strikingly graphic and racing green and blue fabrics. Finishing the moon shape of the room, the feature wall showcases an internally-lit, columnar display of the restaurant’s finer wines. Here, the floor treatment departs from Terrazzo tiling to white oak.
The last stop on the route is the Main Bar. Here, all of the familiar design themes come together, alongside other innovative elements. The quality wine cellar is elevated to be in full view with a backlit chrome and white oak encasement, spanning across two walls. Beneath this is another textured, leather-finished, marble statuario bar top, punctuated by a row of tubular, mesh chrome lighting pendants, and supported by a brilliant orange-red beveled glass base that comprises the color of the room. The Main Bar offers everything from espresso to champagne in a highly stylized, modern European setting. An urban oasis in suburban Vaughan.
Autostrada does fulfill its promise to patrons. While being a visual journey of itself, its food offering has received ratings of “Outstanding” from customers and reviewers alike.
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