Irish Delights for St. Patrick’s Day – Corned Beef & Gravy with Cabbage & Mashed Potatoes at P.J. O’Brien!

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restaurant.front.pjobrienAnyone who knows me well knows I’m a sucker for all holidays and celebratory occasions.  And I mean all.  Not just the “big” ones like Valentine’s, Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving but also maple syrup season (which just happens to be going on right now!), cherry blossom season, harvest and apple season and let’s not forget, St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow!  Ever since I started Ate by Ate, I’ve had my heart set on doing themed posts for all of them but given time constraints and bad weather, sometimes it feels almost impossible to do posts for everything.  So I decided to change my approach.  Instead of waiting until the last minute to get photos and stories, I would just do them early, if I could.  Does it mean I might miss out on being right in the thick of the moment?  Sure.  But I would rather have something to show for it than nothing at all.  I’m always so disappointed when I don’t get to celebrate on the blog because I waited until the week or weekend of and things just happen to fall through.

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So this time around, I had my Irish food for St. Patrick’s Day early.  Very early.  In fact, I had my incredibly delicious St. Patrick’s Day meal over a month ago!  And it’s here and hot off the press.  Well, the photos and story anyway, not the food.  True, I wasn’t surrounded by happy partygoers clad in green apparel but the nice thing about this is that going to an Irish pub and restaurant means that we can kind of celebrate life with Irish food whenever we want.  And I just happened to celebrate over a month early at P.J. O’Brien in downtown Toronto.

I remember the day so well.  It was one of the coldest, dreariest, grayest days this winter but for whatever reason, the bite in the air eased up a little bit right around lunch hour when I hurriedly scurried out onto Colborne St. just southwest of King and Church to take photos outside.  The building that P.J. O’Brien resides in would brighten even the darkest, gloomiest of days.  It has to be one of my favourite buildings in the city.  Nestled between the towering structures in the financial district and the historic ones of old town Toronto sits a three-storey building as bright and cheerful and charming as a Lego house.  Equipped with bright blue window shutters and painted sunny golden yellow, P.J. O’Brien is a beacon of culinary happiness.

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Their dining room and bar areas are simultaneously cozy and spacious with plenty of space for large groups and intimate get-togethers.  I love the tables by the front windows.  Perfect for taking in the large dining room and bar around you and for taking photos with natural light!  Open 6 days a week from Monday to Saturday from 11am to the wee hours of the morning (1am from Monday to Friday and 2am on Saturday), P.J. O’Brien delivers a mix of comfort food, pub fare and Irish classics with flair including Kilkenny Ale fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, beef and Guinness stew, sausage and chips, and my pick: corned beef and cabbage!

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I had the hardest time choosing between the beef and Guinness stew, sausage and chips, and the corned beef and cabbage.  All of them sounded delicious, all of them screamed warmth and comfort and Irish goodness but with only one stomach, I could only choose one.  Sigh.  So after much deliberation, I chose the corned beef and cabbage ($15): a wedge of freshly steamed cabbage alongside two giant scoops of creamy mashed potatoes with sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley and three moist and juicy pieces of corned beef smothered in rich brown gravy sauce, with an extra side of tartar sauce that I specifically ordered to go with my meal because I am a crazy nut for tartar sauce!  This meal is everything comfort food should be and really, the closest I’ve ever been to Ireland’s food in my life.  It was piping hot and SO. INCREDIBLY. DELICIOUS.

I loved it so much not only because it scrumptious but because it’s something I don’t have all the time.  Or ever, really.  I eat mashed potatoes and deli corned beef (or breakfast hash) and the occasional bite of cabbage, but never all together and certainly never in such a yummy capacity.  The mashed potatoes were fluffy and airy (not gluey!), the cabbage was tender yet crisp (and without the strong tang of bitterness that usually makes me shy away from cabbage) and the corned beef was melt-in-your-mouth soft.  It wasn’t difficult to bite into or cut through at all and its savouriness was perfect; not too salty but far from bland.  Even without the sauce I would have loved it and I really appreciated the thickness of it (imagine the thickness of luncheon meat slices.  Or just look at the photos) and having it in three pieces as opposed to one giant overwhelming slab.  It made it easier to eat and made for a lovely presentation.

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And if you can believe it, it gets better.  My meal came with a basket of bread and butter and by golly that bread and butter was some of the best bread and butter I’ve ever had.  I know.  It’s only bread and butter.  But think about it, even something as simple as bread and butter can go horribly awry (or rye…haha).  The bread can be too hard or too dry and the butter can be too difficult to spread.  But theirs was so good I was tempted to eat the entire thing all by myself in one sitting but I had enough sense just to eat a few pieces and save the rest for my doggy bag along with a piece of corned beef and some cabbage.

I’m a hungry girl but I’m not known for being the queen of the doggy bag (or tupperware) for nothing.

I’m so happy I got to enjoy my ‘St. Patrick’s Day’ meal when I did and I hope that if you’re in around the downtown core tomorrow that you’ll stop by P.J. O’Brien for a bite to celebrate the great food and actual festivities.  You’ll be glad you did.

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*****

P.J. O’Brien is an Irish pub and restaurant located in downtown Toronto at 39 Colborne St., just south of King Street East and just west of Church St.  They are open Monday through Saturday from 11am – 1am (2am on Saturday).  Visit their official website at http://pjobrien.com/

Creamy Chicken Soup & Saucy Curry Rice & Smoked Haddock Kedgeree with Poached Egg – Warm & Delicious British Flavours at The Oxley!

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Okay, who else has been glued to the television (or their laptop or tablet or phone) watching the Olympics this week?!  My brother and I love watching sports.  Always have, always will.  It’s a very special thing that bonds us together as siblings so when the Olympics roll around every 2 years (summer and winter, don’t forget!) it’s like a sports and television party in our living room.  We’re fascinated by the events, we’re captivated by the speed, the crazy flips and spins, and down-to-the-tenth-of-a-second finishes, and we love the feeling of celebration and pride for our team and athletes.  We stay up late watching recaps from the day and we catch whatever coverage we can early in the morning before leaving the house.  It’s so much fun and I love it.

Watching the Olympics take place in Sochi totally inspired me to do a little research on Russian food and Russian food in Toronto and while I’ve found some very cool options to check out, I really don’t think I’ll be able to go to them and then post before the Olympics are over, but at the very least it’s given me some creative juice to work with.  So even though I don’t have any Russian cuisine to share with you guys, I do have overseas eats for you all today: British food from The Oxley!

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Aside from the photo spotlight post I did on my British cookbook, this is the first post on Ate by Ate about British food and I’m so excited!  Going to London is on my bucket list of places to visit at some point in my life.  I salivate at the thought of visiting Twinings, Harrods and Hummingbird Bakery so until I can fly across the Atlantic and park myself down at one of the many afternoon tea spots, bakeries and pubs there, indulging in some British fare here in the city will have to soothe those daydreams for the time being.

The Oxley, located on Yorkville Ave. in Yorkville in a drop-dead gorgeous two-storey cherry red brick house, is the sister restaurant to The Queen and Beaver in downtown Toronto, a popular English pub and watering hole that serves both British and Scottish food.  The Oxley is all sorts of fabulous.  During the summer, it’s like being around an English courtyard and in the winter, it warms you up and makes you feel so cozy with its part English pub, part bar, part home living room vibe.  You should see the place inside.  I had the luxury of sitting and eating upstairs (a food blogger needs her natural light by the window!) and it’s unlike any other dining area I’ve ever been in.  With its long bar with leather bar stools, mahogany tables, hard-wood flooring, black armchairs, deep purple cushioned seating, floral wallpaper, paisley patterned rugs and Union Jack by the bar window, the upstairs dining room is like a scene out of Sherlock Holmes novel.  And I got to have a corner seat by the window all my by myself.  I LOVED IT.

This is prime real estate, folks.

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Their menu is so full of warmth and British character and flavour.  I will preface this next part though by saying that if you’re looking for an inexpensive meal, look elsewhere.  I think The Oxley is an amazing place to have a special lunch or dinner but if you’re just looking for something simple and casual money-wise, you’re not going to find it here simply because many of their mains come in between $16 -$24 (with appetizers $8 – $14, sides a la carte for $6, bar menu bites $8 – $12, and bar menu mains $18 – $26).  Which is fine with me!  I’m not made out of money but I’m constantly considering and evaluating what means the most to me and what would give me the most happiness so I don’t mind putting down the dough to enjoy a meal here because it’s worth it to me every once in awhile.  But I know others may feel differently so I want to be completely honest with you guys so you don’t get the impression that this is something you can do every day!

The menu is chock full of British classics including rabbit and potato pie, fish and chips, Stilton and mushrooms on toasts, Huntsman’s pie, venison and mushroom suet pudding, and fish pie and peas.  I went all out on the winter comfort food with my choices: Cream of Chicken with Tarragon Soup ($8) and Smoked Haddock Kedgeree with Poached Hen Egg ($16).

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Let’s start by talking about the dishes.  Yes, the things we put our food on.  I wanted to squeal out loud.  They are SO pretty.  Tea dishes!  Beautiful china with flowers and patterns and scalloped edges.  My heart wanted to burst from happiness just by looking at them.  Meals come with bread and butter which I happily devoured as I had foodgasms over my cream of chicken with tarragon soup to start.  The soup is so delicious and creamy and not overly salty or seasoned or rich in the least.  It was perfect and so savoury with just the right amount of thickness to it.  With a bright green chive on top, it was both bright and comforting at the same time.  And honestly, along with the bread, it would make an incredible light meal all on its own, it’s THAT good.

And now for the smoked haddock kedgeree with poached hen egg.  In it’s stripped down essence, kedgeree is a rice dish with boiled fish and eggs rooted in Indian-British colonial culture and history, with lots of room for many different interpretations and spins on it.  Could this be any more perfect for me?!  This dish has Deb written all over it because it incorporates all my favourite foods, textures and flavours.

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The Oxley put their signature on it with their mouthwatering, scrumptious version: hot rice bathed in curry sauce and spices, chunks of flaked haddock fish, toasted sliced almonds, bright green peas, and a beautiful and pristine poached egg on top.  There is so much to adore.  The rice is saucy, the almonds give the dish crunch, the smoked haddock fish provided savoury meatiness, the peas give it colour and homeyness (and I just love peas!) and the delicate poached egg just takes the whole thing to another level once you poke it, allowing the sunny yellow yolk to make the rice even more creamy and saucy – if that’s even possible!  It’s gorgeous to look at and even more satisfying to eat.

I’m so happy I finally got to visit The Oxley (I’ve been wanting to go since last summer!).  The staff was so nice to me, allowing me to sit by the window like I wanted and being so attentive and gracious and I felt like I was in another peaceful world sitting in their upstairs dining room looking out at the grey sky and Yorkville streets below.  The food was wonderfully delicious and the experience felt…special, like something you couldn’t have anywhere else.  And that was the real beauty of it.

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*****

The Oxley is located at 121 Yorkville Ave. at the corner of Hazelton Ave. in Yorkville, between Bay Street and Avenue Rd.  They are open 7 days a week serving lunch, dinner and weekend brunch: Monday to Friday 11:30am to 3pm for lunch, 3pm to 5pm Bar Menu, Monday to Saturday 3pm to 11pm for dinner, Sunday 5pm-10pm for dinner, and Saturday & Sunday 10:30am to 3pm for weekend brunch.  You can visit their official website at http://theoxley.com/

The Calm After The Storm – Finding Winter Comfort in Rigatoni & Smoked Pulled Chicken in Tomato Cream Sauce at La Vecchia

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The day I enjoyed this hot and delicious, soul-soothing dish of pasta at La Vecchia was a day of kerfluffles of epic proportions: it was the Monday after the ice storm.  24 hours after the city was cloaked in a sea of white and frozen water, knocked out of power left, right and centre and 2 days before Christmas.  And there I was taking 2 buses and the subway into town at the crack of dawn before daylight had even peeked out from the pitch-black sky.

I know.  I can hear the shrill “are you crazy?!” shrieks shouting at me in the distance.  But having a weekday off before Christmas was hard to come by and I just wanted to go out and do some blog work.  Beyond frustrated at the holidays being turned upside-down in more ways than one, I threw caution to the wind and headed out anyway.  I knew it was going to be messy.  But I did it anyway because I was fortunate enough to still have power in my home and able to exit my house and street for some fresh air so it just didn’t make any sense to waste a day if I wasn’t physically homebound, especially since there were specific things I wanted to accomplish on that particular Monday.

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So did I end up doing exactly what I set out to do?  Not exactly!  The power outage in many pockets of town definitely threw a wrench into the first part of my agenda (I bused northbound on Avenue Road, gaped at the wreckage and ghostliness out the window, mentally scrapped my plan and just stayed on the bus as it doubled back around at the end of the route!) so I shrugged it off and decided to sit down to lunch a little earlier at one of my favourite restaurants in the Yonge & Eglinton area, La Vecchia!

I enjoyed weekend brunch there so much during my first visit last March.  I promised myself I would go back for their salads, sandwiches, mains, pastas and of course, more weekend brunch and while it took awhile I finally made my way back and had a fabulous lunch to boot.  I haven’t done pasta justice on Ate by Ate so going to La Vecchia served two purposes: to get some scrumptious pasta in my belly and on the blog and to warm up with some really fantastic comfort food.  With snow and ice surrounding you from all sides, nothing else would do.

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La Vecchia’s lunch menu offers 8 different pasta dishes ($9 to $12) including penne in spicy tomato sauce with olives and scallions, linguini with shrimp, mussels and calamari, spaghettini with Italian sausage, mushrooms, peppers and onions and capellini with grilled chicken, olives and roasted red peppers.  After seeing my boyfriend have their amazing Rigatoni Romani during our first visit though, I knew without a doubt THAT was the dish I needed to have.

The Rigatoni Romani ($11) is served smothered in hot and creamy blush sauce (light cream tomato sauce) with smoked chicken, portobello mushrooms and lots of creamy, tangy goat cheese crumbles on top.  A bright crunchy leaf of radicchio adorned my heart-warming dish and my server graciously spooned some Parmesan cheese and cracked some fresh black pepper over top to complete the mouthwatering masterpiece.

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I admit, rigatoni wouldn’t normally be my first choice off the bat because long pasta noodles are the way to my pasta-loving heart.  My 3 favourite pastas are pappardelle, linguini and spaghetti.  However, that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t love all the others!  I simply don’t have them as often.  After this meal though, I thought to myself, “girl, you need to have more rigatoni in your life!”  Rigatoni is lovely for so many reasons.  The ridges and tubes catch every ounce of yummy sauce and its cylindrical shape is just plain fun.  It reminds me of childhood and shapes and all that fun stuff.

Anyway, I could write a novel on why I love this pasta dish so much.  It was so saucy, so creamy and so comforting.  And it stays hot!  As you dig through it, steam keeps escaping from the bottom up so you’re never left with cold pasta.  The sauce is super smooth and savoury, the rigatoni is cooked perfectly, the portobello mushrooms are juicy and meaty and the chicken?  Oh my goodness.  We’re not talking about plain old strips of chicken.  We’re talking smoked chicken that resembles pulled pork.  In tomato cream sauce.  Surrounded by cracked black pepper and goat cheese.  It is HEAVEN.  The chicken gets all nice and shredded as you’re eating it so you have this great texture to the dish that you wouldn’t have otherwise if was strips or pieces or even a cutlet.  It really plays up the warmth and comfort factor and it is so satisfyingly filling.

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We might think to ourselves that pasta dishes are easy enough to execute but it’s the little things and attention to detail that makes all the difference.  This wouldn’t be the star that it is if the pasta wasn’t cooked right, if the mushrooms were watery, and if the chicken was dry, tough and overcooked, things that could feasibly happen if it wasn’t executed properly.  But thankfully for me they got it spot on and I had a lunch to remember on one very memorable day of the year.

*****

La Vecchia is an Italian eatery that serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch (11am lunch Monday-Friday, 10:30am-3:30pm brunch and 3:30pm dinner on Saturday, and 10am-3:30pm brunch and 3:30pm dinner on Sunday).  They are located at 2405 Yonge Street on the east side of Yonge Street several blocks north of Eglinton by Broadway Ave. in the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood.  You can view their menus and contact info on their website HERE.

Bulk Candy, Cheese, Sweets, Meats & More – The European Food Emporium That is Yummy Market!

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Yummy Market in Vaughan

The Yummy Market location in Vaughan!

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I’ve fallen in love with a supermarket.  I do have a special place in my heart for the Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws (come on, the snazzy cupcake counter alone would make anyone’s heart melt!), but I’ve never been to a supermarket where I felt like I could go absolutely berserk snatching up specialty items and shop for basics.

“But, but, you’re a foodie!  Why wouldn’t you love supermarkets?!”

Yummy Market in Vaughan

The scrumptious offerings at the dessert counter!

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Perusing through the grocery aisles

Because when you shop at the same supermarkets on a regular basis, you know them all too well and while you may not dislike them, only shopping for your staples leaves you feeling a little bored while being surrounded by too many specialty items (like in gourmet markets) leaves you feeling kind of at odds because you don’t have the staples to balance them out.  When time is of the essence and you’re food shopping because you simply need to fill your fridge and pantry, you just want that awesome supermarket that can give you both without having to run around.  And while we all know that it’s common to do grocery shopping at multiple locations (hello sales!), isn’t it a wonderful feeling knowing there’s a place that can offer you specialty and staples?  And Yummy Market, with its 2 locations in the GTA (one in Toronto and the other in Vaughan), gives you just that.

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SO MUCH DELICIOUS CHEESE!

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Green and lush!

This place is all sorts of awesome.  REALLY awesome.  I’ve known about Yummy Market for years now.  I used to pass by their Toronto location on Dufferin St., just south of Finch Ave. West every single time I was on the bus to and from school and Downsview station in university.  However, the bus route I took was an express route that didn’t stop by the supermarket so I just never took the opportunity to take the bus that did.  I knew it was a European supermarket of some sort but I had no idea just how amazing it was until now.  It wasn’t until last month that I found out that their brand spankin’ new 2nd location was in Vaughan and much closer to my neck of the woods.  SCORE!  It was time for my first visit and I couldn’t have been more excited.

And so began my exploration of this fantabulous emporium of European and even Russian food.  Greek, German, Polish, Italian, you name it, it’s here.  Their bakery offers baskets of bread samples for you to try so you can make a totally informed decision on which loaf of bread floats your boat the most (my suggestion?  The olive Mediterranean loaf!) as well as European and Russian baked goods (strudels, rugelach, Russian ponchick donuts and more), their cheese counter is to die for (I think I counted at least 8 freakin’ different types of feta alone!), their meats are just waiting to be presented on eleventy billion charcuterie platters, their veggies and produce are lush (my mum and I picked up beautiful green beans and radicchio!), and OH MY GOD their tea section left me gobsmacked.  Oh and did I mention their bulk candy and chocolate section?

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Come here for the fantastic loaves of bread and baked goods!

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Tea lovers paradise

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Bulk candy party, anyone?!

And their cold and hot food counters with salads, potato patties, croquettes, stuffed eggplant, sausages, and more that makes you feel like you’re running suicides because the counter is so damn long and so damn awesome?!  I’m not kidding.  Now I know I don’t have any photos of this droolworthy counter (there were too many people around!), but trust me when I say that I was literally jogging between different parts of this food counter as I was being served!  My recommendations: the turkey slaw with cabbage and slaw (OH YES WE DID), the little bratwurst sausages with sauerkraut, mushroom-stuffed potato croquettes, potato-veggie pancakes, butternut squash and millet porridge, and cheese stuffed eggplant roulades among MANY other mouthwatering, delicious things!

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Ooo, what’s that in the freezer?

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European ice cream pops, treats and sandwiches!

Yummy Market houses a cafe, a dessert counter, an ice cream sandwich and dessert freezer section, and plenty of tea, chocolate, candy, seafood, meats and grocery staples.  Oh!  And samples.  They have wonderful samples.  On this particular weekend they were sampling arancini balls!  I love this supermarket dearly and I can’t wait to share all the great stuff I get from here with all of you.  My blackcurrant Twinings of London was just the beginning!

*****

Yummy Market serves 2 locations, 1 in Toronto and 1 in Vaughan.  The Toronto location is located at 4400 Dufferin Street, south of Finch Ave. West, close to Downsview station.  The newer Vaughan location is right by Major Mackenzie Drive West and Dufferin Street at 1390 Major Mackenzine in the Eagles Landing shopping complex.

The Weekend Brunch Series – Loving Prosciutto & Eggs Benny at La Vecchia at Yonge & Eglinton

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poached eggs benedict weekend brunch with prosciutto and arugula at La Vecchia

Thinly sliced meats, cubes and wedges of cheese, olives and tapenade, honey, mountains of arugula…good god, my mouth is watering just thinking about all of the scrumptious delights!  I think the month of April really changed me.  I’ve always loved things like cheese and crackers and cured meats (one of my favourite guilty pleasures is a herb and garlic cream cheese sandwich with thinly sliced German salami – YUM, YUM and YUM), but after going to dinner with coworkers at Obika Mozzarella Bar in Brookfield Place, having an amazing, wonderful dinner at Hockley Valley’s Cabin restaurant with my FBC friends during FBC 2013 and basically having enough cheese and charcuterie to last me two lifetimes during the month of April alone (I might as well be a walking cheese wedge), I have really begun to appreciate the artistry behind charcuterie platter creation.

I would always eat things in isolation; some cheese cubes on a toothpick at parties, some antipasto, a few slices of meat.  All enjoyable but never really together because, let’s face it, the nagging voices that sternly tell us to stay away from all that sodium will deter us from that fun.  But I am here to say that every so often, I DON’T CARE.  I definitely plan on paying much more attention to charcuterie platters from here on out and to indulge in one of my favourite charcuterie staples, prosciutto, when given the opportunity.  So when eggs benny with prosciutto stared at me in the face from the menu of one of my more recent weekend brunch meals at La Vecchia by Yonge & Eglinton, I had to take advantage!

La Vecchia weekend brunch menu in Yonge and Eglinton

La Vecchia weekend brunch menu in Yonge and Eglinton

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked past La Vecchia over the years.  Located on the east side of Yonge Street a few blocks north of Eglinton by Broadway Avenue, it’s sandwiched between so many different eateries, many of which I’ve visited on a regular basis.  But what set La Vecchia apart and what drew me to it in the first place is its ambience.  It exudes that feeling and atmosphere of old world Italy (historical but with plenty of character, and a quiet, easy-breezy sophistication and glamour) and when the patio is set up during the summer, it makes you feel so relaxed just walking by it.  It’s the type of place I feel I can truly soak in a dining experience.  The type of place that gives you more than just delicious food but also a delicious experience – sitting back and taking your time, savouring those bread and olive oil moments, sipping water as you people-watch; all those little details that make those meals so memorable and enjoyable.

La Vecchia dining room in Yonge and Eglinton

La Vecchia has a FABULOUS weekend brunch menu.  Not only do they offer plenty of savoury and sweet options, but they also offer plenty of choices within those options.  You never have to feel like you’re caged in when you’re perusing their menu.  Case in point: 7 frittatas, 6 egg (uova) breakfasts (benedicts, sunny side ups, poached, and style of your choice), 5 sweet brunches, a whole host of veg, salads, and antipasto, fresh focaccia sandwiches,  and – wait for this – 9 (nine!) pasta and risotto brunch dishes!  And lots and lots of yummy things like portobello mushrooms and grilled vegetables, sausage, cured meats, goat cheese, parmesan, bocconcini and Asiago, calamari, and so much more!

Prices are very brunch-typical, hovering around $11 or $12 for most mains and dishes with a few less expensive ones ($8 or $9) and a few more expensive ones ($14 to $16).  This menu makes me think of “Around the World in 80 Days” only more like “Around the Menu 80 Times” because of all the different types of dishes!

poached eggs benedict weekend brunch with prosciutto and arugula at La Vecchia

poached eggs benedict weekend brunch with prosciutto and arugula at La Vecchia

poached eggs benedict weekend brunch with prosciutto and arugula at La Vecchia

My brunch pick for my first visit to La Vecchia: the Semplice Uova (egg) breakfast ($12) featuring 2 poached eggs on a bed of juicy, thick slices of tomato and fluffy arugula topped with thinly sliced mouthwatering prosciutto with a side of home fries, diced roasted red pepper and fruit.  So many of the my favourite things rolled into one!  I love prosciutto and arugula like nobody’s business, the prosciutto imparted so much flavour in the dish, the runny yolks in the poached eggs (which, by the way, were perfectly runny and poached) gave the dish this great, thick, egg yolky “sauce” for me to dip my home fries and tomatoes in, and the fluffy arugula just soaked up every flavour around it, just like an English muffin would in a traditional eggs benny.  There was a great balance of flavours and textures (salty, juicy, starchy, runny, and crunchy) and I didn’t find the prosciutto to be overbearing or overpowering in the dish with its cured salty flavour.

poached eggs benedict weekend brunch with prosciutto and arugula at La Vecchia

I love poached eggs and eggs benny so much and it’s so much fun trying different combinations and variations.  We’re used to seeing the classics (the florentine, the peameal, and the smoked salmon) and while I love them, it’s awesome seeing different meat and veg combinations that also really speak to the Italian cuisine of the eatery.  You can bet I’ll be back to try some of the sweet brunch dishes (they have crepes with strawberries and chocolate sauce!) and their pasta – lots and lots of pasta!  La Vecchia is a fabulous weekend brunch spot and with spring finally here their open front windows and patio will make dining here even sweeter.

*****

La Vecchia is an Italian eatery that serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch 7 days a week (11am lunch Monday-Friday, 10:30am-3:30pm brunch and 3:30pm dinner on Saturday, and 10am-3:30pm brunch and 3:30pm dinner on Sunday).  They are located at 2405 Yonge Street on the east side of Yonge Street several blocks north of Eglinton by Broadway Ave. in the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood.  You can view their menus and contact info on their website HERE.

With Love, Lemon and Jam – Italian Bocconotti Pastry Cookies at Si Espresso Bar!

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Going through these photos right now makes me want to curl up on the couch with a giant mug of hot cocoa with marshmallows and whipped cream!  I am curled up on the couch as I write this with the tv turned to the Food Network (holiday edition of Iron Chef America!), but without the hot chocolate.  Sigh.  It’s been so chilly lately and all I can think about is having some much needed downtime in a warm cafe with a warm drink, a book, a squishy couch and being alone with my thoughts as the sights and sounds of the holiday season whip by me in a blur.  No trip to a cafe is complete without something yummy to eat though and I love finding different cafes that serve different types of treats that you just can’t get anywhere else.  And if you can, it better be just as good if not better.  That’s where one of my latest food discoveries comes in – Si Espresso Bar at Broadview and Danforth!

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Now, calling this one of my latest food discoveries is a tiny bit of a white lie.  I didn’t discover it recently.  I discovered it over a year ago, possibly even longer.  I just didn’t make my first visit until a few weeks ago!  This is what happens when you pass by a spot over and over again on the streetcar and you never buckle down and just GO.  I pass by it on the streetcar every single time I head down to Leslieville or King East and it’s just steps away from me when I exit the station to catch the shuttle bus to Evergreen Brick Works.  It’s actually kind of shameful I haven’t been here sooner and more often!  But now that I’ve made my first visit, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be on the agenda during every Evergreen Brick Works excursion.

And funny enough, it’s because of my latest trip to Evergreen Brick Works that I decided to finally step inside this cute and hip cafe.  I was waiting for the shuttle and didn’t really feel like waiting in the cold (can you blame me?!), so I walked across the street to Si to see (ha, that sounds funny) what type of goodies they had.  Located right across the street from Broadview subway station on Broadview Ave., Si Espresso Bar is a cozy little Italian cafe serving up lattes, chai lattes, cappuccinos, espressos and double espressos, Americanos, London Fogs, steamers, hot chocolate, and more!

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It’s a well-known fact that I don’t drink coffee.  I have lattes every once in a while (why, hello there matcha green tea lattes!), but coffee drinks and I don’t mingle, period.  So what in the world would make me adore Si Espresso Bar aside from maybe the hot chocolate and chai lattes?  Need you ask?  Food!  Introducing the delicious and adorable Italian bocconotti pastry cookies!

Taking into account my eating habits and what I love, sometimes I truly think I should have been born Italian instead of Chinese!  I am fascinated with the complexity of Italian cuisine and I find myself constantly learning about new foods I’ve never tried or even known of before.  Italian bocconotti is one of them.  I saw them in a giant clear glass cookie jar, asked what they were and thought, “well, I’d be a fool not to try these out, they sound delicious!”  Bocconotti are Italian pastries (or cookies as they are sometimes referred to) with different sweet fillings – jam, chocolate, custard, curd, you name it.  They’re beautiful, delicate little morsels (they fit right into the palm of your hand!) with cute crimped edges and puffy centres.  They’re golden in colour and sprinkled with sugar on the outside and the nice thing about them is that they aren’t too sweet!  Everyone knows what a sweet tooth I have but even I can appreciate the desserts that are toned down in sugar.  Not everything has to be cavity-inducing!

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I grabbed myself two bocconotti pastry cookies and I only wish I had taken a photo of the one with the jam filling because it would have been pretty for all of you to see but I wanted to eat one and save the other so I randomly chose one out of the two and got the lemon one first!  I love lemon desserts so much.  This bocconotti was filled with a tangy, creamy lemon curd and the second one I bought was filled with a sweet and fruity berry jam.  What I loved about them was how they weren’t too sweet and dry, how the filling stood on its own two feet (clearly the star of the show!), and how the sprinkled sugar on top truly took these bocconotti to another level.  I loved them and I can’t wait to go back and get more.

I hope everyone is keeping warm the best they can; if you’re in the area, definitely give Si Espresso Bar a look-see and grab a treat and drink while you’re at it!

*****

Si Espresso Bar is located at 748 Broadview Ave. right across the street from Broadview subway station.

Swiss Chard & White Navy Bean Soup, Spinach Pasta Bolognese, & Tea – ‘Madame Butterfly’ Does Fall Comfort Weekend Brunch at Terroni Bar Centrale!

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Earlier this year, I walked past the front window of Terroni on Queen Street West, caught a glimpse of two friends sharing a giant, mouthwatering pizza and instantly fell in love.  With the pizza, not the people (no offense to the people, I’m sure they were nice).  I remember seeing arugula.  Lots of arugula.  And some sausage.  On a very big pizza pie.  Enjoyed by two smiling people.  Oh how I wanted to join in on that pizza party and bask in the joy of delicious food here!  But alas, I had eaten already so I wistfully walked away.  But not before I mentally plugged them into my “must-come” list for all things pizza, pasta, cheese, panini, and meat in all their Italian glory!

That was months ago and that is how Terroni and I officially became acquainted.  My fellow icing sugar queens at Le Dolci, Lisa and Miya, had sung their praises during my cupcake days at the studio, but I had to see it for myself.  And did I ever!  Just one look and I fell so hard (cookies for anyone who gets the reference), much the same way I fell for Black Skirt and Trattoria Mercatto.  Fabulous Italian food with regional nuances and seasonal dishes and ingredients.  And while my first meal here at Terronit didn’t end up being an Italian pizza or pasta lunch or dinner, it was instead an Italian pasta and soup weekend brunch!  With tea!  Glorious, delicious tea in a pot!  Welcome to Italian weekend brunch at Terroni Bar Centrale!

Terroni Bar Centrale, located at 1095 Yonge Street at the corner of Price Street and sandwiched between Summerhill and Rosedale subway stations, is a sister restaurant and an arm of the Terroni restaurant family with two other locations in Toronto, one on Queen Street West and the other on Adelaide.  Terroni is simultaneously hip and posh, casual and relaxing with the ground floor devoted to weekend brunch, morning yummies, and lighter fare, and the upper level for more intimate Italian fine dining.  Oh!  And a rooftop patio!  Even though much of the ground floor is inhabited by the bar counter where you can watch espressos being made and drinks being concocted, it has such a relaxing, casual vibe that makes weekend brunch here so nice and so appropriate.  It’s the type of space that makes you want to sit back with some coffee or tea, some biscotti, and a newspaper.  Or in my case, a little pot of tea, some soup, and some Italian pasta.  That’s right.  For brunch.  I’m a hungry girl.

Terroni Bar Centrale’s brunch menu is a goldmine for me.  It’s not really my boyfriend’s cup of tea since he’s not the biggest fan of eggs (sigh), but for me, it’s pure gold.  Their brunch menu is divided into 5 different food sections, each with a different type of dish: sweet dishes (homemade brioche with homemade jams, pancakes with jam and nutella, yogurt and granola, and biscotti), frittatas (skillet-cooked eggs with smoked salmon, scamorza cheese, fontina cheese, porcini mushrooms, onions, herbs, and more), soup and salad, panini, and hearty savoury Italian mains like braised pork belly and poached eggs, savoury tart and poached eggs, grilled beef tenderloin, and pasta.  Prices average out to around $9-$12 with some dishes closer to $6 and $7 and a few that are more than $12.  For the most part though, the prices are perfectly in line with numerous other brunch spots in the city and I’d say actually even a bit less expensive.  And for those of you who love to have a drink to go with that delicious weekend brunch, they have a selection of eight brunch drinks to tickle the tipple!

What I also love is their selection of tea!  There’s plenty of black, green, herbal, and rooibos and it comes served in a beautiful little pot with cute tea cups and saucers.  I had myself their Madame Butterfly ($4), a green tea with peach blossom and I loved it.  So light and fresh, and warm and comforting; perfect for these rainy days we’ve been having here in the city!

I went all out for brunch this time with a soup and a hearty Italian pasta dish.  I indulged in some serious fall comfort food during this meal and I loved it all.  It was delicious, yes, but I also loved it because the dishes were something different, dishes that I haven’t really blogged about before.  The soup, the Verdura di Mamma Rita, ($9) embodies fall comfort in a bowl with its white navy beans, buttery bread croutons, and swiss chard in a thick broth.  And oh my goodness it comes in this adorable white and copper bowl (like a mini crock pot) with two handles on the side!  The soup was so hearty and everything just melts in your mouth, especially the croutons which gave little bursts of buttery flavour with every bite.

And then there was my pasta, my lovely Lasagne alla Bolognese ($12) with thick homemade spinach pasta noodles, bolognese ragu, and a thick, ooey gooey cheesy besciamella and Parmigiano layer on top!  I almost never have bolognese just because whenever I have pasta, I always lean towards mushrooms sauce, white cream sauce, pesto, and so on, but I enjoyed this dish because the ground meat was just the right texture.  It wasn’t mushy, it wasn’t big and clumpy, and it didn’t taste dry and overcooked.  I love the fact that it wasn’t overly seasoned and together with the gooey cheese, it was just the right amount of richness and indulgence without going overboard.  And the noodles!  The noodles were so super thick like pappardelle!  And I LOOOOOVE pappardelle!  Since the pasta was hidden underneath the top layer of bolognese and cheese, it was such a lovely surprise to dig in and see such beautiful thick green pasta noodles.

It was the perfect type of meal for a drizzly, rainy fall day and there are so many other dishes that I would love to try including those jam and nutella pancakes!  And more tea in the cute pots and cups.

*****

Terroni Bar Central is located at 1095 Yonge Street on the corner of Price St. between Summerhill and Rosedale subway stations in midtown Toronto.  They’re open 7 days a week: 11:30am-10pm Sunday to Wednesday, 11:30am-11pm Thursday to Saturday.