Friends With Salad – The Fresh Bocconcini & Tomato Caprese Salad with Pesto & Basil at The Commissary

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Every time I think of salad, I laugh to myself as I think of the episode of the Simpsons when Lisa becomes a vegetarian and the scene with Bart, Homer, and Marge dancing in a little conga line chanting, “you don’t win friends with sa-lad!  You don’t win friends with sa-lad!”  with Lisa scowling on the couch.  Oh, Simpsons, how you fit into every aspect of my life.  We know the truth though: salads kick butt and some are so much more worthy than their appetizer and side status at the meal table.  One of my all-time favourite salads is a tomato salad with fresh bufala mozzarella or bocconcini cheese with basil or a caprese salad.  Slices of tomato and cheese, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that there is basil, the tomatoes are juicy and sweet, and the cheese is soft and melt-in-your-mouth delightful.  I love it with a really great olive oil but a sweet and tangy balsamic works just fine too.

Source: the-rivalry.com

I’ll never forget the day I found out about bocconcini cheese.  I was still in university doing my undergrad and I was with a coworker at the flower shop I used to work at and it was dinnertime.  She had brought a whole container of bocconcini to nosh on and I looked over, was curious, and asked her what she was eating.  She told me bocconcini cheese and gushed about how great it was with tomato salad.  And from that day on, I was in love with bocconcini cheese, buying it from the supermarket to have on hand for snacks and salads at home, and looking out for any bocconcini or bufala mozzarella cheese menu items at restaurants.  All that time this wonderful cheese was absent from my life and now I can’t imagine my life without it!  I am such a cheese fanatic and this is definitely one of my favourite varieties.  And here to deliver a fantastic caprese salad bursting with tomatoes and soft fresh cheese is The Commissary!

Their caprese salad is part of all 3 menus (brunch, lunch, and dinner) and comes in both main ($8) and side ($6) portions.  Oh my gosh, trust me when I say that you need to disregard this salad as merely a side and always, ALWAYS order it as a main.  I mean, if you can.  And want to.  You should!  I had mine as a separate side and thought, “holy bejesus I could eat this endlessly!” and vowed that the next time I was there, I would have their caprese salad as a main with a side of The Commissary’s breakfast potatoes to go with it! 

This caprese screams fresh and juicy.  The multicoloured grape tomatoes and bocconcini are covered in delicious pesto, sweet and tangy balsamic, and a fresh as air chiffonade of basil.  What makes this salad is the fresh cheese and, combined with the balsamic and basil, it is over the moon delicious!  I felt like I was having bocconcini for the first time all over again, only 10 times more amazing!  I could not believe how soft and melt-in-your-mouth it was.  I barely even had to chew because it was that soft.  And I loved how they weren’t skimpy on the cheese either!  This is the real deal and while the cheese I’ve had at the supermarket was good, this blows everything out of the water. 

It’s a great variation of the traditional sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella salad and if my love for this salad and their baby arugula and mango salad with goat cheese salad is any indication, I’m not just friends with salad, I’m kind of bffs with it.

*****

The Commissary is located at 889 Queen Street East at the southeast corner of Queen and Logan Ave. in Leslieville.  They serve weekend brunch, and lunch and dinner during the week.  Weekend brunch is served from 9am-3pm on Saturdays and Sundays and from Monday to Friday, they are open from 11am-10pm.

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A Marshmallow Cream Dream – The Marshmallow-Caramel Coppetta Dessert in a Jar at Trattoria Mercatto, Part III!

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I’m totally, completely obsessed with restaurant dessert menus.  Everywhere I go now, I ask for one, even if I’m not entirely sure I want a dessert (I need to carefully consider my options; a dessert means no cupcake later on in the day!).  Let it be known though that I never used to be.  I mean, I’ve always loved the idea and existence of dessert menus (goodness knows how many I’ve drooled over throughout the years), I’ve just never enjoyed the treasures from them.  But now, I have a growing collection of fabulous desserts I’ve photographed and written about and it’s become one of the funnest things to do on the blog! 

We have the Austrian apricot jam crepes from Old Country Inn, the spicy Mexican chocolate mousse from Milagro, the sweet and adorable strawberry custard trifle at Simple Bistro, the bright and juicy citrus tart with candied orange and cream from Sen5es, and the green tea cheesecake from Sushi Time.  I loved them all and it’s a head scratcher, even for me, as to why I haven’t taken advantage of more dessert menu items.  You all know how deeply I adore dessert.  In my world, dessert is a meal in and of itself!

So, why the sudden change of heart and course of action in relation to restaurant desserts?  Before, I never used to order dessert because 1) I was always too full after dinner to eat another bite, no matter how sweet, delicious and decadent, 2) some places just didn’t have dessert menus and 3) admittedy, I didn’t feel like spending extra money.  It’s not like I’m suddenly rolling in dough now (I wish!) but because of the blog, I’m much more selective and strategic about where I go, what things I want to blog about, and the yummies I think will resonate with everyone.  And dessert just happens to be one such yummy!  Fruit desserts, chocolate desserts, cakes, pastries, ice creams, mousses, you name it, I’ll find it. 

This Part III wrap-up post on Trattoria Mercatto features their decadent dessert menu in all its glory with a spotlight on their amazing, fantastical, magical marshmallow and caramel dessert!  Mercatto’s dessert (dolci) menu is all about the sweet and creamy in all different types of desserts in all different forms.  We have the 3-scoop Mad Italian gelato bowl, tiramisu with mascarpone crema, the torta di formaggio ricotta cheesecake with dulce de leche and caramelized bananas, the budino vanilla pudding with biscotti and amarena cherries, and my pick, the coppetta ($6.95) with caramel gelato from Mad Italian, salted peanuts, and marshmallow!  I really wasn’t feeling the peanuts that day so I opted for a nut-free dessert with just the caramel and marshmallow and good lord was this dessert ever DELICIOUS!  Hands down, the most delightful marshmallow dessert I have ever had.  The most delightful caramel dessert I have ever had!

My sweet and creamy dessert came in a jar (lovin’ the jars, guys!) with layers of marshmallow cream, caramel gelato, and sweet caramel sauce.  The top portion was like a heavenly, fluffy marshmallow, whipped cream cloud with ooey, gooey marshmallow cream directly underneath.  Digging a little further down unearthed the rich, creamy caramel gelato and down at the bottom was the sweet sauce.  And this jar wasn’t small!  This was a fabulous size, comparable to the circumference of a decent-sized mug.  And I loved how the textures complemented and played off one another.  The creaminess was woven in with the fun gooeyness of the marshmallows so that you had bites of airiness from the marshmallow portion and bites of cold gelato and warm sauce melting in your mouth.  So decadent, SO GOOD!   Just as a side note though, dig deeper and haul the caramel sauce from the bottom to the top.  You don’t want to do what I did and eat the layers in order.  I loved the caramel sauce but I was left with too much of it at the bottom on and no more marshmallow cream to go with it!  Silly me.  So learn from my snafu and fold the layers in.

I honestly couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed eating at Trattoria Mercatto.  I had a feeling I would like it, but I never anticipated loving it as much as I do now.  The food, the sweets, the atmosphere, the nice people – it’s all there and I can’t wait to go back again and again.

*****

Trattoria Mercatto is located at 220 Yonge Street inside The Eaton Centre on the 3rd floor on the northern, Dundas Street end of the shopping centre.  They serve 3 other locations in Toronto under the Mercatto name (Bay & Adelaide, Toronto Street, and the Mars Discovery District on College Street).  They are open for both lunch and dinner 7 days a week (Monday-Saturday 11:30am-11pm, Sunday 12pm-9pm at the Eaton Centre location).  Click HERE to view their website with menus, upcoming events, catering, news, and more!

Grilled Zucchini, Fresh Arugula, & Amazing Pizza Crust – Eaton Centre’s Trattoria Mercatto, Part II!

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Calling all pizza lovers: Trattoria Mercatto, Toronto Eaton Centre’s resident Italian eatery and wine bar, is THE place to be!  I know we all have our favourite pizza takeout place.  The one we fall back on when we want to cozy up on the couch with the remote in front of the tv munching on pizza in our jammies or sweats.  But let me tell you, when you feel like dining out for the wood-fired oven goodness with some wine, a few good appetizers, and a sweet dessert to end the meal, you want the super good stuff and I am over the moon that I can say that Trattoria Mercatto has the stuff pizza dreams are made of.

You might be thinking, “wow, that’s quite the proclamation!”  After all, there are many places in the city that serve pizza.  I haven’t tried them all (and I don’t think I ever will!), but I have tried my fair share and I can tell when I’ve come across something average, something good, and something fan-freakin’-tastic.  I mean serious business.  When I eat food that is tripping over the line of amazing, it deserves several good hooplas and cartwheels and in this case, a very happy blog post!

This even takes me by surprise.  I’ve always been wary of restaurants in malls.  When I was in high school and university, my friends and I would go to them more so out of convenience than anything else.  And while I’ve never had anything awful, I’ve also never had anything memorable.  Mall restaurants conjure up feelings of bland, ho-hum, and ordinary.  There’s no excitement, no real creativity in it for me.  But I wanted to give Trattoria Mercatto a chance.  For starters, it’s located inside my favourite mall.  Second, it’s pretty, fresh, and airy on the inside with a nice outdoor patio overlooking the park by Dundas and Bay.  Third, my best friend had gone before me and reported back saying she enjoyed it so I knew it had to be good because I trust her judgment and between the two of us, she’s definitely more critical.  And finally, it’s Italian and I never say no to Italian.  Trattoria Mercatto hasn’t been a long-time fixture in the Eaton Centre, but it’s been there long enough to impress, so I knew it was only a matter of time before I caved and went.  And oh my god was this first visit one of the most terrific lunches ever.

Their regular daily menu is comprised of antipasti and salads (ricotta and Italian speck crostini, Sicilian fried cauliflower, beet and arugula salad with Italian burrata cheese), Italian panini sandwiches, (mortadella, prosciutto, artichoke pesto, fior di latte cheese), Italian cheese boards, lots of Italian pasta dishes (orecchiette, bucatini, ravioli, pappardelle, and more with sausages, cheeses, and vegetables), meat and fish, and the star of the show for me, pizzas!  Prices are around $14-$20 for entrees and pizzas, and $7-$11 for appetizers and salads.

I do love the regular menu but what I really love the most is how they have special weekly menu features and seasonal spotlights on different ingredients!  Each and every single week, Mercatto will make a post on their website indicating that week’s features and special menus and/or menu items.  Their site keeps everyone up-to-date on seasonal produce and ingredients, new dishes, and news and announcements.  I absolutely love checking up on their site once a week, just to see what types of dishes they’ve used special seasonal ingredients for and the approach they’re taking to menu creation.  There’s often a special entree and appetizer and sometimes a dessert and there’s always a seasonal focus.  For example, one of their weekly specials shined a spotlight on their buffalo meat, used in a pasta bolognese with bufala cheese milked from the same local farm animals.

Trattoria Mercatto at the Eaton Cente is also lovely to dine in.  There are bar tables closer to the front entrance and more intimate tables further in, surrounded by barrels and displays of wine and bottles and giant windows overlooking the park and patio.  It’s a serene setting that’s perfect for a weekend lunch out, fun group gathering, or a romantic dinner on the town.  I love it.  And I love their pizza.

Their pizza menu features 10 different kinds with lots of differents meats, cheese, and vegetables adorning each one: artichokes, black olives, spicy soppressata (Italian dry salami), cured Italian ham, basil, rapini, eggplant, goat cheese, mushrooms, pancetta, fennel sausage, and so much more.  I was debating between one of their paninis and the zucchini pizza ($15.50) and my craving for “dining out” pizza won over so zucchini it was!  The pizzas are the perfect size for a great-size meal for a single person (I am not ashamed to say that I polished my pizza off feeling awsome while my best friend, who can pack it in even better than I can, was full to bursting after hers!) and if I had to describe the size, I’d say the circumference is comparable to that of a floppy brimmed hat.

My zucchini pizza was bejeweled with grilled zucchini slices, caramelized red onion, smoked ricotta di bufala, tomato, and a huuuuge helping of fresh arugula.  I thought I had died and gone to pizza heaven.  OH.MY.GOD.  This pizza was so unbelivably scrumptious, delicious, and foodgasmic.  I kept murmuring, “this is so good!” between bites.  I couldn’t believe how amazing it was.  This is “I just want to inhale the whole thing because it’s so delicious” good.  Or “I don’t ever want to finish this pizza because I wan’t to savour every bite” good.  It wasn’t laden with grease and the ingredients weren’t sparsely sprinkled.  It was covered inch to inch and bursting with colour and flavour.  The cheese was warm and creamy, the onions and zucchini were so sweet in flavour, and the arugula?  I wish I had a whole extra bowl of it to sprinkle on.

What really pushed this pizza over the top for me though was the crust.  Let it be known that while I love pizza, I don’t give two cents about the crust.  Most of the time, I couldn’t care less about it.  I consider it as something that is just part of the pizza and, well, there.  It’s never captured my heart because often times it’s too chewy, too tough, too dry, too bland.  Their crust?  I inhaled it.  I didn’t even have second thoughts.  No, “hmm, maybe I’ll just leave this part on the side of my plate” or, “hmm, it’s a little tough, meh”.  I munched on every morsel of pizza, crust and body, like it was my last time eating awesome pizza.  The crust was so crispy, so airy and so darn good.  None of those negative aspects I mentioned above even entered this realm.  THAT is the true testament of a fab pizza: delicious from top to bottom.  And judging how much this experience made and makes me gush, I wouldn’t be surprised if their whole menu was wonderful from top to bottom as well.

*****

Trattoria Mercatto is located at 220 Yonge Street inside The Eaton Centre on the 3rd floor on the northern, Dundas Street end of the shopping centre.  They serve 3 other locations in Toronto under the Mercatto name (Bay & Adelaide, Toronto Street, and the Mars Discovery District on College Street).  They are open for both lunch and dinner 7 days a week (Monday-Saturday 11:30am-11pm, Sunday 12pm-9pm at the Eaton Centre location).  Click HERE to view their website with menus, upcoming events, catering, news, and more!  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s dessert post!

Wine Barrels, Pizza, & Marshmallow-Caramel Desserts – A Photo Spotlight on Eaton Centre’s Trattoria Mercatto, Part I!

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*****

Trattoria Mercatto is located at 220 Yonge Street inside The Eaton Centre on the 3rd floor on the northern, Dundas Street end of the shopping centre.  Specializing in Italian fare and seasonal ingredients, their menu features pasta, antipasti, panini, pizza, Italian desserts, and special weekly menus that shine a spotlight on seasonal, local ingredients.  They serve 3 other locations in Toronto under the Mercatto name (Bay & Adelaide, Toronto Street, and the Mars Discovery District on College Street).  They are open for both lunch and dinner 7 days a week (Monday-Saturday 11:30am-11pm, Sunday 12pm-9pm at the Eaton Centre location).  Click HERE to view their website with menus, upcoming events, catering, news, and more!

Mushroom & Cheese Stuffed Schnitzel and Apricot Jam Crepes – Austrian & German Cuisine at Old Country Inn

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It’s time to take a trip to Vienna, Austria – Main Street Unionville style!  I know nothing beats the real deal.  The sights, sounds, tastes, and aromas of another city, state, or country are like no other.  But when you can’t go on vacation, eating authentic, delicious food in a beautiful setting in your own city really isn’t too shabby, especially when the beautiful setting in question is the Old Country Inn on Main Street Unionville in Markham.  While Main Street Unionville has several casual, fun, low-key spots (Jake’s on Main Pub & Grille, Unionville Arms, Old Firehall Confectionery, ice cream booths and parlours, and coffee shops), I’d say that the quaint, picturesque, Victorian village that houses all of these eateries boasts more fine dining options than it does hole-in-the-wall or casual watering holes.  

The Old Country Inn is a spot I have wanted to visit for years and years.  It is so beautiful and full of character and given how the house has been around for over 100 years since the beginnings of Unionville settlement, it has cemented its reputation within the community and beyond as a restaurant with delicious, authentic Austrian and German food.  I know I explore the city a lot, but I can’t think of one place with the exception of  Wvrst on King Street West that does German and authentic central European food.  Yes, Roncesvalles is known for its Polish eateries and bakeries and Bloor West Village hosts the annual Ukrainian festival, but we’re talking Austrian food and I don’t know of any other spot aside from Old Country Inn that serves Viennese cuisine and this makes them extra special in my book.

    

Old Country Inn is known for their authentic Austrian and German food and drink – with a beautiful vintage outdoor wine cellar to boot!  Their menu is chock full of classics and dishes known to Viennese and German cuisine: herring in rahm (a special type of cream sauce), schinkenrolle (ham wrapped around asparagus), kartoffelsuppe (potato soup), goulash, liver dumpling soup, six different types of schnitzel (breaded cutlet), bratwurst and sausages, pork dishes including schweinsbrten (roast pork with sauerkraut and dumplings), a host of beef dishes including sauerbraten (German pot roast/roast beef with sweet and sour sauce with red cabbage and dumplings), rump roast, and plenty of fish and seafood options.  Even their dessert menu gives you a sweet, healthy dose of Austrian and German flavour with sweet  endings such as eiskafee (a German coffee drink with ice cream), sacher torte (Austrian chocolate cake), palatschinen (Austrian dessert crepes filled with fruit jam), and of course, the ever popular strudel!

Phew, that is a LOT of food!  But I guarantee you that even if you don’t live around Markham, it is worth the trip to Main Street Unionville just for this.  Even before my first visit, I heard rave reviews from one of my best friends (whose standards are high!) who said Old Country Inn was one of his favourite spots in general, and from one of my best friend’s coworkers who said it was her favourite place on Main Street Unionville.  And after my gut-busting meal, I completely understood why. 

It’s definitely more of a special occasion type of place in terms of price ($15-$25 for most mains),but the food is great and the inn and outdoor patio and terrace is lovely.  Since I enjoyed my meal out on the patio, I don’t have photos of the house’s inside but I promise to snap some for the next time.  I figured since it was summer I’d dine al fresco.  That and because the sun was setting so I knew I wouldn’t have enough decent lighting streaming in through the windows to take good photos.  I plan these things!

First things first: bread and butter basket.  Based on the texture, taste, and appearance, I’m almost positive the sliced bread was a sourdough medium rye.  What intrigued me the most though were the crispy crackers!  There were these beautiful, long and thin, jagged-edge crispy crackers covered in light and black sesame seeds and they tasted toasty and all sorts of lovely.  Even though I like baguette and butter, having these crackers in addition to the bread was such a nice change from the regular baguette slices.  

Then, onto the main attraction.  There were so many things I wanted to try, but I decided to go totally classic for this first go-around: schnitzel!  You all know about my foodie love affair with mushrooms and cheese so I was delighted to see a mushroom and chesse stuffed schnitzel meal (Tiroler Schnitzel, $19.95) on their menu!  All of their meat mains are served with sides, and schnitzels are served with potato home fries and vegetables with creamy cheese sauce; in my case, broccoli.  Traditionally, schnitzel is served with a garnish of lemon and potato salad so this meal was bang on. 

Oh my goodness was this schnitzel ever humongous!  It covered about two-thirds of the plate.  It was beautifully breaded with a smooth and crispy layer of fine bread crumbs with the juiciest, most moist meat on the inside and creamy melted cheese and sauteed mushrooms.  I could not get over how moist the meat was and I was over the moon at how ungreasy it was as well.  It was amazing how they kept the meat so soft and juicy while there wasn’t an ounce of fatty grossness hanging off of it and I loved it.  The thin crispiness of the breading combined with the moist was delicious and I thought to myself, “this is what it feels like to have real schnitzel!”  The potatoes were much like what you would expect during breakfast and brunch and they were super soft and flavourful and not overly salted or mushy, and the creamy sauce over top my broccoli afforded me with a little fun dipping action for my potatoes and schnitzel.       

And then came the sweet finale: palastchinken!  Palastchinken are soft, warm dessert or breakfast crepes filled with fruit jam such as strawberry or apricot and at Old Country Inn they filled theirs with warm, sweet and fruit apricot jam inside.  The two rolled crepes ($5.25) are dusted with icing sugar and served with warm and oh my lord are they ever amazing.  I was too full to finish both so I brought the second one home which my mum took a go at and she was absolutely in love with it.  The crepes are so soft with the most delicate, crisped edges and the apricot jam is so fruity and sweet and delicious and everything just melts in your mouth.

Old Country Inn is such a gem and I feel really lucky to have it up in my neck of the woods.  I’m so looking forward to planning another visit (and another one after that) so that I can snap photos of the restaurant from the inside and to try some of their sauerkraut, dumplings, pork loin, and a whole host of other delicious dishes!

*****

The Old Country Inn is located at 198 Main Street Unionville in Markham.  They serve lunch and dinner 7 days a week and are open from 12pm-9pm Sunday-Thursday and from 12pm-10pm Fridays and Saturdays.  You can visit their site HERE for more info and to view their menus.

The Summer Patio Dining Series – Baby Potatoes, Bruschetta, & Pancetta…on Pizza! The Pizza Bianca at Vagabondo

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Oh, summer, how I have a love-hate relationship with you.  I get to wear pretty, frilly frocks and sandal flats when you’re around and iced drinks taste all the more delicious with you by my side.  However, you also make me feel absolutely disgusting with your unbearable heat and don’t even get me started on the bugs you unleash in the wake of your fury.  But I can let those things slide – just for a tiny bit – when you hand me nice patios to eat and relax in.  Like Vagabondo on Wellington St. with their fabulous Italian menu and food!

Vagabondo and I actually first met a number of years ago for dinner and dessert one summer night, but I didn’t like the photos I took from that meal, so I sadly never wrote about them on here but still thought about how much I enjoyed the food, the atmosphere, and dining experience.  I finally made my way back for a follow-up summer meal and I can’t stop raving about it.  There are so many things I love about Vagabondo.  First off, I adore the patio and the tumbling water fountain out in the front.  Any patio that has shade and cover has my vote.  Summer evenings and nights are beautiful, but that certainly doesn’t mean I enjoy having the sun shining right in my face or burning the back of my head!  Giant umbrellas dot the spacious patio while pretty patterned couch cushions adorn the red and black booths that hug the patio on two sides. 

And the beautiful water fountain!  It’s the first thing you notice the second you pass by Vagabondo on the street and it’s quite captivating.  I mean, it’s no Greek sculpture, but there aren’t very many – if any – restaurants in the city that can boast and say they have a monstrous sparkling fountain on or outside their property.  It makes sitting on their dining patio so relaxing and soothing and because of the spaciousness of the restaurant property and patio, it’s almost as if Vagabondo inhabits its own little universe, annexed from the rest of the busy, bustling city.

Second, I love how organized their menu is.  Sure, many Italian places organize their menus by appetizers (antipasti, salads, and soups), mains, pastas, pizzas (if they serve them), and desserts, but Vagabondo takes it a step further, making incredibly easy for patrons to navigate the menu and to come to a decision on what they want to stuff their face with.  Case in point: their main meat entrees are clearly divided and organized by type – one section for chicken mains (pollo), one for lamb and beef (carne), one for veal (vitello), one for fish and seafood (pesce), and another for main dish risottos (risotti).  Prices for risottos and meat mains, on average, come in at $20-$28. 

And their pastas?  Divided and organized by sauce: tomato sauce (pomodro), rose (pomodoro cremosa), cream sauce (panna), and olive oil and garlic sauce (aglo’ olio).  I cannot tell you how much this makes me bounce off the walls.  I love this organizational scheme. Instead of sifting through a list of menu items organized with no particular rhyme or reason, you can just zero in on exactly what your tastebuds feel like!  Don’t feel like tomato sauce?  Skip it.  Have a hankering for risotto?  Swoop down to the bottom left of the page.  I LOVE THIS WITH A PASSION.  Prices for pasta range from $17-$21. 

During my first visit to Vagabondo I enjoyed an amazing chicken meal (the pollo porto fino) with fresh steamed vegetables and baby potatoes, and while I desparately wanted to have some pasta, I opted to try one of their pizzas because special Italian pizza is not something I go out for very often.  Aside from my yummy price fixe pizza lunch at Il Fornello, it’s been pretty dry in that department.  So I watered the grass, so to speak. 

   

Vagabondo has 12 different pizzas to choose from (with most priced from $15-$17) and if you’re vegetarian, it’s probably not the best thing for you to go for on the menu as most pizzas have a mix of both vegetables and meat.  Toppings include artichokes, proscuitto, goat cheese, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, baby spinach, chicken strips, sundried tomatoes, feta cheese, mascarpone cheese, sausage, portobellos, and so much more.  My pick?  The Pizza Bianca: white pizza brushed with olive oil and topped with mozzarella cheese, bruschetta, pancetta (why, hello, Italian bacon!), Parmigiano Reggiano, and – wait for this – sliced baby potatoes!

I don’t know about you, but I have fallen so deeply in love with potato pizza.  I never had potato pizza until Linda, momma dolce to Le Dolci’s icing sugar queen and head honcho, Lisa, brought some for us for lunch when I was cupcaking it up during my time at the studio.  Before that I had never heard of potato pizza but after that first bite I was hooked.  Vagabondo’s pizza is DELICIOUS.  It’s a nice big pie on a round metal pizza platter, cut into quarters, and served with red chili flakes in a shaker.  

All the flavours and textures worked beautifully together: the bruschetta gave it freshness, juiciness, and a bit of acidity, the pancetta made it smoky and crispy, the olive oil and mozzarella cheese were foodgasmic together, and the baby potatoes were just divine.  They were sliced into big round coins and the potatoes just absorbed all the flavours while at the same time giving the pizza body and starchy texture.  The pizzas are thin crust and so flavourful and the added kick from the red chili flakes made it taste that much more amazing, not to mention there’s plenty of cheese to go around!  I love my pizzas extra cheesy and boy did this pizza ever deliver in all aspects of flavour, ingredients, and yumminess.

Even if you’re not in the mood to splurge a little more on an Italian dinner, Vagabondo has an express lunch menu with panini sandwiches, pizzas, and similar items to the ones on their dinner menu but in lunch-size portions and with less expensive prices, so it’s win-win for everyone.  It’s one of my favourite spots in the downtown core and I can’t wait to come back and try some pasta, risotto, and dessert!

*****

Vagabondo Italin Ristorate and Lounge is located at 32 Wellingto Street East in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood between Yonge and Church Street.  They are open 7 days a week for both lunch and dinner, and they offer a lunch express menu as well as take-out.  You can view their website and menus HERE.

Meatballs & Provolone, and Scallops & Farro Vegetable Medley – My Italian ‘Surf and Turf’ at Trattoria Nervosa!

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Let it be known that I have been in love with Yorkville’s “little yellow house” twins (known as Trattoria Nervosa and Sassafraz), for years.  With its bright yellow exteriors, sweet flower planters, black-and-white trim, accents, and awnings, and inviting outdoor patios for those sun-drenched days of summer, both establishments transform this Yorkville spot into those iconic French and Italian cafés many of us can only dream of experiencing in our lifetime.  It’s not Paris and it’s not Sicily, but in Toronto, I’d say these are lovely alternatives for the staycationer like myself!

At the corners of Yorkville Ave. and Cumberland St. on Bellair, they have both been on the Yorkville fine dining circuit for years, wowing its patrons with its Italian and French cuisine and beautiful patio terraces.  After visiting  the beautiful patio at Wish Cafe for Eat In, Eat Out’s Summer Patio Dining feature, I wanted to take the plunge and enjoy one other meal in the neighbourhood al fresco and thought, “Café Nervosa, here I come!”  Even though I was dying to finally wine and dine (or rather, just dine since I don’t drink!) at Sassafraz, I went with Italian at Nervosa and sunk into one of the most gorgous rooftop patios in the city for my own Italian version of “surf and turf” with crusty bread and olive oil, all the cracked black pepper I could ever want, and beautiful sunshine and comfortable breeze.

Trattoria Nervosa (or Café Nervosa) is a gorgeous two-storey Italian eatery with both a ground level and rooftop patio.  Their rooftop patio is like a comfortable, breezy summer cabana, with a cocktail bar, a shaded, cushioned “cabana”, and a sun dappled area right up against the patio railing with a very sweet view of Yorkville down below!  The rooftop patio is dressed in shades of cool cream, warm cappuccino, gray, and black, with mirrors, wall ornaments, and printed cushions dotting the chic space.

Their menu boasts a number of Italian insalate (baby arugula wih Italian tuna, romaine with pancetta, fried capers, and aged parmigino, buffalo mozzarella and pesto); antipasti (seafood and potatoes, beef tenderloin and truffled cannellini beans, funghi bruschetta, cured meats and cheeses); paste (agnolotti, funghi pappardelle, orecchiette, bolognese fettucine); pizze (plenty of fresh mozzarella, brie, parmigiano, grilled and roasted vegetables including peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, and grape tomatoes, sausage, prosciutto, olives, basil, and more); secondi mains (seafood, chicken, and beef, and veal); Italian desserts (tiramisu, tartufo, and semifreddo among others); and one veeery large wine and cocktail list.  Desserts are priced at $7.99, meal prices, in total, will mostly likely fall between $15-$30 if you’re putting together an appetizer and main or just a main (excluding drinks), and daily specials come in at around $17-$26, on average.

I learned a very valuable lesson during my delicious meal at Nervosa: never underestimate the power of appetizer plates to induce a food coma.  I came into my meal determined to have a dessert off their menu at the end of it all, only to realize that I was about to pop after my two appetizer dishes.  I had myself an Italian version of surf and turf with an order of their beef, veal, and pork meatballs (4, $13.99) braised and smothered in tomato sauce, covered in smoked provolone cheese, and their pan seared scallops (2, $14.99) with a panzanella salad of farro, zucchini, butternut squash, and corn.

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL.  I simply ordered the two because I couldn’t decide between them but never did I think I would be ready to burst at the end of the meal!  The meatballs were incredibly soft, moist, and tender, the smoked provolone was buttery and nutty (and perfectly melted – provolone is not easy to melt!), and there was plenty of thick, savoury tomato sauce to go around.  The meatballs literally melted in my mouth and they were fabulous on their own without any pasta or bread.

The scallops appetizer, though, was even MORE amazing.  The zucchini and butternut squash were both diced, creating a beautiful mosaic with the farro and corn.  The medley, tossed in olive oil, was the perfect bedding for the fresh, plump scallops and the whole dish was just to die for.  The scallops had that lovely thin layer of browned crispness on top from being seared and the insides were beautifully moist and meaty.  Even though the scallops, being the seafood, was the expected star of the dish, the grain and vegetable salad was truly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.  The olive oil made it nice and flavourful, the farro gave the dish immense texture and crunch, and the zucchini and butternut squash gave it earthiness.

Given how I waddled out of Nervosa without a dessert (but still immensely satisfied), a follow-up visit is clearly in the cards!  I am so looking forward to going back for dessert, some pizza (rapini pizza on Thursdays!), and some fresh Italian pastas and cheeses.  It’s such a treat since I rarely eat at Italian places, just because they’ve always been a little pricier than other establishments.  I’d love to change that since I love Italian food so much and I’m happy I finally got the chance to make my first visit here.  It was relaxing, beautiful, and delicious – the perfect summertime treat.

*****

Trattoria Nervosa is located at 75 Yorkville Ave., at the corner of Yorkville Ave. and Bellair St.  They are open 7 days a week, from 11:30am-11pm Monday-Wednesday, 11:30am-12am Thursday-Saturday, and 12pm-10pm on Sundays.  In addition to their regular menu, Nervosa offers two daily specials every day of the week.  These specials include a pizza and a main and are not available on any other day other than their designated “daily special” day.  Visit their official HERE to view their full menu and info on special event booking.