The Summer Patio Dining Series – Fluffy Rice, Grilled Vegetables & Ground Lamb & Beef Kefta at Tabule!

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Ate by Ate is back!  The lazy days of summer are upon us and we all know what that means: we’re either coming or going with exciting stories and plans of summer vacation, big and small, basking in those gorgeous summer vacation moments when the days seem endless and fleeting all at the same time.  I didn’t jet away to an exotic destination or drive off to a lakeside cottage though.  Nope, my glorious week away took place right here in the city where I patio dined, felt the warm sun on my face, shopped till I dropped, ate yummy things, and spent time with my favourite people in the world!

With the exception of checking e-mail every once in awhile, I completely unplugged myself over the last week and a half during my summer “stay-cation” and made the most out of the time I took off from work.  Even though I feel like I could’ve squeezed out so much more out of my time off, I loved what I DID do and the time away just makes all those little moments that much happier.  Sleeping in an extra hour (or two!), staying up late knowing you don’t have to get up at 5:30 the next morning, reading and completely losing yourself in a mountain of books, eating soft serve, walking around the city till your feet hurt and having some of the most delicious meals your heart could ever desire.  I’ve missed being out during the week so much and I’m so grateful for the time off.

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I know I’m a little behind on things (I don’t even have my August Food Calendar for you guys – sorry!), but I think we should be able to pick up where we left off and talk food pretty easily!  This post marks the return of The Summer Patio Dining Series with a mouthwatering look at Middle Eastern food at Tabule!  I almost can’t even find the right words to express how much I freakin’ love Tabule.  A space washed in olive green and metallics, colourful lantern light fixtures and a menu chock full of Middle Eastern grain, vegetable and meat dishes that will have you coming back again and again.  And to think it took me YEARS to finally park my hiney in their beautiful, delicious space!  A friend from grad school told me I HAD to come here and it took my mum’s birthday and a light bulb moment on my part to finally give me the shove I needed to go.

My mum desperately wanted to go to either a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern spot for dinner for her birthday so I happily offered to take care of dinner plans.  Choosing the dining destination for the whole fam and having the reins in my hands?  Totally up my alley!  I hemmed and hawwed over a few options when suddenly, as I was typing away on my laptop on the couch one afternoon I exclaimed, “OH, DUH!” and rolled my eyes at myself.  Which drew a few weird stares from the fam, but I didn’t care.  I was excited!  Like a bolt of lightning, genius struck and instantly knew Tabule was the perfect place to go.  The meal was SO wonderful and I loved it SO much I went back a second time and ordered the same thing!

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Tabule, located at 2009 Yonge Street between Davisville and Eglinton (with a new second location on Queen East in Riverside), serves up dishes such as falafel and fattoush/fattüsh salad, halloumi/hallüm cheese and arugula, hummus and baba ganoush/babaganüj platters, tabbouleh (of course!), fried eggplant and cauliflower, vegetarian grape leaves (warak enab), TONS of pita sandwiches, Lebanese spicy sausage, skewers of grilled ground lamb and beef, chicken breast, lamb chops, and a number of fresh fish dishes, all served with grilled vegetables and rice and onions.  While prices differ slightly for lunch and dinner, prices range from $14 to $19 for main entrees and $5 to $10 for most appetizers, salads, sandwiches and sharing plates.

Now, I didn’t get to stick around long enough to watch the belly dancers at dinner (belly dancing on Saturdays at 7:30 and 9:30!) but both my meals both times were fantastically awesome.  The photos here are only of my lunch though.  I wasn’t able to get any of the tabbouleh salad I ordered for my fam and I to share during that first dinner but in 5 words: refreshing!  Minty!  Leafy!  Crunchy!  Juicy!  What we have here is Tabule’s Kefta dish ($14.95), balls of grilled ground lamb and ground beef mixed with garlic, onions, tomatoes, parsley and spices (cooked on the skewer but taken off for plating), on a bed of rice with grilled vegetables and onions.  OH.MY.GOD.  I could eat this meal every single time I come here.  I could eat this every single month.  Hell, maybe even every single week.  It is SO freakin’ delicious.  I have honestly never eaten lamb before so this was all brand new to me and I LOVED it.  So many things on the menu sounded scrumptious but I wanted to try something different and I’m so happy I did.

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The kefta was by far some of the moistest, juiciest, most flavourful meat I have EVER had in my life!  There were 6 bundles on my dish and each forkful was as tender as the last and the amount of spices and garlic were perfect.  The meat was incredibly easy to cut and bite into and the meat never dried out.  I love dunking things into sauce but in all honesty, you don’t actually NEED any for this meat, it’s perfect on its own.  And the rice!  Many times we associate carbs with heaviness but their rice, which had this wonderful, fresh lemony flavour to it, was light as light could be.  The rice was so fluffy and airy and it even had some yummy texture as there were onions strewn throughout the rice.  It paired with the meat wonderfully and the vegetables rounded out the meal with a bit of that smoky char, brightness and juiciness.  And to wash it all down?  A beautiful pot of Moroccan mint tea!

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Tabule has become one of my favourite spots in the city and I just love that I can do take-out and dine-in in both their dining room and patio!  My family was all over their chicken breast meal like mud on a pig and the next time I go I am totally going berserk over an appetizer or two and definitely dessert!  It’s a beautiful place to have a glorious and delicious summer meal.

*****

Tabule serves 2 locations in Toronto: 2009 Yonge Street (between Eglinton and Davisville subway stations, just north of Millwood) and 810 Queen Street East by Jimmy Simpson Park and Degrassi Street.  They serve both lunch and dinner with belly dancing on Saturday nights!

The Keys to My Heart: The Grilled Halibut Melt at Jakes Pub & Grille on Main Street Unionville!

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I knew it was too good to be true.  The weather, that is.  I was loving the chillier mornings and the moderately warm, sunny days last week.  Then the weather decided to pull a fast one on me and scorch my little tooshie again, all the while gloating as I cowered under the sun in my bucket hat, whimpered in the heat, and cursed the buses that didn’t have air conditioning.  So, I did what any disenchanted girl would do: in defiance of the nasty weather, I hightailed it over to my favourite local pub for a patio lunch, noshed on my favourite dish, sat under a nice, shaded wooden awning, watched people happily sling back a few beers at neighbouring tables, and walked away with a happy belly full of yummy food.  I had myself one of the best lunches this summer and kicked the sweaty, icky, yucky feeling to the curb.  Eating at one of my favourite spots in one of my fvaourite neighbourhoods in my neck of the woods always does the trick.  Welcome to Jakes on Main Street Unionville! 

Jakes is a very classic type of pub establishment with a casual and relaxed atmosphere that’s family-friendly and always hopping with regulars who come out for beers, families who come out with their kids for some good old fashioned kiddie food (you wouldn’t believe how many kids and baby strollers that were there during the hour I was there!), and groups of friends sharing giant plates of food and having a great time.  It’s such a popular, well-loved spot and the crowds show it.  The patio is constantly packed, there’s always a consistent stream of people filling up the tables when they’ve been vacated, and it doesn’t matter what part of the day it is; Jakes is definitely the place to be if you’re around Main Street Unionville.

Jakes and I go way back.  Probably not as far back as many of the locals here who’ve lived in Markham all their life, but far back enough; my first look was back in high school and my first visit was before I even started grad school!  It’s my favourite spot on Main Street and my favourite classic pub in Markham.  I know that aside from the beer, pubs aren’t necessarily known for their haute cuisine.  There are some pub spots in the city that I’ve been to that are totally top-notch with delicious food, but if we’re playing a game of word association here, we know that most people would associate pub fare and bar grub with things like wings, calamari, and nachos and unless they’re spectacular, they’re forgettable to most people. 

At Jakes?  Call it pub fare, call it bar grub, call it whatever you want because the food here is REALLY, REALLY good!  You must be thinking, “how good can it be?”.  Trust me, their menu selection and portions speak for themselves.  We’re talking 6 types of poutine (butter chicken, pulled pork, and steak and mushroom just to name a few!), 21 different sandwiches, burgers, and wraps (beef dip, smoked salmon club, California club with guac and mango salsa, fish tacos, and more!), pub appetizers (deep fried pickles, crab cakes, coconut shrimp, and bacon wrapped scallops among others), and plenty of mains and entrees including baked chicken, pub pie, goat cheese quesadilla, and spicy chicken and seafood.

Prices are typical of a sit-down pub ($7-$20) and their menu is the same for both lunch and dinner, so you enjoy the goodness during the day or well into the evening.  It’s been so long since I’ve been here and while I was sitting at my table waiting for my food to come, I saw countless dishes being brought out to other patrons and I was reminded of how great their food was and how much I dearly missed what I had ordered since it had been so long since my last visit.

My favourite thing to have at Jakes: the halibut melt!  One of my ultimate not-healthy, comfort food weaknesses is fish and chips and Jakes halibut melt ($11.99) is a delicious, crispy, melt-in-your-mouth battered halibut fish sandwiched between caramelized onions, melted mozzarella cheese, and grilled bread, served with tangy tarter sauce (I LOVE TARTAR SAUCE!) and either fries, caesar salad, or green salad with your choice of salad dressing.  I LOVE fish sandwiches, tacos, and burritos and given how I’ve blogged about the haddock fish burritos and shrimp burritos and quesadillas from Burrito Boyz and the fish tacos from Wish Cafe, I figured it was time to post another one on seafood sandwiches, pub style!     

The sandwich is so, so good because the grilled bread is able to hold up to the melted cheese and caramelized onions and give the crunchy halibut fish the support it needs to stay crispy with every bite – no one wants a limp and soggy sandwich!  The battered halibut on the inside is moist and flaky and perfectly golden on the outside with a scrumptious buttery warmth to it.  I think one of the things I love most about fish and chips is the difference in textures (moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside) and this sandwich is so full of crunch and flavour and the melted mozzarella just adds that extra butteriness to the whole sandwich. 

And the tartar sauce!  It is so much fun dipping this sandwich into the tartar sauce and having that creamy tangy just whack a few good ones out of the park in your mouth.  After awhile though, it gets a little hard trying to dip the sandwich in so I just dip my fork into the sauce and slather it on.  And while the salad is just a side to the star of the show, it’s worth noting that the green house salad is great with it baby greens, refreshing cucumber, shredded carrots, and sliced bell peppers.  There’s a ton of different dressing options and I chose a honey mustard to go with mine this time around.

Jakes has made changes and additions to their menu over the years and I’m looking forward to coming back more often for some casual pub fare and really good food in fab neighbourhood.  After living in Markham for 14 years now, it’s a neighbourhood pub that definitely feels like home.

*****

Jakes Pub & Grille is located at 202 Main Street Unionville in Markham just south of Carlton Rd. on the popular Main Street shopping and dining strip.  They’re open 7 days a week for both lunch and dinner with a big patio out front.

Strawberry & Banana Bread French Toast and Hot Cheddar & Tomatoes – Brunch on the Patio at Joy Bistro in Leslieville!

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After a whirlwind of Swiss Chalet Fresh Impressions Tour fun and sneak peeks, Ate by Ate is back with good eats and brunch straight from the heart of Leslieville on Queen Street East!  We took a bit of a detour last week, but just to recap, we took a closer look at the Leslieville Cheese Market, a summer Sunday at Leslieville Farmers’ Market in August, and a foodie district post highlighting some of the great food and drink along the popular east end strip including Majesteas and the brand spankin’ new donut and chicken shop (I know, it still takes a bit of time to wrap your head around it, doesn’t it?), Pauline’s! 

Today, we celebrate weekend brunch out on the patio at Joy Bistro, located right across the street from Jimmie Simpson Park on Queen East!  Leslieville boasts so many great brunch and lunch spots and it was hard deciding where my next adventure was going to be.  I lucked out and managed to grab a great table at Lady Marmalade during a Monday morning last year (yes, there are line-ups out the door even on weekdays!), but aside from one of Leslieville’s most popular eateries, brunch in Leslieville was still pretty foreign to me.  So I did a little research, read up on some TO food literature, and after seeing a shot of their outdoor patio online, I was sold!

Joy Bistro is such a pretty dining spot and you actually don’t realize just how gorgeous it is until you stand directly in front of it from across the street on the south side of Queen.  It’s a beautiful building with an upper level and lots of flowers and hanging baskets everywhere and when you look at it dead on, you realize just how appropriate the space is for all sorts of dining occasions.  On the inside we have the bar and bistro area on the main floor, perfect for some drinks (you should have seen how quickly Joy’s bartender was whipping up those brunch Caesars!), small bites, and a meal by the window with a newspaper.  Then we have the open outdoor patio, perfect for a casual, easy breezy brunch and lunch with friends and family.  Finally, we have the pretty and romantic and ultra charming patio terrace with cushioned seats, flowers, a canopy, and strings of lights that light up the night.  When I realized just how cute and charming that particular dining area was, I vowed that I would come back for lunch and dinner, just so I could dine there and enjoy the atmosphere.  And you know, eat!

I made my first experience at Joy Bistro a weekend brunch one though and I had a great time pairing sweet and savoury together for a yummy and delicious meal!  The great thing about Joy is that their weekend brunch menu incorporates both their breakfast page and their lunch menu, so it fits the bill for parties that either feel more eggs and bacon-y or more salad and sandwich-y.  Their brunch menu was even more fab than I thought it would be though!  The menu they have posted online isn’t their most updated one and let me tell you, the real one is 10 times more awesome! 

 

Prices range from $8.50-$14.50 with most brunch meals coming in at around $9-$11, and some of highlights include their 3-egg omelette with goat cheese, mushrooms, spinach, and red peppers; coconut and oat granola yogurt with sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds (I am over the moon with this one!); Eggs Norweigan (eggs benedict with smoked salmon and spinach); Eggs Willow Grove (eggs benedict with pulled pork – I know, wipe the drool off your chin); lemon ricotta pancakes (oh good god, I need this in my life), and my pick, banana bread French toast with berries and bananas!

After having such a fantastic banana bread French toast meal at The Gladstone Hotel, I thought, “why not give it a whirl and try every French toast brunch menu item there is in the city?  Especially banana bread ones!”  I’ve always wanted to try as many French toasts as possible, but ever since that Gladstone meal, I’ve been paying much more attention to spots with different styles and kinds because the banana bread one was so good.  Joy’s banana bread French toast ($9) is a dish comprised of 3 thick slices of sweet, ultra moist banana bread drizzle with maple syrup, dusted with icing sugar, and sprinkled with blueberries and slices of strawberry and banana.  I thought banana bread couldn’t be any softer, moister, or more flavourful than the ones made at Gladstone, but I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious Joy’s was.  Their French toast matched the Gladstone’s bite for bite and the maple syrup just intensified the flavour even more.  Part of me wishes the whole plate was covered in more fruit so I could have an even bigger field day with it, but the dish as a whole was delicious and so flavourful.

And sides!  We can’t forget sides.  I knew I wanted something savoury to balance out my sweet so I perused their list of brunch sides (priced from $1-$4 for yummies like peameal bacon, home fries, and bacon and sausage) and went with a side of sauteed tomatoes ($1.50) and a side of cheddar cheese ($1).  Holy mother of pearl was this ever GOOD!  The sides came separately on their own, but my intention was to totally sprinkle my aged white cheddar cheese over top my piping hot ramekin filled with the juiciest chopped tomatoes and have it melt over top and was it ever ridiculously foodgasmic!  Cheese and tomato go hand and hand, so if you’re looking for a great savoury side that packs a punch, try this one because it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and wiggly over how good it is.

After finding out how great and diversified their menu is, I cannot wait to come back and try all the items I listed earlier in the post and to dine in their charming and romantic terrace.  Joy Bistro may not have the powerhouse line-ups out the door that Bonjour Brioche or Lady Marmalade have, but let me tell you, it’s a wonderful spot in Leslieville with so much to offer and I’m looking forward to showcasing as much as I can from here from here on out.          

*****

Joy Bistro is located at 884 Queen Street East in Leslieville, at the corner of Booth Ave. and Queen East across the street from Jimmie Simpson Park.  They serve weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner as well as plenty of drinks at the bar!  Hours of operation: Monday-Wednesday 11am-12am midnight, Thursday-Friday 11am-1am, Saturday 8am-1am, and Sunday 8am-12am midnight.

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.

Your Wish for Summer Patio Dining is My Command…Fish Tacos and Rapini & Chickpeas at Wish Cafe!

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Daisies and flowers, candles, soft cushions, bright and crisp whites, pinks, and greens, and a feeling of total bliss and relaxation – nope, we’re not at the spa, we’re wining and dining on the patio at Wish Cafe and Restaurant!  Located on Charles St. just east of Yonge, Wish serves lunch and dinner from Tuesday-Saturday and a weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.  I first discovered Wish last year while I was walking around the Yorkville area and exploring Church Street a bit.  When I reached Charles St., I looked down the road and thought, “hmm, I’ve never been around here before, let’s see what’s around!” and that is when I found Wish and breathed a silent, “wow…” when I saw their patio.  And after browsing their menu online, it was then and there that I decided that I had to come back and enjoy a great meal in a beautiful setting. 

Wish is one of the prettiest spots I have ever dined at.  I know if you look at Wish from across the street it doesn’t look particularly gorgeouys, but it’s the patio and the cafe’s interior that really have the beauty and character.  There are flowers on every table, everything looks bright and fresh, there are beautiful wooden shutters for that comforting, rustic vibe, and there’s a tinkling fountain by the front entrance and that makes everything feel and sound extra soothing.  Ladies and gents, if you want to take a special someone out for a nice meal and/or date, this is PERFECT.  It’s fancy without being pretentious.  It’s pretty and sweet without being frou-frou.  And the prices?  Incredibly reasonable considering how nice it is and how it’s located within the Yorkville neighbourhood!

Although the prices might not suit those who are on a tight budget, you can definitely enjoy a fabulous, special meal for $10-$15, and most certainly for under $20.  There are a few items on their menu that are over $20, but let’s face it: if you enjoy dining in the city at establishments that are not fast food, coffee shops, and bakery cafes, you know you’re looking at a bill that will most likely total $20 when it’s all said and done but at Wish, you can feasibly have a wonderful meal for $10-$15.  Obviously, I’m not taking into account alcohol, but I’m the type of person that only orders water most of the time because I’d rather spend my moolah on food! 

Prices aside, Wish is top-notch.  The menu exudes freshness and simplicity while at the same time offering dishes that are unique and different with ingredients that aren’t necessarily conventional at other dining spots: blue crab cakes, warm salmon salad with bok choy and zucchini and orange balsamic, warm lentil salad with radicchio, root vegetables, and hazelnuts, fish and chips with beet root slaw and saffron tartar sauce, and shaved eggplant baguette sandwiches with tomato fondue just to name a bunch!  I wanted to try so many of these dishes at the same time, but I wanted to go with the most summery menu item so I chose their trio of fish tacos!

Let me preface the following by saying that what I imagined in my head was completely different from what I actually got – in the best way possible.  When my fish tacos ($12) were brought to my table, I gasped.  The presentation was beautiful, colourful, scrumptious, and absolutely screaming summer!  The soft flour tortillas were placed on a cute little dish on their own while the fish and toppings were presented on an adorable wooden cutting board so I could have a ball and assemble everything together myself.  SO DARLING! 

There were little metal cups holding my cabbage, pickled cabbage and onions, diced mango and tomato salsa, and creamy guacamole and my 6 pieces of halibut fish (which weren’t in chunks or slices but instead in chubby fingers like jumbo fish fries!), were breaded and crispy and so moist and soft on the inside.  I felt like I was dining at a summery seaside resto with this meal!  It was fun, relaxing, and oh-so-delicious.

Wish also offers a number of sides on their menu that complement their mains and as had my mum along with me for the ride, we shared and split an order of rapini and chickpeas ($5) and OH.MY.GOD was the dish ever amazing!  This dish could honestly pass for a meal all on its own!  The dish was BIG and so full of flavour.  The rapini and chickpeas were such a terrific complement to each other because the chickpeas toned down the inherent bitterness of the rapini and gave the whole dish the most mouthwatering, buttery texture and flavour! 

Oh my goodness, I just wanted to eat those chickpeas for the entire day because they were so good.  I’m almost positive the rapini and chickpeas were tossed with a buttery dressing and vinaigrette and it elevated the flavour over the moon.  The rapini was cooked just right, not too raw and bitter but also not soggy and overcooked.  This is a great dish to order to bump up the veggie intake and to take advantage of a bright and fresh dish.

I had so much fun eating here and I’m so happy I finally got the chance to try their food.  After this experience, Wish Cafe shot straight to my Top 5 favourite spots in the city and I’m really glad I took my mum along with me because she almost never gets to dine at fancier places that are still reasonably priced; heck, she doesn’t dine at fancier places at all!  Wish Cafe will do that to you.  It’ll draw you in, make you fall in love, and have you coming back for more.  It is an absolute gem in the city and if you get the opportunity to eat out on their patio, do it!  It’ll be one very special and delicious meal!   

*****

Wish Cafe and Restaurant is located at 3 Charles Street East at the corner of Charles and Yonge Street in downtown Toronto.  They offer lunch and dinner, as well as weekend brunch, and their patio is currently available for spring and summer wining and dining!  They are open from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays).  Hours of operation are 11am-11pm from Tuesday to Saturday, and 10am-4pm on Sundays.  View their official website and menus HERE.