The Freshest, Lightest Tomato Sauce: Homemade Ravioli at Mela Café

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Spring is upon us (I begrudgingly set my clock forward by an hour last night and lost an oh-so-precious hour of sleep, grrr) and that means garden fresh ingredients and light and savoury food!  It’s understandable to eat warm and hearty in the winter, especially if you live in snowland like me.  The heartier meals give you that “cozy” feeling and during the warmer, summer months, we shred the clothes as well as our heavier appetites (well, at least some of us do, ha!).  Our eating habits reflect this kind of cyclical nature throughout the year because a lot of us also eat based on what’s available seasonally.  It’s exciting thinking ahead to all the amazing outdoor farmer’s markets that will be setting up in the city, and when I think of all things fresh and light, I think of Mela Café.  The first time I set foot in Mela Café was last September and my very first entry on Mela Café was written back in January.  And what strikes me about this amazing vegetarian eatery after having eaten here a few times now, is how the food reflects both warm and hearty dishes, and yet maintains a level of lightness and freshness in its taste and ingredients.  Case in point: Robert’s homemade ravioli swimming in delicious tomato sauce.

The homemade ravioli dish is the epitome of lightness.  Words that describe it: airy, delicate, bright, flavourful.  You ask, “but how can that be??  It’s pasta!”   True.  Pasta dishes traditionally have a reputation for being heavier food fare.  It’s a starch after all, and functions much the same way rice and bread do in terms of filling up an appetite.  But let me tell you, the ravioli, with its homemade ricotta cheese, is so soft and the pasta just melts in your mouth.  The ricotta cheese is smooth, light, and creamy and doesn’t overwhelm the ravioli, but rather complements it.  Along with the tomato sauce, (which is truly one of Mela Café’s most special and defining touches) it goes down the hatch like you wouldn’t believe.  When you’re eating this, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to collapse into a food coma.  It makes you feel satisfied and healthy and GOOD.  Even though I ate this back in January in the dead of winter, it had the effect of making me feel like I was eating inside a spring garden with the sprinkling of herbs and bright green snow peas.  And the wedge of breaded eggplant on top was the perfect touch of crispiness and savouriness to round out the whole dish.

So many of their dishes have this dual nature to them where you can eat them during the winter and still feel as though they were plucked straight out of a garden.  Sweet potatoes and rapini.  Black rice and vegetables.  Stuffed bell peppers.  Fresh vegetable lasagna.  Banana muffins.  Beet risotta pie.  Red lentil and split pea vegan soup.  Mushroom and potato pie with broccoli and asparagus.  And the menu just continues on and on from there.   Even eating here makes you feel revitalized.  Bright light streams in through the large window, bright green, blue, and orange are splashed on the walls, and you sit back and feel like you’re in a bustling Italian kitchen with wonderful people around you to talk to and eat with.  Genuine Italian homemade at its freshest and finest 😀

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.

Scrapbooking materials used: buttercup yellow, emerald green, tangerine orange cardstock (Recollections); medium scallop circle paper punch (ek success); cardboard and cardboard frame embellishments; aluminum foil; corner paper rounder.

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A Vegetarian Discovery to Rememeber – Italian Vegetarian Magic in Yorkville at Mela Café

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One of the things I love most about exploring Toronto is being surprised and confused by my sightings and discoveries in neighbourhoods I’ve been to a hundred times over.  I know it sounds strange, but it’s true!  You’re walking around an enclave you’ve been to so many times before and BAM!  you catch sight of an adorable, snazzy little café or store or restaurant and you immediately do a double-take and wonder: how in the world did I miss this??  You can live in an area and still be unaware of the gems just around the corner and it’s actually not as weird as it sounds.  At times we’re either caught up in our own day-to-day hustle and bustle, drowning things out, or strolling along in our own little bubble, alone with our thoughts, completely oblivious to our surroundings.  But trust me, when you find that special something and realize it’s been under your nose the whole time, it’s like stepping into a goldmine.  It’s so rewarding and this is exactly how I felt when I discovered Mela Café, an adorable Italian vegetarian and vegan eatery in Yorkville, just west of Yonge, this past fall.

Yes, you read right.  Italian vegetarian! 😀  A place that serves authentic delicious Italian pastas and sandwiches and soups and desserts, all free of meat and incredibly affordable.  I love this place so much.  Not just because the food is amazing and so fresh and wholesome, but because of where the passion for the food comes from and the feelings of comfort the café evokes.  If I had to choose one word to describe it, it would be “homey”.  The decor is very cute; bright blue, green, and dark orange paint on the walls, huge cans of crushed tomatoes are stacked on the kitchen shelves, and a blackboard menu shows the day’s vegetarian and vegan eats.

As for the passion, chef and owner Roberto Granata was born and raised in Italy*, and transforms simple vegetables and ingredients into authentic Italian fare.  The kitchen is clearly visible from the dining area and Roberto shows off his cooking skills from morning to night, preparing the day’s dishes.  The daily menu changes, but think fresh vegetarian lasagna with lentils, broccoli, and carrots, ricotta stuffed ravioli, breaded eggplant panini, potato and mushroom pie, mashed sweet potatoes mixed with rapini, and tiramisu and freshly baked muffins.  Oh, and lots and lots of fresh tomato sauce.  And this list isn’t even exhaustive!

Just recently I enjoyed the eggplant panini sandwich and oh my goodness is this ever delicious to the max!  Sandwiched between a crusty baguette are lots of crispy, mouthwatering wedges of breaded eggplant and fresh basil leaves, served on a plate with lots of tomato sauce for dipping!  This panini sandwich is all sorts of amazingness.  It packs so much flavour and eating it is seriously like having a flavour boxing match in your mouth.  The large basil leaves give the sandwich a punch of spicy freshness, the breaded eggplant has a delicious crispy saltiness to it, and the soft crusty bread sops up the juiciness from the tomato sauce.  I could eat here every day for a month and not miss meat. 

The prices here are also fantastic.  Every dish is under $10 with most of them hovering around $6-$8.50, and soups and desserts come in at around $4.50.  This place is lovely and so cozy and homey and even though the space is small (definitely keep that in mind during lunch and dinner rush hours!), it’s the perfect place to have enjoy a quiet meal on your own while perusing through Yorkville and to enjoy a lunch date with a friend.  Or in my case, with my boyfriend 🙂  Along with Kale Eatery and King’s Café, this is an absolute vegetarian & vegan goldmine and one of the best foodie discoveries ever.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.

* = source from The Toronto Star, April 18, 2010

Scrapbooking materials used: neon green and orange cardstock (Recollections); sky/ocean blue cardstock (DCVW); magenta cardstock (Best Occasions); flower embellishments (K&Company); cardboard frame embellishments (Winners); journalling card (Anna Griffin, Darcy Collection); 5-petal flower paper punch (ek success); circle paper punch (ek success); medium scallop circle paper punch (ek success); corner round paper punch (ek success); aluminum foil.