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

Leave a comment

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.

The Fall Harvest Series – Getting to the Root of Great Food With Weekend Brunch, Butternut Squash & Beets at Hotel Gelato

2 Comments

I’ll never forget the moment I felt my mouth start to quiver, my breathing grow shallow, and my eyes tear up.  This could not be happening, I thought.  Not again.  My Veggielicious hopes crushed and my plans for Veggielicious bliss foiled right before my eyes on the last weekend of an event I had been looking forward to for over a year.  The timing couldn’t have been worse.  I was stunned and rendered speechless, sputtering my discontent in sighs of frustration.  I couldn’t believe my rotten luck.  Right then and there, I wanted to throw in the towel on blogging anything altogether.

Melodramatic?  Maybe a little.  Heartbreaking?  To a foodie like myself, positively absolutely.  But!  Let’s remind ourselves though that, like any great drama, there can still be excitement and joy amidst the angst and turmoil.  So get comfortable because this is a story of initial heartbreak gone right, silver linings, the bright side, and new doors opening after others close.  This is the story of the Veggielicious that never happened and, given the circumstances, just wasn’t meant to be.  This is a story of food at Hotel Gelato.

Let’s rewind to last weekend, the last weekend of Veggielicious 2012.  I was so excited I was almost skipping down the street.  After my plans for Veggielicious at E.L. Ruddy had fallen through the weekend prior, all cylinders were raring to go and my sights and tastebuds were set on Hotel Gelato and their Veggielicious menu: spinach and kale salad with chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes and tahini dressing, quinoa and sweet potato chili, and lentil cakes made with red lentils and zucchini with a root vegetable salad.  I was salivating even before I walked in.  My heart was pumping a bazillion clicks a minute and I was beyond ecstatic.  And then, the world came crashing down around me when I was delivered the news: because of weekend brunch, Veggielicious was only going to be around from 3pm onward over the weekend.  On any other day it would have been available during the day, for lunch, what have you.  But for the weekend?  Not so much.

I wanted to cry.  Again.

On the way to Hotel Gelato…

The unthinkable had happened.  I had messed up both Veggielicious plans and there was nothing I could do about it.  I couldn’t come back for dinner because I had promised my mum I’d come home for a great meal she had in the works.  And I wasn’t going to pack up and leave.  I adored Hotel Gelato and the thought of up and leaving didn’t seem…right.  So I sat down in my seat, moped for all of a few minutes, and snapped out of it.  Okay, so Veggielicious was no longer within my grasp.  But by golly, there were shiny pumpkins on their mantle and I thought, come hell or high water I’m going to enjoy my weekend brunch here and make the best of it!

And I did.  With one of the most fabulous vegetarian fall salads EVER to grace my tastebuds!

Introducing Hotel Gelato’s fluffy fall-inspired quinoa salad ($13) with butternut squash, beets, arugula, roasted shallots, and toasted pine nuts, tossed in a fresh lemon basil dressing and topped with some crispy beet chips on top!  Talk about getting to the “root” of fabulous food!  Fall vegetables with a light as air, crisp and clean dressing with an equally light as air quinoa?  Perfection.  What a fantastic salad and brunch dish.  As part of Hotel Gelato’s permanent weekend brunch menu, it had such an air of lightness to it, like it was only meant to be enjoyed during a peaceful zen moment.  The quinoa was fluffy and the vegetables, which were mostly diced, were beautiful in colour, taste, and texture.  There was crunch from the nuts, juiciness from the squash and beets, air pockets from the quinoa, that great peppery, leafy bite from the delicious arugula, freshness from the dressing, and warmth, coziness, and savouriness from the roasted shallots.

Here’s a very important tidbit to know though about this dish: the online menu says sweet potato in the salad but when you’re dining in, the menu clearly says butternut squash and it is butternut squash that you will receive!  Just by looking at them, sweet potatoes and butternut squash look nearly identical in appearance, especially when the flesh is scooped out and diced.  But, based on taste and texture,  it’s obvious when you eat it which one is being used in the salad.  Sweet potatoes have a much higher content of starch whereas butternut squash is juicier.  I am definitely not complaining about the difference in dine-in and online menu though because butternut squash floats my boat so finally, some good vibes coming my way!

And this was by no means a piddly serving.  This was a ginormous dish!  The salad was served on a huuuge square serving dish with a salad gift that just kept on giving!  I brought home leftovers, shared them with my mum who’s an absolute fiend for beets, and she loved it so much she wishes we had 10 more plates of it!  THAT is how wonderful this brunch salad is.  The colours and flavours scream fall and comfort and it has to be one of the healthiest, most satisfying vegetarian and vegan brunch dishes.  For those who love cheese there’s an option of adding crumbled goat cheese for $3 and grilled chicken for $4 for the meaties.

I was so, so happy and relieved in the end.  A heart-sinking moment of dread turned into a memorable, delicious dish that I would come back for in a heartbeat.  Veggielicious or not, I got the chance to try a vegetarian and vegan dish I had never tried before and I got to eat some butternut squash which is so fitting for fall!  What seems meant to be sometimes isn’t and sometimes, the best things are right under your very nose.

*****

Hotel Gelato is located at 532 Eglinton Ave. West just west of Heddington Ave. between Avenue Rd. and Bathurst Street.  They serve breakfast and lunch every day from Monday to Friday with a weekend brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays.  Their breakfast menu is available from 8am-11:30am and lunch all-day.

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

Leave a comment

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!