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

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

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

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

La Vecchia weekend brunch menu in Yonge and Eglinton

La Vecchia weekend brunch menu in Yonge and Eglinton

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

La Vecchia dining room in Yonge and Eglinton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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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!

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.

The Little Black Dress of Italian – Meats, Cheeses, Antipasti, and Learning Italian Food at Black Skirt, Part I

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Even though I love Italian food, I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about the cultural nuances and regional differences in Italian cuisine.  I can rave on and on about how much I love mozzarella di bufala and pappardelle but I can’t tell you what specific region they originated from or where these delights are most commonly produced – and no, Googling doesn’t solve everything!  Yes, much of this information can be looked up with a few keyboard taps, but that’s not the same as really knowing your craft because you’ve genuinely examined those nuances. 

This lack of regional knowledge is something that I want to change very much, not only because learning about food is good in general but also because I’m genuinely fascinated by differences in cuisine within the same country.  I would quiz my dad for hours about the regional cuisines of China and I would dig into my childhood memories, recalling everything I could about the different types of Chinese food I would eat with my grandparents and my aunt and uncle.

        

It’s so easy to lump food under one monolithic, ethnic umbrella to “simplify” things.  I know Italian cuisine can be one of those misnomers in the restaurant industry where any place that serves spaghetti is considered Italian and I’m sure this drives many Italians and foodies absolutely crazy.  I know it drives me up the wall when people associate fried rice and chop suey with Chinese food and nothing but.  Thus, we end up rendering the most interesting, fascinating aspects of a regional cuisine invisible and inaccesible when this happens.  Just think, we have the regional cuisines of Tuscany, Sicily, Bologna, Naples, and so many others to explore and I really hope I’ll be able to flush some of this knowledge out within the city and learn as I go along.  This is learning experience and curve for me so if you know it all, humour me, and if you don’t, join me!  We can learn on this food journey together and it’ll be jolly good and delicious fun!

Black Skirt, located on College Street in the west end, is a lovely Sicilian restaurant that is part rustic, part shabby chic, and part bistro and wine bar all rolled into one.  While the back end is much more conducive to intimate dining, the front half of Black Skirt exudes that warm, comforting, homey glow that makes you feel so happy and relaxed when you eat.  You can see yourself sitting by the front table bar by the sunny window with the newspaper, sipping a coffee drink and enjoying a crunchy, grilled panini or crostini; you envision yourself having a lunch date with a friend, admiring the exposed brick wall and the mouthwatering salads and sandwiches; and you imagine sharing forkfuls of antipasto and steaming plates of fresh pasta with your loving significant other on a wonderful night out.  This is what I think of when I think about going back to Black Skirt.

I loved my first time here – so much so that I wanted to come back the next day so I could down a delicious plate of pasta!  That, or a panini.  Or another antipasto plate.  There’s a lot of wonderful food here.  And there are daily specials every day for both lunch and dinner to switch things up, including special Italian meat and cheese paninis and pasta dishes that aren’t offered on their permanent menu.  In hindsight, I should have taken advantage of one of the daily special pastas (pistachios!) because it sounded amazing, but there will always be future meals here (you can count on it) and I’ll just have to cross my fingers that I’ll come across it again.

Continue reading about my Black Skirt experience in my Part II post here where I discuss their all-over-the-Italy map menu, and their wild mushroom crostini and Sicilian muffaleta sandwich among Italian eats!

*****

Black Skirt is located at 974 College Street in the west end of Toronto, in between Dufferin Street and Ossington Ave.  The Italian eatery is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-10pm.  Along with their permanent menu, Black Skirt offers a dinner menu for 5pm onward and daily specials every day including a daily soup, daily special Italian meat and cheese panini sandwiches, and pasta.