The Calm After The Storm – Finding Winter Comfort in Rigatoni & Smoked Pulled Chicken in Tomato Cream Sauce at La Vecchia

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The day I enjoyed this hot and delicious, soul-soothing dish of pasta at La Vecchia was a day of kerfluffles of epic proportions: it was the Monday after the ice storm.  24 hours after the city was cloaked in a sea of white and frozen water, knocked out of power left, right and centre and 2 days before Christmas.  And there I was taking 2 buses and the subway into town at the crack of dawn before daylight had even peeked out from the pitch-black sky.

I know.  I can hear the shrill “are you crazy?!” shrieks shouting at me in the distance.  But having a weekday off before Christmas was hard to come by and I just wanted to go out and do some blog work.  Beyond frustrated at the holidays being turned upside-down in more ways than one, I threw caution to the wind and headed out anyway.  I knew it was going to be messy.  But I did it anyway because I was fortunate enough to still have power in my home and able to exit my house and street for some fresh air so it just didn’t make any sense to waste a day if I wasn’t physically homebound, especially since there were specific things I wanted to accomplish on that particular Monday.

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So did I end up doing exactly what I set out to do?  Not exactly!  The power outage in many pockets of town definitely threw a wrench into the first part of my agenda (I bused northbound on Avenue Road, gaped at the wreckage and ghostliness out the window, mentally scrapped my plan and just stayed on the bus as it doubled back around at the end of the route!) so I shrugged it off and decided to sit down to lunch a little earlier at one of my favourite restaurants in the Yonge & Eglinton area, La Vecchia!

I enjoyed weekend brunch there so much during my first visit last March.  I promised myself I would go back for their salads, sandwiches, mains, pastas and of course, more weekend brunch and while it took awhile I finally made my way back and had a fabulous lunch to boot.  I haven’t done pasta justice on Ate by Ate so going to La Vecchia served two purposes: to get some scrumptious pasta in my belly and on the blog and to warm up with some really fantastic comfort food.  With snow and ice surrounding you from all sides, nothing else would do.

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La Vecchia’s lunch menu offers 8 different pasta dishes ($9 to $12) including penne in spicy tomato sauce with olives and scallions, linguini with shrimp, mussels and calamari, spaghettini with Italian sausage, mushrooms, peppers and onions and capellini with grilled chicken, olives and roasted red peppers.  After seeing my boyfriend have their amazing Rigatoni Romani during our first visit though, I knew without a doubt THAT was the dish I needed to have.

The Rigatoni Romani ($11) is served smothered in hot and creamy blush sauce (light cream tomato sauce) with smoked chicken, portobello mushrooms and lots of creamy, tangy goat cheese crumbles on top.  A bright crunchy leaf of radicchio adorned my heart-warming dish and my server graciously spooned some Parmesan cheese and cracked some fresh black pepper over top to complete the mouthwatering masterpiece.

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I admit, rigatoni wouldn’t normally be my first choice off the bat because long pasta noodles are the way to my pasta-loving heart.  My 3 favourite pastas are pappardelle, linguini and spaghetti.  However, that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t love all the others!  I simply don’t have them as often.  After this meal though, I thought to myself, “girl, you need to have more rigatoni in your life!”  Rigatoni is lovely for so many reasons.  The ridges and tubes catch every ounce of yummy sauce and its cylindrical shape is just plain fun.  It reminds me of childhood and shapes and all that fun stuff.

Anyway, I could write a novel on why I love this pasta dish so much.  It was so saucy, so creamy and so comforting.  And it stays hot!  As you dig through it, steam keeps escaping from the bottom up so you’re never left with cold pasta.  The sauce is super smooth and savoury, the rigatoni is cooked perfectly, the portobello mushrooms are juicy and meaty and the chicken?  Oh my goodness.  We’re not talking about plain old strips of chicken.  We’re talking smoked chicken that resembles pulled pork.  In tomato cream sauce.  Surrounded by cracked black pepper and goat cheese.  It is HEAVEN.  The chicken gets all nice and shredded as you’re eating it so you have this great texture to the dish that you wouldn’t have otherwise if was strips or pieces or even a cutlet.  It really plays up the warmth and comfort factor and it is so satisfyingly filling.

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We might think to ourselves that pasta dishes are easy enough to execute but it’s the little things and attention to detail that makes all the difference.  This wouldn’t be the star that it is if the pasta wasn’t cooked right, if the mushrooms were watery, and if the chicken was dry, tough and overcooked, things that could feasibly happen if it wasn’t executed properly.  But thankfully for me they got it spot on and I had a lunch to remember on one very memorable day of the year.

*****

La Vecchia is an Italian eatery that serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch (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 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.