Frittata Sandwiches, Edamame with Avocado & Arugula Salads – Fresh Flavours & Fall Comfort at Yorkville Espresso Bar

1 Comment

DSCN9576

This fall is shaping up to be an amazing season so far.  I’ve done some baking, I’ve got my blogging back on, and I can’t even begin to describe how freakin’ excited I am for Thanksgiving this year!  The quintessential “day of turkey” is one week away and I’ve spent most of the weekend sticky-noting recipes and planning the menu for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, not to mention packing as much foodie goodness as I can into the holiday weekend with my boyfriend, family and friends.

While I do have pumpkins and apples (cooked and baked because of my raw fruit allergy!) and squash on the brain, part of me knows it’s still waaaay too early to be in full comfort food mode.  We have plenty of time for that in the dreaded “w” word in the coming months!  Fall food is so inviting because it incorporates both cozy comfort with bright and fresh flavours: fruit and veg soups, bean and vegetable salads with comforting herbs, fruity vinaigrettes and dressings, and tender meats with root vegetables and juicy cooked fruit.  I love how the weather is cool but still pleasantly balmy on days and how I can still enjoy the lighter fare without sweating to death and hiding from the fierce sun like I do during the summer!

DSCN9545

DSCN9548

DSCN9529

Which brings me to a teeny confession I have to make: this post and these photos were supposed to be on Ate by Ate over a month ago.  Possibly even 2 months ago.  But life happened and this post just never did.  Long story short, Yorkville Espresso Bar owners Rita and Tony invited me to the cafe for return visit to share a meal, to watch chef John Vetere cook and work his magic on the cafe’s many delicious menu items in the kitchen studio, to try some of the cafe’s various gluten-free bakery items from coffee and baking master Drew Randall and to basically talk food, blogging and community.  It was such a fun day and it was such a cool experience seeing the cafe menu items that make us drool come to life right before my eyes.  These photos were taken at Yorkville Espresso Bar during the summer and part of me worried that I wouldn’t be able to make them relevant for fall.  Thankfully for me, their food is just as perfect for fall as it is for summer and I’m just happy I finally get to share with you guys!

DSCN9550

Yorkville Espresso Bar has introduced a number of different breakfast and lunch foods to their ever-expanding menu: frittata sandwiches oozing with eggs, herbs, veggies and cheese (oh and ham!), scrumptious wraps with creamy cheese and fresh vegetables, and a plethora of hearty but bright salads.  Aside from how yummy everything is, what makes the food so enticing to me is the price point.  Being located in Yorkville doesn’t exactly give you the reputation of being inexpensive.  Let’s face it, Yorkville isn’t known as Mink Mile for nothing; its poshness extends to the dining scene too.  But Yorkville Espresso Bar has made their dishes and food so accessible by making it healthy, fresh and affordable.  You have the frittata sandwiches and salads coming in at $4 and $4.50 respectively (under $5!) and their ginourmous wraps and artisan bread sandwiches coming in under $10 at $8.

Their food menu is a reflection of what folks in and around the community have asked for; Rita and Tony and their staff have taken so much of everyone’s feedback to heart and have put an enormous amount of thought and care into their menu, offering healthy food that isn’t run of the mill (nobody needs a limp lettuce and tomato salad that was packaged the day before thank you very much), made the morning of, and perfect for both dine-in and grab-and-go for the work crowd.  Their food menu includes herb roasted chicken wraps with crunchy celery and sunflower seeds, Thai tuna with basmati rice, and shaved carrots dressed in chili sauce, Italian meatball and mozzarella and rapini on toasted artisan bread and even Trinidadian doubles among other savouries alongside the mountain of baked goods and gluten-free items such as biscotti, muffins, pastries, tarts, scones, brownies, loaf cakes, macarons and more.

DSCN9558

DSCN9563

DSCN9564

DSCN9557

What we have here are toasted and grilled English muffin frittata sandwiches stuffed with eggs, mozzarella, provolone and basil along with ham and cheese sandwiches, grilled sun-dried tomato wraps stuffed with creamy goat cheese, roasted red peppers, zucchini, eggplant, greens and mushrooms and two amazing, fantastic salads: white beans infused with fresh sprigs of rosemary with edamame, avocado and red onion vinaigrette and an artichoke salad with grape tomatoes, olives, arugula, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finished with a red wine vinaigrette.  I love English muffin sandwiches like nobody’s business.  At home, I toast English muffins and eat them with cream cheese and nothing else at times.  Yorkville Espresso Bar does a special daily frittata sandwich each morning and on this day my tastebuds were treated to two of my favourite things enveloped in eggs: cheese and basil.  It makes my stomach growl just thinking about it.

Next, we have the sun-dried tomato wrap.  This thing is HUGE.  I was watching chef John make it while I was taking photos in the Kitchen Studio and I was all bug-eyed when I saw the size of tortilla he was using!  For those who loooove grilled wraps and vegetarian sandwiches, you need this in your life.  The goat cheese and eggplant totally do it for me and it’s just gorgeous to look at.  It is a thing of beauty and so soft and flavourful with a hint of smokiness from the grilled vegetables and grilled tortilla wrap.

DSCN9552

DSCN9544

DSCN9567

Finally, the salads.  The scrumptious, mouthwatering salads.  They are perfect as an accompaniment to the sandwiches but also just as perfect on their own.  They are truly top-notch and for $4.50…you really can’t ask for more.  I watched as Chef John cooked the soaked white beans, infusing them with warm rosemary flavour in a giant pot of boiling water with onions and brightening them at the same time with crunchy edamame and soft, creamy avocado in the finished product.  It’s a beautiful fusion of warmth and comfort with lightness and it’s definitely a winning combination you don’t find at other places.  To finish off: the arugula and artichoke salad.  I love arugula so much and the red wine vinaigrette that the salad was tossed in was delicious.  The tomatoes in the salad balance out the briny flavour of the olives and artichokes and peppery bite of the arugula, and parm just elevates the savouriness to another level.  These are the types of salads I always wish for because their hearty with substance but still light and fresh in flavour.

DSCN9570

DSCN9572

DSCN9577

The menu and the people here make the espresso bar such an inviting place for coffee, tea and lunch and I feel so lucky to have been able to enjoy the food and learn about it at the same time, watching Chef John make the food from start to finish and getting to know the people and the cafe from the inside out.  Rita and Tony made me feel just like family.  It’s almost the first anniversary of my first visit (October 21!) and I think it’s high time I went back again to try even more of their delicious menu.

*****

Yorkville Espresso Bar is located at 3 Yorkville Ave., just west of Yonge Street and north of Cumberland St.  They are open 7 days a week from 7:30am-7pm Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm Saturday, and 9am-5pm Sunday.

Advertisements

Vegan Food Fairy Tales – Winter Kale Salad & Mushroom Barley Risotto with Sage at Prime at the Windsor Arms Hotel, Part II

3 Comments

Food fairy tales are hard to come by.  You know, instances when you have the perfect food served in the perfect place in a gorgeous setting with a wonderful atmosphere with fabulous service and music to boot.  It’s hard to have everything rolled into one!  But food fairy tales do come true and when they happen, you cherish them and hold them dear to your heart.  Even though my list isn’t very long (I love many places and things I’ve eaten, yes, but we know only the knock-my-fuzzy-socks-off spectacular get to be on a list like this), there’s always room for more.  The latest addition to the storybook?  Vegan lunch at the Windsor Arms Hotel!

Luring me in with their delightful afternoon tea service just wasn’t enough, they had to bait and hook me with an ENTIRE VEGAN BRUNCH, LUNCH AND DINNER MENU too!  When I first found out about the magical weekend vegan brunch menu a number of months ago through the online food community grapevine, I thought it was too good to be true.  Especially at a fine dining establishment like Prime restaurant which brings about visions of steak and wine and other dishes that are as far from vegan as you could imagine.  But it wasn’t a myth and if that wasn’t enough, there was an accompanying vegan lunch and dinner menu on the Windsor Arms Hotel website in all its shiny glory, just waiting for me to pounce on it.  And so I did.

Admittedly, I was hoping to do chocolate afternoon tea at the King Edward during the Toronto Chocolate Festival but got on it a little too late and couldn’t get a seating.  So I thought to myself, “well, I still want to be in an afternoon tea type setting…oh my goodness, I can do vegan lunch at the Windsor Arms!!”  Hurray for lightbulb moments and thinking on my feet!

Dining at the Windsor Arms in Yorkville is one of my favourite luxuries.  It makes me feel like a princess every single time.  It’s so beautiful and majestic and regal and I feel like I’m being transported to a far away land where everything is sugar and spice and everything nice.  Sitting in a plush, cushion booth in Prime was so relaxing I felt like I was in a spa.  Soft music floated through the dining room, soft sunlight filtered through the curtained windows, and I was about to have a fab fall comfort vegan meal with a pot of hot mint tea and my sweetheart sitting across from me.  It was perfect.

Prime’s vegan lunch and dinner menu features a bounty of seasonal ingredients and what’s great about it is that it’s so easy to mix and match your dishes because the menu is divided into 4 sections – appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts – and each category has its own flat price.  Appetizers are $12, entrees are $18, sides are $7, and desserts are $14.  You could easily choose two appetizers as a meal, an appetizer and a side, an entree and a side, just an entree, and all of the above with dessert – if you can eat all of it!

Dishes include cornmeal crusted tempeh steaks with spiced sweet potato coconut mash; zucchini and carrot spaghetti with almond parmesan cheese, vegetables, and ground “walnut” meat; marinated winter kale salad with sundried tomatoes, avocado, walnuts, hemp seeds and more; nori rolls stuffed with a creamy ginger dill sunflower seed pate; teriyaki tempeh and vegetable stir-fry with steamed quinoa; raspberry cashew cheesecake; almond butter chocolate truffles, and SO much more.  I’m telling you, their vegan menu is a divine specimen sent from heaven.  There’s just nothing else like it in the city and I love that.

Meals come with a basket of fresh, soft-as-pillows bread with butter (and the bread is garlic crusted!) and while I don’t know too much about the selection of beverages, I went with my Windsor Arms tried-and-true loose leaf tea in a pot, this time going for refreshing mint!  I wanted to try more than one dish so I went with the two appetizer route: marinated winter kale salad tossed with hemp seeds, walnuts, raisins, sundried tomatoes and avocado in a creamy lemon dill tahini sauce with shaved apple, and the wild mushroom and pearl barley risotto with crispy sage and truffle oil.  The menu just radiated with warmth and comfort and I chose these two because 1) I love kale, 2) I love risotto, and 3) I wanted something light and then something hearty.  Done and done.

First, the winter kale salad.  It is so light and refreshing.  The kale was shredded into long, crinkled leaves and the dressing was absolutely delicious.  It wasn’t heavy but it was noticeable enough to give the kale that bright punch of creaminess and flavour that complemented the creaminess of the avocado.  The avocado was diced into the most adorable tiny cubes, the big chunks of walnuts worked perfectly with the salad to give it crunch (and I LOVE crunch in my salads), and the sundried tomatoes gave the dish additional body to make it fuller and more meal-like.  While I would’ve gone lighter on the sundried tomato front (they’re great but the cured flavour can get overwhelming!), it was lovely dish with so many textures and dimensions of flavour.  And the apple?  I pawned that off to my sweetheart.

Now, the wild mushroom and pearl barley risotto.  OH.MY.GOD.  I have to say, I love my kale to pieces but oh my word did this dish ever knock it out of the park!  First off, the smell of the dish made my mouth water even before I dug my fork in (yes, I eat rice-like dishes with a fork.  Because I like to and because I can).  It smells SO AMAZINGLY GOOD.  Like a mix of warm cream with bit of parm and cheese and nuttiness.  If you love creamy, this is your dish.  Everything just melts in your mouth and it was so delicious having a risotto that utilized something other than the traditional arborio rice just because it’s always nice to have something different.  I’ve never had a barley risotto before and it was such a different texture but a good one because it made the dish feel even more hearty and comforting.

The mushrooms were creamy and so soft, the truffle oil provided that extra hit of richness, and crispy sage?  THIS made the dish!  Herbs as just a garnish?  Please.  I ate the crispy sage right off the top, eating a few leaves on their own and mixing the rest into my risotto.  It was so delicious and unlike anything I’ve ever had.  The crispiness cut through the richness of the dish and it had a forest type of flavour to it with a tiny hint of mint.  It’s hard to explain but trust me when I say that it’s fabulous, especially in this dish.  I didn’t have any room for dessert after, but I had no doubt in my mind that I would be back for many rounds to come.  Food fairy tales do exist and the wonderful thing is that there are no limits on how many times you can go back to the storybook and retell the stories, experiencing in a different way each time.

*****

The Windsor Arms Hotel is located at 18 Saint Thomas Street, just south of Bloor St. W, between Bay St. and Avenue Rd.   In addition to their afternoon tea service, Windsor Arms Hotel is also known for their fine dining and most recently, their newly added vegan menus at Prime restaurant!

Tea, Sunshine & A Beautiful, Fairy Tale Vegan Lunch at Prime at Windsor Arms Hotel, Part I!

Leave a comment

*****

The Windsor Arms Hotel is located at 18 Saint Thomas Street, just south of Bloor St. W, between Bay St. and Avenue Rd.   In addition to their afternoon tea service, Windsor Arms Hotel is also known for their fine dining and most recently, their newly added vegan menus at Prime restaurant!

Scones & Strawberry Marshmallow Macarons – Afternoon Tea Treats on a Fall Morning at Yorkville Espresso Bar

4 Comments

Ste. Anne’s coconut black tea at Yorkville Espresso Bar!

An espresso bar and cafe with amazing tea, delicious scones, and adorable macarons among other afternoon tea-style sweets and treats?  In the picturesque neighbourhood of Yorkville?  That’s a cafe after my own heart!  Yorkville Espresso Bar, located at 3 Yorkville Ave. just west of Yonge Street near the Toronto reference library and just steps away from the Cookbook Store and my beloved Italian-vegetarian Mela Cafe, is a new cafe that just opened up last year and after my very first visit, I think it’s a wonderful and splenderific addition to the neighbourhood.  Brunch, vegetarian, Mexican, ice cream, macarons, Italian, Middle-Eastern, pub classics, and now a new espresso bar and cafe – aside from Kensington Market, Yorkville is truly my ideal place to eat to my heart’s content.

The pretty Yorkville park nearby

I know, there are plenty of cafes in the area including Lettieri and Zaza, not to mention around the city in general, so what makes this space so great?  The thing about cafes is that they have to offer something different, something a little more unique in order to stand out from the others.  Because let’s face it, it’s not like we have to go very far to fetch an Americano, a cappuccino, or an espresso and while yes, every cafe will have their own way of making these drinks, it’s the atmosphere and the food goodies that accompany these drinks that will make us foodies feel compelled to come back for more.  Some cafes offer the comfort factor with plushy seats to relax in while you read, sip, munch, or type away on a laptop (or a tablet, sigh), others are great as meeting spots for friends, and then the are the ones that are fabulous purely for the food and drink.  THIS would be Yorkville Espresso Bar’s forte.

It’s a small space so you wouldn’t necessarily see large groups inhabiting it, but it is cozy enough for you to sit down with a friend and a coffee, tea, and light meal or snack.  And let me just say, Yorkville Espresso Bar is awesomesauce in the food and goodies department.  There is something here for everyone: the sweet tooth, the vegetarian, the gluten-intolerant, and the just plain hungry!  Often times I’ll shy away from certain spots, not because I think their drinks are bad persay, but because I want something a little more special than baked goods wrapped in saran wrap in a basket or baked goods that look as though they just got a shot of steroids and a bath in grease.  That could be the food snob in me tsking but really, it’s unappealing and I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way!

Yorkville Espresso Bar is great though because their selection of food and sweets changes on a pretty consistent basis (from what I gather on their Facebook page where they announce menu items for the day), they’re always coming up with new and unique yummies to showcase, they offer a number of gluten-free menu items (see below in the next few paragraphs for examples!), and you know everything is fresh and hot off the press because the adjoining kitchen studio that handles the baking, cooking, and catering for the espresso bar doles them out throughout the day.  They were already baking their 2nd round of scones at 10am on a Sunday morning because they sold out of their 1st round.   Can you believe it?!

Oh!  And I can’t forget about their tea!  I honking LOVE the tea.  They get their teas from Ste. Anne’s (Ste. Anne’s Extraordinary Teas), which is actually a spa located in several spots in Ontario (Grafton and Port Hope) and the whole concept behind the tea is driven by the relaxing spa experience.  I had their black tea coconut tea with my cinnamon scone and strawberry marshmallow macaron (I KNOW – MARSHMALLOW!) and I loved it to itty bitty pieces.

Their food menu is insane.  Let’s start with the savoury, gluten-free muffins first.  These are items that have graced their display case of goodies over the last few months:

  • sweet potato chocolate chip muffins
  • sweet potato and cranberry muffins
  • carrot and beetroot muffins
  • blueberry flaxseed muffins
  • gluten-free, vegan chocolate zucchini muffins!

Other savoury bites include jalapeno cornbread, brioche with dates, Parmesan, and thyme, 8-year old cheddar and chive scones, and bacon and thyme scones.  Okay, now the sweet stuff including cupcakes, gluten-free sweet muffins, sweet scones, chocolate and confectionery, and more:

  • mini chocolate cupcakes with mango and Nutella frosting and dried mango
  • mini chocolate cupcakes with mango buttercream frosting
  • mini chocolate cupcakes with mocha buttercream frosting
  • mini chocolate berry cheesecake cupcakes

Continue Reading »

Potato Leek Soup with Grano Padano Cheese & a Smoked Salmon, Potato Rosti Brunch Dish at Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar, Part II!

Leave a comment

All you need is cheese.

It’s more than just the name of a magazine to me – they’re words to live by!  I know cheese isn’t the healthiest of foods (yes, yes, sodium and fat content and all that jazz), but as a foodie and lifelong lover of cheese, I can’t imagine life without it.  I sample fresh Ontario cheeses from the farmers’ markets.  A burger just isn’t the same if a melty, gooey slice hasn’t been melted in it.  I’ve been known to eat cream cheese-and-nothing-else sandwiches.  And don’t even get me started on the extra shreds I sprinkle onto my tacos, enchiladas, burritos, omelettes, and pasta.  We don’t have enough space in this post for that novel!  So it makes complete and perfect sense why a wine and cheese bar would be my dining dream come true.  Sure, I may not drink wine but I make up for it in cheese consumption!  How Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar on Cumberland Street in Yorkville alluded me for so long is beyond me.

Housed in a tall, beautiful Victorian style home bathed in shades of gray and charcoal with stone accents and warm pops of green and orange, Caren’s is quaint and sophisticated and yet completely accessible and I don’t just mean physically accessible by public transit!  I know many of the eateries and establishments in Yorkville (and the neighbourhood itself) may come across as upscale and out-of-reach to us average folk, but I’m telling you, appearances can be deceiving and I’ve certainly allowed my preconceived notions inform my decisions about places before I got the chance to know them in the past.  Behind the chic, polished exterior is warmth, comfort, and homeyness oozing with wonderful food and drink, a peaceful, inviting atmosphere, and one of the nicest places to dine in the city.  It’s romantic, it’s inviting, and it’s SO PERFECT for relaxing weekend brunch meals, intimate dinner evenings, and get-togethers and cocktail parties.

So, how did I find out about Caren’s?  While I would love to say that I “stumbled” on it during a beautiful walk through the neighbourhood, I can’t.  I owe this one to my sweet coworker, Pat.  While she and I were discussing yummies and fun things in Yorkville (I was raving about Mela and she was raving about stationery – great minds think alike!), she mentioned Caren’s and how she was cheese classmates with Tiffany MacIssac, Caren’s master of cheese.  Curious beyond belief, I looked up the Yorkville gem online and immediately fell in love.  Cheese!  Weekend brunch!  Yorkville!  That was certainly all the convincing I needed!  And what impeccable timing.  I wanted to take a stroll through Yorkville anyway so I made it my mission to go to Caren’s for weekend brunch this past weekend and the plan went out without a hitch (fter all my flub-ups, fall-throughs and disappointments as of late it was about time something went my way!).  Weekend brunch, 11:30 am sharp!

Caren’s menus focus on French cuisine with some Italian and European influences in conjunction with local, Canadian fare – after all, it is a wine and cheese bar!  Their extensive brunch menu incorporates a number of brunch classics (French toast, omelettes, pancakes, eggs benny and more) as well as plenty of savoury soups, salads, and sandwiches, and featured items that highlight their wonderful selection and offering of cheeses.  Brunch prices are $10 on the low-end and $20 on the highest end, with most menu items coming in between $12-$16.  Their menu offers 19 dishes with additional sides at extra charge including parsley home fries, apple wood smoked bacon, chorizo sausage, house cured gravlox, and more.

You can enjoy your meal in the comforts of their ground floor dining area and bar, their outdoor front patio, their intimate 2nd floor dining room, OR – wait for this – their ridiculously gorgeous back patio courtyard that might as well be a cabana oasis!  I was shocked out of my leggings when I stepped into their back courtyard to snap a few photos.  It is breathtaking.  Cushions, lanterns, soft glows, palms – THIS is where an amazing cocktail party takes place!  Caren’s will rent out their dining areas for private functions so this is definitely something to keep in mind for everyone!

I had myself my own little food party in the form of weekend brunch yesterday.  I’m not kidding.  I ordered a ridiculous amount of food and by the end, I was truly stuffed!  On Deb’s plate: Caren’s soup of the day ($12), creamy roasted potato and leek with tomatoes and Italian grano padano cheese (like I would have a meal here without any cheese – pish!) and their eggs pacific ($13), a dish of potato rosti, salmon, truffled eggs (insanely fluffy scrambled!), fruit and greens, and creme fraiche.  Their meal-size soup was monstrous!  I should have known better.  I was expecting a side bowl, maybe a medium-sized bowl.  Nope, meal-sized.  But I have no regrets.  Because it was mouthwateringly delicious.

Creamy, smooth, and velvety, I had freshly cracked black pepper sprinkled on, and the olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese made the soup so flavourful and savoury.  The texture was perfect and the tomatoes gave it that hint of freshness and juiciness.  It wasn’t heavy at all and the cheese?  I could eat it by the spoonful.  Similar to Parmigianno Reggiano, it was grated onto the soup and it gave the soup that extra hit of savouriness and meatiness to make it really feel like a meal-size soup.

And my eggs pacific.  OH.MY.GOD.  Smoked salmon lovers, you need this in your life.  I have NEVER had a meal that gave me so much thick, savoury, slices of smoked cured salmon in my life.  Half the time, meals will often fall short of the desirable amount.  But this?  Fit for two meals.  Slice after slice of amazing, scrumptious salmon filled my plate with a fluffy mountain of eggs, potato rosti rounds underneath, and a huuuuge dollop of red onion capered creme fraiche.  I’m telling you, the salmon and creme fraiche MAKES this dish.  If there was anything I’d change, I’d make the potato rosti a little thicker, but that’s about it.  It was truly delicious and the creme fraiche just brings everything together as you can use it for the potato rosti, the smoked salmon, and the eggs.  It breaks up the salty, cured flavour of the salmon and keeps it from becoming too overwhelming.  And the soup, a spontaneous choice in the beginning, proved to be a great complement to the meal!

Even though I never feel like I have enough time to enjoy everything I want to enjoy during my days out, I feel fulfilled that I got to try this wonderful dining spot out and you can bet that I’ll be back for more weekend brunch.

*****

Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar is located at 158 Cumberland St. in Yorkville, just east of Avenue Rd.  They are open for lunch (11:30am-5pm from Monday to Friday), dinner (5pm-10pm Sunday to Tuesday and 5pm-11pm Wednesday to Saturday), and weekend brunch (11:30am-4pm Saturdays and Sundays).

The Fall Harvest Series – Potato & Mushroom Pie with Parsley, Kitchen Fun, & a Return to Mela Vegetarian Cafe

4 Comments

Welcome to Mela. Welcome home.

Frowning in concentration, I leaned over my steaming hot plate of food, pointed my camera at it, promptly lowered it, turned my plate 45 degrees, pointed my camera at it again, looked at my screen, and smiled.  Ahhh.  That was the shot I wanted.  Click.  Time for a top down shot.  Click.  Gotta get one head on at eye level from the side.  Cli-

“May I ask what your occupation is?”

And just as I was about to click, I abruptly froze, camera in mid-air.  I looked over to my right and was greeted with two very amused facial expressions and two pairs of male eyes staring back at me curiously and expectantly.  I chuckled shyly.  “You must be wondering about the photos and the camera.”  And so began my spiel about how no, this wasn’t my day job exactly, but something I did on the side every day, something that was very much a part of my life in every way that counted, and yes, I write a blog and do a lot of food scrapbooking and photography, and oh, would you like my business card so you guys can check it out?!

Beet risotto with broccoli and Mela’s famous tomato sauce.

With the sounds of sizzling skillets on the stove top, the smell of fresh tomato sauce bubbling away, and two scrumptious and delicious plates of warm, steaming, comforting Italian vegetarian food in front of me, I felt right at home.  It never gets old seeing the curious gazes of nearby patrons watching me snap away, it never gets old pointing my camera at my food, and it never gets old sitting in my foodie home away from home, the Italian vegetarian magic that is Mela Cafe.

A giant wave of joy washed over me as I sat inside my favourite vegetarian spot, Mela, for the first time in 8 months.  8 months!  My last Mela Cafe post was 7 months ago, my last visit 8.  Since that unforgettable first meeting back in October 2010, I’ve never gone that long without a meal from here.  And I was feeling the pangs of withdrawn, especially during this chilly fall weather.  Mela does spring and summer fabulously, but I have to say, nobody kicks it in the pants during fall doing fall comfort food like Mela.  And were Roberto and Rachel ever dishing out and cooking up a comfort food storm!  Eggplant parm, beet risotto with broccoli, fresh ricotta lasagna with tomato and basil, cauliflower and soy pie, a spaghetti frittata with lentils and vegetables, red lentil soup, apple, beet and carrot salad, and of course their famous crispy, savoury breaded eggplant and basil panini sandwiches.

Fresh homemade eggplant parm, ready to get sizzling hot!

Roberto in the kitchen (with Rachel in the background!), whipping up a batch of pizza dough from scratch!

This was such a special visit.  For starters, it felt so wonderful being back after so many months, eating such yummy food.  Second, it was fun talking to fellow foodies about food and blogging.  And third, I was beyond giddy when Roberto waved me over into the kitchen to watch him make pizza dough from scratch.  I got to stand in the kitchen!  Well, colour me absolutely ecstatic!  It’s just one of the many reasons why I continue to love Mela so much.  I don’t feel like I’m a “customer” here.  There’s no wall, no barrier, no pretentiousness.  I feel like I’m part of a family.  We talk about our lives.  I make new friends.  I stay awhile and soak in every experience to its fullest.  I never feel like I’m a nuisance with the photo snapping.  And best of all, I make unforgettable memories each and single time.

This time around, I sunk my hungry teeth into a giant slice of potato and mushroom pie ($8.41) doused in their famous tomato sauce, as well as a dish of beet risotto with broccoli ($8.41).  I was in heaven.  Absolute vegetarian heaven.  I have to apologize for the lack of beet risotto photos though.  The tomato sauce and beet risotto were so close in colour family that I couldn’t get a good enough distinguishing photos.  But take it from me, it’s wonderfully delicious and I took most of it home for my family to try, especially my mum who loves beets.  Their potato mushroom pie was inches tall and piping hot with chunks of potato, sauteed mushrooms, and parsley melting into every forkful and bite.  Comfort food at its best.  The parsley was the perfect touch, giving little bursts of freshness and greenery to the dish.

When I was younger, I never used to like parsley.  I would always pick it out of my Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.  Now?  I love it and get so excited when I see it garnishing or sprinkled onto my dish.  The parsley played a starring role in this one, cutting through the inherent “meaty” texture of chunky potatoes.  The potatoes were chunky yet soft; meaty enough to hold its own as a hearty meal with that great potato starchiness but soft enough to sink your teeth right through them.  The whole potato and mushroom pie was lovely because it sopped up the tomato sauce so well – I didn’t have a lick of it left by the end of the meal!

And oh gosh, the top of the pie was fantastic!  It was crispy and golden brown and tasted like a cross between a hash brown and rosti.  The dish is a fab variation of the traditional mashed potatoes, potato salad, and plain roasted potatoes and with the generous amount of tomato sauce, all the flavours were lightened up and intensified.  I mmmed my way through the entire meal, loving every minute and bite of it.  I waved goodbye to Rachel and Roberto and as I was opening the door to leave (as much as I didn’t want to!), Roberto smiled and called out, “don’t be a stranger!”

I won’t, ever.  I promise.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.  All dishes are either vegetarian or vegan and prices range from $4-$8.50.  They are primarily a lunch cafe during the week, open until around 4:30pm-5pm from Monday to Friday, and with later closing hours on Saturday.  They are closed on Sunday.

Meatballs & Provolone, and Scallops & Farro Vegetable Medley – My Italian ‘Surf and Turf’ at Trattoria Nervosa!

Leave a comment

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.