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.

A Mexican Food and Grocery Emporium! Zucchini & Veggie Tacos and the Roasted Taste of Corn at La Tortilleria Market

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I had no idea what I was walking into when I pulled open the door to La Tortilleria.  I should have though.  The storefront clearly said La Tortilleria Market with the words, “convenience” and “Mexican products” right underneath, alongside “fresh tortillas daily”.  I think I was so excited about trying a place I had wanted to try for ages that all logic escaped through my head and into the chilly air.  That and because I was so ready for lunch, I was hungry!

Anyway, I should have had an inkling as to the type of establishment I was about to step into, but it didn’t register at the time.  All I knew I was that I was excited about having Mexican food for lunch and that I would most likely be faced with the hard decision of deciding between quesadillas, tacos, and possibly burritos.  All thoughts of what to feed my hungry stomach momentarily seized though after I stepped inside.  I was expecting giant menu boards, some tables and chairs to sit and eat, and mouthwatering photos of food to entice the Mexican lover in me.  I got much more than I expected.

I had walked right into a Mexican food and grocery emporium!  OH.MY.GOD.  I actually said that out loud as I entered through the swinging entrance barricade.  Sigh.  How graceful of me.  I was in awe though.  I had never been to a Mexican grocery store before!  Chinese supermarkets?  Since the day I was born.  Polish mini market?  Just this past late summer.  I’ve even been to a Filipino grocery mart.  But a Mexican grocery store?  Oh, this was divine.  La Tortilleria is not only a sit-down spot to nosh on Mexican comfort food hot off the press, but the Bloor & Dufferin location is also a Mexican supermarket with everything from Mexican corn chips and tortillas to pantry staples to bulk spices to traditional Mexican pastries and baked goods.

The grocery mart is divided into different aisles and sections and each aisle and section is devoted to a specific type of food.  La Tortilleria has shelves of canned and dry pantry items such as chipotle, jalapeno, and serrano peppers, refried beans, hot sauces, cornmeal and maize, tamale and masa flour, Mexican chocolate mixes and coffee, churro mix, dips, condiments, and many others.  The grocery market also has a bulk section with spices as well as a grab n’ go sweets section with Mexican pastries, cookies, and churros.  Amidst all the Mexican grocery goodness is the hot food counter where you can order La Tortilleria’s hot and fresh corn tacos and tortillas to-go or to enjoy at the sit-down seating area.  Menu items range from $6-$10 and aside from the tortilla bundles, all the menu items are meals, meaning they’re meant to be eaten as a full meal or as sharing plates.  You won’t find single tacos here!  Go big or go home.

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The Vegetarian Sandwich Series – Grilled Panini With Eggplant, Roasted Peppers, Artichokes and More at Fusaro’s Kitchen

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Things have been quiet on the Vegetarian Sandwich series front, so I thought it was definitely time to unleash some veggie goodness back into things!  I have my fellow Icing Sugar Queen at Le Dolci, Miya, to thank for the inspiration behind this post.  Not only have I learned so much about cupcake decorating and design during my time at Le Dolci so far, but Miya and Lisa have also introduced me to some fabulous good eats around the studio!  It’s fun bouncing ideas and recommendations off of one another; I tell Lisa and Miya all about my farmers’ market adventures, they show me another island of vegetarian sandwich paradise. 

When I saw Miya eating her veggie sandwich during lunch one day at the studio, I got curious because it looked so yummy and I asked her where she got her sandwich from.  “Fusaro’s Kitchen”, she replied, between bites.  I was quiet for about a nanosecond before the lightbulb went off and I almost literally face-palmed.  Fusaro’s Kitchen!  I knew where that was!  I had passed by it numerous times on the streetcar and walked past it another handful of times.  It was like deja vu all over again when I finally discovered Mela Cafe in Yorkville over a year ago after being in and around the neighbourhood so many times.  I felt so lame.  But I did what any dedicated foodie would do: I went and ate there.

Fusaro’s Kitchen, located on Spadina Ave. just south of Queen Street West, is an Italian eatery with hot and fresh pizzas, pastas, salads, and panini sandwiches.  I went in and instantly thought, “where have you been all my life?!”  Or rather, where in the world have I been?  Fusaro’s has a giant wall full of Italian grocery items including chocolates, wafer cookies (Quadratinis, my favourites!), sauces, olive oils, balsamics, and more. 

I know I don’t blog about it enough, but god do I ever love pasta.  Pasta is my weakness.  I love it more than rice and bread.  I suppose rice comes in at a close second when it comes to carbs and starches, but pasta makes me really happy.  Spaghetti, lasagna, linguine, macaroni, fettucine, I love it all and I would be a happy clam if I was just given a bowl of spaghtti with nothing but olive oil and herbs.  The pasta lover in me instinctively wanted to down a bowl for lunch, but I quickly remembered why I was there: to stuff my face with a delicious veggie panini.

Fusaro’s has menus dedicated to grilled panini sandwiches, pasta, salads, and dishes such as eggplant, chicken, and veal parmigiana, meatballs, and others.  Prices for pasta come in at around $10-$11, parmigiana and meatball mains at $8.50-$10.50, salads from $4.75-$10, and panini sandwiches from $7.50-$8.  Fusaro’s has two vegetarian sandwich options and I chose menu item number five (cinque), a grilled panini with grilled zucchini and eggplant, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, baby spinach, and goat cheese.  I ordered a side salad ($2.50) to go along with it and waited in excited anticipation for my lunch.  I was so excited like you wouldn’t believe.  I know it’s “just” a sandwich, but I was excited about the veggie toppings (I rarely get to eat artichokes!  And you all know how I feel about things like roasted peppers, spinach, and goat cheese!) and I really believed this panini would be a knockout.

Grilled paninis have been touch and go with me.  They’re either a total hit or a dismal miss.  I love the idea of a grilled sandwich and when it’s executed well, it’s heaven.  When they’re a miss though, often times it’s not necessarily because they don’t taste good or that the flavour isn’t there, it’s because they’re either too small, they don’t have enough substance between the bread, or the topping combinations are ho-hum and nothing to write home about.  Sandwiches of this variety will always range from about $5-$11 depending on where you go, so a fabulous panini has to be bang for my buck and it has to have ingredients worth get excited about, especially when it’s a vegetarian sandwich.  It just doesn’t make sense to eat something with nothing but lettuce and tomato and a few strands of something else.

I loved this sandwich.  This sandwich makes me want to come to Fusaro’s every day of the week.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating.  But only a little.  For one thing, it wasn’t small.  This was a good-sized sandwich in both length and width, comparatible to a submarine bun from a bakery.  It wasn’t the size of a foot-long, but definitely larger than 6 inches.  I’d say it was closer to 8 inches.  The bread was so crunchy on the outside and so super soft on the inside.  The hallmark of a good sandwich is whether or not you can envision yourself eating the bread alone.  If the bread needs toppings to make it taste good, it means it isn’t.  The bread should make your mouth water all by itself and this bread does. 

And the toppings.  Oh my god.  Vegetarians rejoice.  There was so much going on in this sandwich and it was all amazingly delicious.  It was so stuffed with juicy vegetables and mouthwatering, creamy sauce.  A bed of leafy spinach sat on the bottom with strips of roasted red pepper, chunks of artichoke, eggplant, and zucchini on top with goat cheese wedged throughout.  The sauce was fantastic.  It was a cross between a cream sauce and a mayo and it was delightful.  I would eat this sandwich over and over again in a heartbeat.

Oh, and the salad!  The salad was a simple salad of greens, tomatoes, and cucumber and it was made especially delicious with an olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette and I’m telling you, their balsamic is top-notch.  I never used to like balsamic, but after an amazing meal at Southern Accent with a fabulous balsamic reduction and a great balsamic my mum bought, I’ve done a 180 and now I really enjoy it and can appreciate good balsamic.  I was so happy with everything about this meal and I can’t wait to eat here again.  Judging by the crazy line-ups here though, I’m going to have to luck out again next time.

 

*****

Fusaro’s Kitchen is located at 147 Spadina Ave., just south of Queen Street West on the east side of Spadina.  Fusaro’s Kitchen serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers a breakfast menu 7 days a week.

Winding Down the Summer Season With Italian Vegetarian Magic – Kale & Zucchini Couscous Salad at Mela Cafe

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I have a confession to make.  I love Mela Cafe so much that I was thrown into conniptions a little over a month ago when I made plans to go for lunch and found the cafe closed with its lights off, its chairs off the floor, its shelves normally stocked full of tomato sauce completely empty and bare, and its signature “garage door” storefront covered with newspapers.  I smushed my nose against the glass door, peered inside, and nearly had a heart attack.  I turned around to face my boyfriend with my mouth gaping open, speechless for about a minute before I found my vocal cords and started babbling like a hysterical nut.  “Oh my god…oh my god…why aren’t they open?!  They couldn’t have packed up, that doesn’t make sense!  People love it here!  I love it here!  There would be a sign!  But why are the tomato sauce cans gone?!  Are they renovating?  I’m panicking.  Am I panicking?”  I walked around in a daze for the entire day and had no idea what to do with myself. 

Fast forward two weeks later.  I was in the area again during the day so I took a deep breath, and went over to Yorkville Ave. to see my beloved Mela.  To my utter relief, delight, and elation, Mela’s storefront was open with a smiling Roberto and a fresh coat of paint inside.  They had closed for renovation!  I skipped on inside, got a hug from Roberto, and was grinning from ear to ear – crisis averted.  I could go back to eating myself silly!  And just think, with fall upon us, I’m positive Roberto has a host of new menu items to dish out with fall fruits and vegetables.  I’m mega excited.

Tomorrow marks the 1-year anniversary of my very first visit to Mela.  Exactly one year ago, I walked along Yorkville Ave. like any other regular day in the neighbourhood, saw Mela’s bright orange storefront, saw the words “Italian Vegetarian Magic”, stepped into the Italian vegetarian and vegan eatery, and never looked back from that day on.  This past year at Mela has created so many sweet memories and as my favourite vegetarain and vegan place in the city, I can’t imagine it ever being absent from my life.  I took my mum, brother, and best friend here for the first time during the spring, got my best friend obsessed with their ravioli and vegan banana cream pies, made a sweet friend named Jennie who frequents Mela on a weekly basis, got to know Roberto and the other ladies who help him make his mouth-watering dishes, asked my boyfriend for his metropass while he was working at school so I could eat ravioli in the dead of winter, and had so much delicious food, including this salad!

Last time, I showed you all Roberto’s quinoa salad with crunchy cabbage, green beans, tomatoes, olive oil, and lots of parsley, and the time before that I proudly displayed his springtime salad with watercress, green beans, Shanghai bok choy, cauliflower, chickpeas, and olive oil.  THIS time, I have for you a sunny summer salad of fluffy couscous with zucchini and leafy kale!  It was a summer salad chock full of juicy tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, celery, cabbage, zucchini squash, and lots of fresh, crunchy kale.  When I saw the mountain of salad up on the food counter, I had to restrain myself from grabbing the large metal spoon used for scooping and just going to town with it.

I ate kale for the first time last winter (funny enough, I did so at Kale Eatery by Yonge & Eglinton) and I bought my first fresh batch from the Trinity Bellwoods Park farmers’ market earlier in the month and these days I just think to myself, “where have I been all this time?  I’ve been missing out!”.  Mela has not only been a place to make great friendships and to eat happy wiggling-inducing food but it’s also been a place to learn, specifically about all sorts of vegetables and yummy ways to pair them up with other vegetables, grains, and proteins.

I could eat the salads here endlessly and what I really love about the food here is the variety of vegetables and the ways that they’re paired together.  You’ll find everything from sweet potatoes to kale, rapini, beets, watercress, green beans, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, asparagus, and more.  Not to mention there’s always a grain or a protein involved (chickpeas, quinoa, and couscous thus far I’ve seen) which bulks up the salad even more in its nutritional levels.  Mela’s salads aren’t overladen with dressing, they’re not dry and boring (lettuce and tomato does not make an exciting salad, ever), and there’s always something different.  This is the 3rd salad I’ve tried and I anticipate there will be a hundred more to try as time goes on!  Oh, and if you’re wondering about the plates of food on the table, no, they were not all mine!  I love to eat, yes, but I do not have the stomach to eat 3 plates of food!   

Summer might be winding down, but the memories of food and friends last forever.  Thanks for the memories, friendship, and an amazing delicious year, Mela.  I can’t wait to see what another year will bring.

*****

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.

Scrapbooking materials used: neon green, goldenrod yellow, indigo, and cobalt blue cardstock (Recollections); red paper; Grass & Flowers patterned paper (Sandylion); burgundy, beige, and black alphabet stickers (K&Company); green-and-brown alphabet stickers (Make It Special Crafts by Dollarama); olive green alphabet stickers (Recollections); violet flower stickers (Sticko); yellow jewel adhesive gems (Sandylion Essentials); red and black adhesive gems; scalloped edge scissors (Provo Craft); black felt tip Sharpie.

How Do You Like Your Eggs? I Like Mine Over Easy…at Over Easy!

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In a very cute scene, Richard Gere asks Julia Roberts how she likes her eggs in Runaway Bride.  He presses her to really think about this.  It’s the moment when she finally lets her guard down and reveals a part of yourself even unbeknowst to herself.  Who knew eggs could create such a bubble of debate and conversation?!  But it’s the truth: everyone loves their eggs a different way and it’s a big no-no when they’re not made the way you like them.  I’m talking nose wrinkling, scoffing, and tsking.  Some like them best scrambled.  Others, like my boyfriend, prefer them boiled.  My mum and best friend refuse to eat their eggs sans ketchup.  And me?  Over easy with lots of fresh black pepper! 😀 

Okay, truth be told I don’t have pictures of eggs for this post, but rest assured there will be plenty of future egg posts from Over Easy because this sunny, cheerful breakfast eatery is amazing!  With 2 locations in downtown Toronto, this homey establishment, with framed pictures of fresh fruit on the walls, kitschy kitchen decor and figurines lining the ledges, red-and-yellow plaid booths, and sunny yellow and cornflower blue walls, serves up breakfast proportions worthy of an evening meal.

The menu selection is vast and for lack of a better word, ginormous!  It makes the breakfast food lover in me prance around with delight.  It also drives the indecisive part of me insane.  Oh well.  Divided into categories, breakfast options include omelettes, eggs benedict, pancakes, waffles, French toast, fruit and granola, and a plethora of fun and classic egg dishes: 3-eggs breakfasts with the bacon or sausage works, eggs in a hole, huevos rancheros, steak and eggs, corn beef hash, and everything in between. 

This diner is not for the faint of heart.  You do not step in here if you are looking for a “snack”.  You saddle up and prepare yourself for a MEAL.  Just ask my honey, Richard.  I told him that he would most likely have to take a portion of his meal to go.  He had ordered chocolate chip pancakes and he was presented with a plate of 4, count ’em FOUR, pancakes.  He stubbornly insisted that he could eat them all.  I told him he was nuts.  Oh, he ate them all.  And proceeded to moan and groan for the rest of the day.  Oh, boys, sigh.  Proportions are incredibly generous and prices range, on average, from $5.50-$13 for most dishes, with the majority of mains coming in at around $8-$10 without a drink.

With eyes roaming up and down the menu, the veggie lover in me squealed when they landed on the Vegetarian Skillet: sautéed red bell peppers, asparagus, zucchini, sliced button mushrooms, and diced potatoes, covered in melted ooey gooey aged cheddar cheese, with juicy sliced Roma tomatoes on the side.  This was vegetable heaven.  The savouriness from the mushrooms and melted cheese tones down the slight bitterness of asparagus, the juiciness of the tomatoes breaks up the starchier quality of the potatoes, and this baby just delivers an amazingly flavourful meal that makes you want to eat vegetables all the live long day – or week!  And seriously, when you get that forkful of cheesy potato goodness, it’s reminiscent of poutine *happy sigh*  A meal chock full of hearty, delicious vegetables and melted cheese – what more could you ask for? 😀

*****

Over Easy serves 2 locations in downtown Toronto (and yes, I have been to both!):

  1.  208 Bloor St. West (west of Avenue Rd. and east of St. George St. and Bedford Ave., across the street from the ROM, Royal Ontario Museum)
  2. 56 Yonge St. (north of Wellington St. and south of King St., on the west side of Yonge)

The Yonge location is open from 7am-3pm and the Bloor location is open from 7am-4pm.

Weekly Feature: The Grad Lounge – Cheddar Broccoli Quiche with Fresh Grilled Zucchini

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I feel really, really lucky to have a space at school where I can sit and have a good meal without having to wait 20 minutes in line, without being elbowed by everyone and their mother, and without being forced to choose something off the menu that will make me worry about my arteries afterwards.  I’m talking about The Grad Lounge, located in the Ross Building on the York University Keele campus.  Owned and run by graduate students (with the exception of Mike and Paul who run the show day in and day out), it’s a space exclusively for graduate students and 19+ folk as the eatery serves alcohol.  Good food that’s affordable and vegetarian and vegan friendly.  Now, I may not be vegetarian or vegan (far from it, ha!), but I truly appreciate the lengths eating establishments go through to ensure there are viable options for everyone.

What we have here is a broccoli and cheddar quiche with grilled zucchini and a mixed green salad with sundried tomato dressing.  Don’t even get me started on how much the grilled zucchini made me wiggle with joy, oh my golly.  What I love about the Grad Lounge is how they consistently rotate between daily specials.  You could feasibly find about 3 vegetarian or vegan options off the daily meal (among others for more carnivorous folks) and if none of them suit your fancy, there’s always the permament menu you can order from.  And when I say rotate, it means if you miss one of your favourite dishes one day, it’ll most likely come back again the next week, so there’s no need to fret! 🙂

I’m going to be point blank when I say this: if I’m going to be spending $6-$8 on a fast food combo meal that may or may not fill me, I would much rather go to the Grad Lounge and spend the same amount and get a healthy plate of food instead.  Yes, of course, sometimes I will have the urge to get a quesadilla from Taco Bell and I will sure as hell enjoy it.  But if we’re talking about food from the perspective of it being MORE than just food, I would much rather support an establishment that gives me quality and heart on a daily or weekly basis.

It is really fun eating my way through the menu and taking photos of everything, so this is going to be a weekly fixture on the blog.  Every week I am going to feature a menu item from the Grad Lounge until I basically run out, ha!  Enjoy!

*****

The Grad Lounge is located at 166 South Ross at the York University Keele campus.