Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Yes, I went out for Italian again. And yes, I ordered pizza. I do realize that I have spoken more about pizza than anything else on here but I love it and will make no apologies. Did I ever tell you I even eat it cold for breakfast?

This time, I paid Mercatto, 101 College Street, a visit. It was a decision that was fuelled by a past experience that involved a ‘terribly chintzy on the sausage’ orrechiette and an invitation to come back. It’s a long story and not mine to tell. You have to ask my Auntie Linda about that one.

This locale is one of three. A large and open room, it feels clean and industrial. The cleanliness is fresh and being the contemporary woman that I am, I like the modernity. The menu is typical: antipasto, pasta, pizza and a few mains. It is printed on what becomes your place mat which bugs me because it feels cheap.

We created our own platter of antipasto ($15 for 6 choices). Here is where the dichotomy in the kitchen begins. Wild mushrooms tossed in bread crumbs and Parmigiano were tender and earthy but why the bread crumbs? Roasted winter squash promised fried sage but instead was overcooked, mushy and sage free. Any antipasto combination is served with fried dough balls. A great way for the kitchen to use up extra pizza dough, they were nicely salted, crisp and a super fun accompaniment to the cheeses. Those were the only things on our platter that were made in house. OK, the cheese I understand but with so many, and I mean so many, Toronto chefs trying their hand at curing their own salumi, outsourcing it is just boring. I too, can go buy my own.

The pasta del giorno was spaghetti aglio olio with breadcrumbs, anchovy and squid ($16). All those extra crumbs in the mushrooms should have been tossed with the spaghetti. It was too light on the crumbs, too stingy with the anchovies and that poor pasta was overcooked to the point of resembling soft Ramen noodles.

The pendulum swings as the bucatini all’amatriciana with guanciale and pecorino ($14) was perfection. The el dente noodles, the bright and lush tomato sauce and the velvety strands of bacon helped save this meal.

And finally, the pizza: a quattro stagione ($15). It was as though someone had told the kitchen exactly how I like it – a thin and well done crust, a generous amount of stringy and slightly browned cheese, little button mushrooms, salty but pitted olives, marinated artichokes and slices, not pieces, of soft luscious prosciutto. This pizza had my name all over it.

Mercatto is clearly one of those restaurants where some dishes are great and others not so much. You have to tread carefully here; there is a very thin line between a good meal and a mediocre one.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cafe Nervosa

There are a few things that Cafe Nervosa, 75 Yorkville Avenue has going for it: the upstairs is a cozy haven for a romantic dinner complete with a fireplace, they have an extremely drinkable Ironstone Cab by the glass, they make a damn good hot chocolate and the service is more than competent.

There is only one thing that is not working but unfortunately it’s the food.

The Caesar salad ($8.99) arrives and I pick up my knife. The leaves are whole and I think the only knife that should slide through lettuce is the chef’s knife in the kitchen. I hate having to cut my salad. It’s done up in a egg free dressing which has a little bit of bite but without giving me garlic breath for the rest of the night. Crispy pancetta bits and fried capers finish it off but I’m wondering where in the hell is the cheese? And who burned the capers?

Their house salad ($6.99) is typical. Typically boring. It’s the standard mix of spring that I am so over. Here’s another shocker – it had a balsamic vinaigrette. If I had a toonie for every restaurant in Toronto that serves this salad, I’d be, well you know how it goes. To add insult to injury, it was so gingerly dressed, it was dry.

A prosciutto and arugula pizza ($15.99) is another predictable item but this one comes with an element of surprise – it’s assembled backwards. Instead of the arugula being on top, being able to mingle with the shards of Parmigiano, it is lying in a soggy mess on top of the sauce and underneath the meat. The prosciutto falling off with every bite as it had nothing to stick to.

The worst is yet to come.

I exercised the option of gluten free pasta and I put the white rice noodles with the would be Garganelli: Berkshire pork sausage, rapini, roasted peppers, pecorino in a light tomato sauce ($16.99).

All parts were challenged. First off the sauce is anything but light. It is heavy. It is thick. It practically gave me acid reflux. I have had spaghetti sauce from a jar that was less tangy. The sausage was strangely sweet and the chunks not rendered of their fat. The rapini was aggressively bit-ter. When cooked correctly with a generous amount of salt, rapini promptly loses any trace of the bitterness that it commands when raw. Like the burnt capers, someone had carelessly cooked the rapini. Like the missing cheese in the Caesar, the roasted peppers were M.I.A. Perhaps roasted into oblivion?

Slices of pecorino are sitting on top in a warm, sweaty pile. No one wants congealed cheese.

With corn being the more viable option, I am not jazzed about the decision to serve rice pasta as the alternative, however, the big let down is in the execution. It is overcooked to the point of breakage and I am feeling like a two year old whose mother just cut up my spaghetti because I am too little to know how to twirl it with a spoon.

Rice pasta, more than the wheat variety, must be el dente and must be rinsed thoroughly in order to remove the starch that comes out of it when boiled. If not, you end up with pasta a la wall paper paste and for under $20 you too can get yourself a bowl.

Dessert? No thanks. I may not always know my boundaries but I know when to stop spending money on a dinner that’s just not worth it.