Café Nervosa, Toronto.

March 2017.

The Nervous Café. Not by its name a place you would choose to have lunch. Like what if it’s been misdiagnosed and is really bipolar, or psychotic, or depressive… ? Fear not. This place is unaffected true Italian happiness in the middle of Toronto, serving up lovely food and treating its clients like the Medicis. No hint of psychopathology evident on a chilly early spring Monday.

It’s certainly busy, not taking reservations, and at 1 PM we were seated in the smaller upstairs room at a tiny table against one of the walls, every other table occupied. Once I got my hearing aid out I was able to hear Robin over the roar and clatter. The staff were all Italian nationals, all friendly, attractive, genuinely attentive young people. The clientele also seemed to be primarily Italiano. The menu was several pages but boiled down to a dozen starters, a dozen pastas, a dozen pizzas, and about as many mains. We started with an Italian pinot grigio at $53.

Carpaccio, classical Italian with tiny cooked beans, watercress, and shaved parmesan was clean and unassuming but not dazzling. We shared it and prepared ourselves for the mushroom pizza and veal shank rigatoni. They were terrific. The pasta was served with braised chopped veal meat in a round, delicious, and beautifully prepared stock. There was salt and pepper on the table but this dish didn’t need them, served with unrestrictedly bright seasoning. The pizza was a bland thin nicely oven-toasted crust with simple quality cheese and a variety of mushrooms fried tender in olive oil. Delicious.

Does ambience and service really enhance otherwise simple food? I don’t know, but sharing an inoffensive but ordinary bottle of wine and these two straightforward dishes we agreed we hadn’t had anything quite as satisfying in a long time. Not haute cuisine by a mile, but we have had much worse food in many parts of Italy and frankly not much more satisfying Italian food anywhere.

Simplicity didn’t come cheap. We left $140 there including a 20% tip, but were happy with the value. The servers and hosts were chatty and glad to advise us about places in Italy which we soon plan to visit. Great food, lovely experience.

Food 9.2, service 9.1, ambience 9.0, value 8.8, peace and quiet 6.1.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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