Cafe Nervosa, Toronto.

March 2017

Not by its name a place you would choose to have lunch. The Nervous Café. Or bipolar, or psychotic, or depressed. No, this place is psychologically clean as a whistle: unaffected Italian happiness in the middle of Toronto, serving up lovely food and treating its clients like Medicis. Nothing needing to be on medication here on a chilly early spring Monday.

It’s 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 with everything else occupied. I took  my hearing aid out because of the chatter and clatter. The staff were all Italian nationals, all friendly, attractive, genuinely attentive young people. The Italiano clientele could have been trucked in from central casting. It was a several-paged menu boiling 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, off-classical with tiny cooked beans, watercress, and shaved parmesan was clean and unassuming but not dazzling. We shared it and smoothed our napkins for the mushroom pizza and veal shank rigatoni. They were both terrific. The pasta was served with braised chopped veal meat in a delicious round and gently reduced stock. There was salt and pepper on the table but this dish didn’t need them, already full of unrestricted brightness. The pizza was a bland thin nicely oven-toasted crust with fully-flavoured cheese and a variety of mushrooms fried tender in olive oil. Dee-licious!

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 succulents we agreed we hadn’t had anything quite as satisfying in awhile. Not haute cuisine by a mile, but we’ve had much worse food in many parts of Italy and frankly not much better Italian trattoria food anywhere.

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