Rumoured to be named after the café made popular in the 1990's sitcom Frasier, Trattoria Nervosa was opened by Janet Zucharini in 1996, and was originally called, you guessed it "Café" Nervosa. She's also the mastermind behind other Toronto culinary favourites like Gusto 101 and Pai Northern Thai Kitchen, and is one of the newest judges on TV's Top Chef Canada. Located at 75 Yorkville Avenue (at the corner of Yorkville and Belair Street), the now "Trattoria" Nervosa has been serving up fine southern Italian fare ever since. While Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce (Frasier and his brother Niles) have not crossed the threshold yet, other celebrities certainly have (Beyonce and Jay-Z with their daughter Blue Ivy are an example) making Nervosa a Yorkville mainstay in the process.
Housed in a historic house that was turned into a restaurant when Nervosa came to fruition, this place exudes charm, with its hardwood floors, wall frescoes, and colourful tile surfaces. The tables are all wood with wooden and leatherette covered seats. Each table has a pottery bottle of their in-house virgin olive oil, while a large chalkboard surface near the back window has the story of this fine tasting liquid's journey from the family olive estate in Abruzzo to your table. A take-home bottle is available for $19.99. A large selection of wine bottles adorn a dark wooden bookcase beside the kitchen area, which is open to the restaurant, allowing patrons to see and smell their food being prepared. Plenty of natural light is let in through the large front and side windows, allowing an unfettered view of the busy Yorkville streetscape beyond. A patio surrounded by an attractive wrought iron fence allows patrons to enjoy this ambience out of doors during the nice weather.
A lively atmosphere permeates Nervosa, with a steady but light hubbub of conversation, laughter and the clanking of plates and glasses. The hostess and my server Fefe are quite friendly and treated me (and everyone else as far as I could see) like long-lost friends who've come to eat at their home. If I closed my eyes and forgot I was in Toronto, I might be fooled into thinking I was spending some quality time in a Trattoria somewhere in Palermo or Florence.
Nervosa offers up a wide ranging menu divided into the following sub-headings; antipasti (antipasto), insalate (salads), pizze (pizza), paste (pasta), dalla griglia (meat and fish entrees), and dolci (desserts).
For the antipasti, they have such Italian favourites as Tagliere Misto (a selection of Italian cured meats, pickled vegetables, crostini and mustard) for $18.99, the Tagliere di Formaggi (a selection of Italian cheeses) $15.99 for 3 pieces, $23.99 for 5 pieces, and the in-house Marinated Olives (rosse di Cerignola, bella di Cerignola, stuffed colossal, Kalamata, roasted garlic, herbs and chillies) for $7.99. Any of the antipasti will cost you $7.99 to $23.99.
Such items as the Tagliata di Manzo (grilled beef tenderloin, arugula, pickled red onions, avocado, roasted grape tomatoes, balsamic vinaigrette and pecorino), their version of the venerable Caesar salad, the Cesare Nervosa (romaine hearts, pancetta, fried capers, parmigiano and egg free dressing), and the Escarola (escarole, toasted walnuts, roasted red onions, pecorino and truffle vinaigrette) are on the salad menu. These will run you $9.99 to $28.99. You can also elect to add, for an additional cost, grilled chicken ($7.99), grilled salmon ($10.99), grilled tenderloin ($18.99) or grilled calamari ( 3 pieces for $10.99).
They are also well-known for their pizza menu, with Funghi (wild mushrooms, fontina, taleggio and thyme), Classica (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, sopressata, crimini mushrooms and roasted peppers) and Rapini e Salsicce (rapini, fennel sausage, buffalo mozzarella and roasted garlic) being popular choices, and running the gamut price-wise from $14.99 to $18.99. All their pizzas are finished with their own organic virgin olive oil and you can add on buffalo mozzarella for an additional $4.99, with whole wheat crust available for another buck.
Their pasta offerings as one would expect in an Italian resto, are quite varied. They serve up time honoured dishes like Capellini (tomato sauce, sun-dried tomato, goat cheese and basil), Rigatoni al Pomodoro (tomato sauce, basil, buffalo mozzarella) and Risotto Nervosa (barolo braised beef short rib, local field and porcini mushrooms and fig balsamic reduction) with more interesting and unusual selections like Bucatini al Ragu di Vitello (veal shin ragu, chanterelle mushrooms, tomato, saffron cream and pecorino). Their pasta selections cost $15.99 to $26.99 and you can get gluten free pasta for an additional dollar.
Their meat and fish options consist of Salmone (grilled salmon, beluga lentils, sea snails and golden beet salad), Pollo alla Griglia (grilled chicken breast, butternut squash puree, farro grain pickled radicchio, and toasted hazelnut) and Branzino alla Griglia (grilled branzino, sauteed escarola, spinach, sun-dried tomato, fregola and tomato puree) and will cost you $23.99 to $30.99.
They also have Speciali del Giorno (daily specials) that include Arctic Char, Orata All'Acqua Pazza (grilled sea bream) and Spaghetti con Polpette (Spaghetti and meatballs). These specials cost between $16.99 and $48.99.
Their desserts have uniquely Italian features like Pannacotta (Ontario raspberries, almond milk, pistachio gelato and honey comb), Tiramisu (lady finger, coffee, mascarpone cheese and cocoa nibs) and home-made Biscotti. They range in price from $1.99 per biscotti, to $9.99.
Offering up a Kale Salad before it was in vogue or its health benefits widely talked about, I just had to try Nervosa's famous Kale Salad, called Insalata di Cavolo Nero. It's made with lacinate kale, zante currants, toasted pine nuts, shaved pecorino, parmigiano and a lemon vinaigrette. It is presented on the plate in a kind of "mini mountain" of kale with some parmigiano on top, which looks fantastic and is a bit different from how salad is usually staged.
Having personally been a huge fan of kale for several years now and regularly making my own salads with it, this salad does not disappoint in the slightest and will set you back $14.99. The kale and pine nuts offered up a nice crunchy taste, offset by the lemon vinaigrette. The currants, pine nuts, pecorino and parmigiano add a nuanced and bold, yet appealing dimension to the traditional kale salad.
Nervosa was recently named one of the 13 best pasta spots in the city, and it's easy to understand why after sampling their Agnolotti di Zucca, which is a butternut squash agnolotti, brown butter sauce, sage, green pumpkin seeds and parmigiano. Quite a tasty treat and well worth the $16.99. The only criticism I had was that there was a bit too much sauce on the plate. Otherwise, the pasta was well-prepared and all the ingredients coalesced nicely on the palate, leaving a pleasant aftertaste.
I decided to try the homemade Cannoli, and what a good choice that was. Served on a wooden platter and decorated with icing sugar and nuts, these cannolis had a crispy cookie coating and a melt in your mouth creamy filling, and was a steal at $7.99. I'd get these again in a heartbeat.
Nervosa offers a wide range of red ($43-1999/bottle) and white wines ($43-97/bottle), beers ($7.49-20.99/bottle), various cocktails (Settimenale, sangria, aperol spritz and others $10.99-14.99), liquours (tequila, grappe, amari, scotch and others$9.99-24.99) and gin drinks with names like Notting Hill, Old Street and The Tower ($14.99) to accompany your food.
Since I was driving, I opted for a couple of glasses of Pellegrino orange (orange flavoured carbonated water), and it was delicious. Each one will cost you $3.99. They also brought over a bottle of cold filtered tap water to sip on. I also had an Americano (espresso with hot water) at the end of my meal for $2.99, and it was strong, flavourful and not the least bit bitter, which is how an expertly done Americano should be. It really went well with those Cannoli too!
The service was excellent and expedient, with my server Fefe providing friendly and knowledgeable advice and counsel on the menu items while making me feel right at home. A large bottle of water with the Trattoria Nervosa logo on it was brought to my table and she kept my glass filled throughout my time there. My drinks and my food items were brought to the table and cleared away promptly. Great service overall.
Despite having consumed a full Italian meal, with homemade Cannoli to boot, I felt full and satisfied but not overly so. All the food left a pleasant aftertaste and the Pellegrino orange was outstanding. While the prices preclude going there regularly for a full meal, I certainly look forward to coming back to Nervosa soon, if only for an Americano and some Cannoli.
Trattoria Nervosa is open from 11:30am to 10pm from Monday to Thursday, from 11:30am to 11pm on Friday and Saturday and Sundays they start serving at noon until 10pm. Reservations are recommended. They offer takeout and delivery of their menu items, and also offer up catering services for your special events. You can reach them at www.eatnervosa.com or at 416-961-4642.