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Nota Bene


Adrian3891
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I’m surprised by the lack of hype surrounding Nota Bene, the new David Lee venture a stone’s throw away from the new opera house. Surprised but glad as the low key opening and lack of buzz made it easy for my girlfriend to grab a reservation last night. Although it’s been open for less than a week and there are still a number of kinks to be ironed out, the restaurant is already showing signs of the sort of accomplished cooking that makes Splendido the city’s top restaurant.

It’s clear upon entering that the restaurant is aiming at the Bay Street crowd. A reasonable move if you consider the paucity of upper-middle restaurants around. The room itself is cold, boxy, minimalist and, frankly, not very appealing. It was also nearly empty. Unexpectedly, the style of service and place setting suggest a far more formal restaurant than Nota Bene is. I assumed that this would not be a white table cloth establishment. Again, the desire to garner a Bay Street crowd can divined from the menu (an extra steak section, a burger, and sides that include onion rings and fries), the cocktail list (drinks that are more expensive than at Milk and Honey), and the expense account wines that pepper the wine list (there were also too few wines under $50). Outside of the CEO-food, the menu is remarkably seasonal and fresh sounding; soups, salads, raw fish, local produce and fish, and Cumbrae meats feature prominently. There also is a refreshing south-western influence running through some of the dishes.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was no amuse with the meal. I understand this at lunch, but at dinner, given the atmosphere, an amuse would be appropriate. Breads were among the best I’ve had in the city. Fresh, hot, and slightly sour, they paired excellently with the fruity olive oil. Wine was a 2006 Barbera ($52) that had a good acidity that paired nicely with all the dishes. To start, we ordered a split course of mafalda pasta with mushroom Bolognese and summer truffle ($14). The dish was presented individually, a sign that the kitchen team knows what it’s doing, in portions that were far more generous than a straight split. The pasta itself was precisely al dente and the mushroom sauce was good, not great. It did not bind together the elements as it should have. The summer truffle was flavourless and aroma-less and added nothing to the dish. A good start, although there is room for improvement.

My main was the Monday special, a giant Hampshire Durock pork chop served with a tomato-chili-lime-corn salsa ($29). The pork itself was an excellent product – even better than the Cumbrae Berkshire chop I had a couple of weeks ago. It was cooked a degree more than ideal, but such is the nature of restaurant pork (people still believe in trichinosis, I guess). The salsa was an excellent counter point, cutting the fat of the chop with bright acidity. However, the portion was far too big and also meant that the pork to salsa ratio was too high. I am a seriously huge eater and could easily have shared the chop with another moderately large eater and we both would have been full.

My girlfriend ordered the suckling pig and boudin noir tart with bacon and truffle vinaigrette ($25). When the sommelier learned that this was our order, he smiled and told us this was his favourite menu item. It was a total home run. David Lee channeled both Martin Picard and David Lee to come up with this one. Here, the giant portion only accentuated what made the dish great (although my girlfriend could not finish her portion). It had the over the top deliciousness of dishes at Pied de Couchon, but a level of technical proficiency found in only a handful of restaurants in this city. The braised suckling pig was as good as I’ve had. This dish is the reason to go to Nota Bene, it’s an instant classic.

Desserts ($10) were strong as well. My cherry crumble used top of the line Niagara bing cherries and had a great crumble topping. The vanilla ice cream had good flavour, but the texture was a touch icy. My girlfriend’s lemon yogurt panna cotta with blueberries was similarly seasonal and refreshing. Much needed after the heavy mains. Cheeses looked interesting, especially the two BC cheeses, but we didn’t have the stomach space.

Service was professional, courteous, and friendly. It lacked a certain confidence, but that will come as the servers get used to the restaurant. Also worth noting, Otta, the sommelier, is infusing his own alcohols. We were lucky enough to try the vanilla-fig-cantaloupe vodka that he’s been working on. It was excellent. Also, David Lee was in house and greeted every table after their meal. A classy touch. I am certain, that as the restaurant hits its stride, this will be among the best upper-middle establishments in the city.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I dined for lunch on tuesday. for a restaurant open less than two weeks it was a very smooth experience. I had the steak tartare, suckling pig tart, and the crumble; my friend had the tuna tartare, the hanger steak, and the chocolate tart. I couldn't fault anything. everything was seasoned perfectly and presented in a clean and unfussy manner, yet still appearing stylish. service was professional and friendly.

I would definitely return for dinner

ns

There's nothing like a pork belly to steady the nerves - Fergus Henderson

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I'll make it 3 for 3 on the suckling pig/boudin tart (aren't we egulleters boring). And similarly 3 for 3 on the Cherry Crumble. I hadn't recalled the comments above, but also noted the vanilla ice-cream, as I also found it 'colder' than most ice-cream - i.e. really a gelato. But definitely no ice-chunks in my serving, just a colder mouth feel than 'regular' ice-cream.

Also had the vanilla-fig infusion, plus another that had stone-fruits, predominantly peach.

Already in my top 10 in Toronto. Very professional all round - and very tasty too.

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  • 1 month later...
Has anyone eaten here since Joanne Kates's review in the Globe? Has it gotten substantially harder to get a table?

Yes, it's a bit tougher but there's usually availability early (say 6:30) or late (9:30) with a couple of days notice. I was there a week ago and everything was superb. I particularly enjoyed their 'dessert wine flight' which included small servings of a sherry, madeira and port.

Or simply book a week ahead.

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Thanks for your reply, estufarian. We actually ended up going last night, showing up as walk-ins at 6:30. (We didn't know how long the Ferran Adria event was going to run, so we couldn't make reservations.) Naturally, all the tables in the dining room were booked, but we snagged one in the bar area, where the full menu is served.

The service was very friendly, though a little bit muddled at first. I had the suckling pig/boudin tart and agree that it was excellent. I also had the grilled octopus and rapini salad to start: the octopus itself was perfect, though the whole dish could have been pointed up with a little more acidity, to my taste. My two companions had the heirloom tomato salad followed by the Cornish hen, and the duck prosciutto followed by the short rib. Everything was good, but the Cornish hen was definitely a standout: crispy, juicy and flavourful. I think it's safe to say I'll be back!

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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  • 3 weeks later...

I finally got a chance to try Nota Bene. Overall, I was a little underwhelmed. The presentation was beautiful, the service was exceptional, but I found the food to be quite bland and not exactly interesting. The portions were more generous than I expected.

I started with the Yucatan Hot and Sour soup, which wasn't really spicy or sour, and I'm not sure Yucatan or Mexican would come to mind when one tastes the soup. The broth was rich, but I tired of the flavour pretty quickly.

The scallops came with jicama, snap peas and cilantro. Perfectly cooked, exceptionally fresh, but the elements of this dish just didn't come together for me. The side of roasted beets were fine as sides, as were the onion rings.

I did enjoy the lobster salad, the lobster meat was surprisingly sweet and fresh tasting compared to most lobster dishes I've had in Toronto. I liked the contrast of avocado, romaine, corn and lobster, although I found the buttermilk dressing to be on the rich side considering the richness of the avocado and lobster. I would think a citrusy dressing would spark up the salad more, but maybe they are trying to refer to the taste/texture/memory of a lobster roll through the creamy dressing. I probably would order the lobster salad again, if I return. The breads were dense and delicious, and the yogurt lemon pannacotta (served with berries) was quite a nice dessert.

I'm happy that Nota Bene has opened so close to the Four Seasons Centre giving operagoers a good option for dining before performances. The quality of the ingredients seem to be among the best I've found it Toronto, but I can't say that anything I ate was spectacular.

Edited by phoenikia (log)
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  • 3 weeks later...

Went to Nota Bene last Friday, and like Phoenikia found the service to be exceptional. The food was very good, but certainly not the best meal I have ever had, but very nice overall.

I had the grilled octopus with rapini (just an aside, I was in toronto for three days, had three dinners and thay all came with rapini) as a starter. The octopus was superb, nicely grilled, very tender, and the portion was substantial.

I also had the suckling pig/boudin tart, thanks to those who recommended it. I found the pork a little bland, but the crsip bacon, the sausage and the tart were divine. My husband had the tuna tartare with avocado, and the small taste that he shared with me was wonderful. He had the steak as his main course, and said it was very good. I was surprised at the size of the portion.

We were very full after dinner so opted for the three cheese plate and the flight of dessert wines to go with it. There was a sauterne, a madiera and a tawny port. We had fun trying the different wines with the different cheeses.

Our waiter was very attentive, without being obtrusive, and the sommelier was very charming. I had checked out the wine list online before we arrived, only to find that he had just brought in 90 cases of wine, so there was a very large selection to choose from. I did think that the list was fairly high priced in relation to the food pricing.

Overall, it was a very nice evening, and we would go back again.

Dawn aka shrek

Let the eating begin!

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  • 1 month later...

My family and I went to NB last Friday evening.

First impressions was that it was a very nice space, albeit a tad bit loud.

We all started off with some cocktails, their Streetcar was absolutely delish! (I could drink way too many of those!)

Started off with some french onion rings for the table - amazing, so thinly sliced, just the way I like 'em!

Around the table, the following Aps: Pasta App w/ Truffles - Nice flavour, nothing special, too big of a portion for a pasta App. Tuna Tartar - Again, very nice quality tuna, but nothing I couldnt easily make at home (I told my mom she should get something more exciting!). Indian spiced Baramundi - I didnt try this one, but my dad told me he really enjoyed it.

Duck proscuitto salad - The duck itself was very nice, but on top of a bed of arugula DROWNING in balsamic vinegar (a little EVOO would have been nice...) was not my idea of complementary.

I ordered the crispy duck salad - although the duck was not crisp, the flavours were amazing. Duck confit on top of a bed of shaved papaya salad with chilis, cilantro and some cashews...fantastic flavours, the richness of the duck was cut with the salad. Def. the best App.

Next - Mains:

2 diners opted for the seared tuna - again, good quality tuna, but nothing I couldnt make at home.

Pasta with Rabbit and Porcini's - Amazing flavours, rabbit was great...lacked mushrooms though, as dishes advertising porcini's usually do...

2 x Suckling pig/boudin noir tart - I would say one of the top 10 dishes I have ever had. The key was getting a piece of everything in one bite, then the flavours just soared. I would go back again JUST for this dish.

Our waiter was not the friendliest of chaps, but we did not let that lessen our experience.

It's all about what you order, and if you know what to order here, you can have a great meal, at very reasonable prices.

I will be back.

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  • 11 months later...

Was there saturday night. It was good but not necessarily great. Drank a nice 03 Chavy PM Les Purcelles, started with Tuna Tartare, Ceviche, and the hearts of palm salad. The ceviche was very good, the tuna of exceptional quality but the hearts of palm, while fresh, had a blanket of some very tired black truffle shaved over the dish. I'm not even sure that's what it was. The were pushing some day boat, east coast halibut that was ok and the sea bass over lentils was ok. We had a young but enthusiastic server that made the visit worth while as much of the staff seemed very self-absorbed and rigid. Finished with the apple crumble and molten (it wasn't) chocolate cake. I probably wouldn't bother returning. feh

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Gordon > For some reason, I've gone quite a few times and every time I go I kinda ponder why I've returned. It's not like the food is bad, but it's missing the spark of really great meals.

Have you gone to Splendido yet? Have had a few really good meals there.

foodpr0n.com 11/01/17: A map of macarons in Toronto // For free or for a fee - bring your bottle! corkagetoronto.com

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