As many of you have realized, I have some rather difficult-to-please dining companions. Thanks again to all of you for your suggestions over the past 2 weeks regarding "safe", good value restaurants. After much deliberation (and much arm-twisting on my part), I managed to get my companions to venture out and try a new resto. We finally settled on Nota Bene, after unfortunately ruling out each and every one of the other suggestions, for some reason or another (been there before, too pricey, menu not to their liking, etc. etc.) I will still likely introduce them to some of the other suggestions on that post later in the year, now that they have had a very pleasurable experience at Nota Bene. (baby steps people, baby steps...). Though I trumped up the restaurant to the best of my ability stating that CHer’s have only posted positive sentiments about the restaurant, the only reason we probably ended up going on this adventure in the first place was because of the favourable review that came out in The Star the weekend earlier. Thank goodness for easily swayed consumers of mass media...
First off, the food was superb. It was on the mark in almost every area. Presentation was whimsical, yet functional. Food was solid. Menu variety was varied enough to provide some excitement, without causing confusion to those less inclined to try more adventurous fare. Restaurant decor was pleasing and the service was first-class.
When we arrived, we were promptly seated and given our menus. Our affable waiter intelligently described the dinner specials of the evening and provided insight into some key ingredients as well as some of his preferences. On the menu that night was a delicious mozzarella di Bufala from Italy, that was served alongside fresh cherry tomatoes in Nota Bene’s take on the Insalata Caprese. Upon the strong suggestion from the waiter, one of my dining companions ventured to try it. It was, by far, the strongest single dish of the evening. The cheese was subtle, not stringy nor grainy in texture at all. It was sweet and smooth as silk. I had never tasted another Buffalo mozzarella quite like it – and I am a fan of it to begin with. Simply an amazingly composed dish.
(Early apologies on the photos. The lighting was quite dark in the restaurant.)
Mozzarella di Bufala: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
Other appetizers we sampled included the barramundi, the hot and sour soup with smoked chicken, and the crispy duck salad. Ranked second amongst the dishes was the crispy duck salad. The duck was expertly prepared – the skin was thin, light and crisp. The salad was not overpowered at all by the saltier duck and was nicely balanced by the citrus dressing. Very strong dish – I would highly recommend trying this one. An opinion many others have also voiced. The soup was nice, but forgettable IMO, though the smoked chicken was well done – not overcooked even though it was boiled in the broth. The barramundi ranked last, IMO, as it was overdone for my tastes. The dry rub was a nice change (tandoori spiced), but the fish was too small a chunk to allow for a gradient in doneness and was left on the heat too long.
Next up, we shared the charcuterie platter. Amazingly diverse selection of cured meats. I especially found the Creemore maple bacon the most pleasant experience. Though there was a very apparent vein of fat that ran along the length of the bacon, the taste was extremely light and refreshing. I was quite shocked. The most pedestrian of the bunch was the Saucisson Sec from France. Nothing particularly note worthy of this item. Other items included Smoked Yorkshire Pig’s Cheek, Duck Prosciutto, whipped Berkshire Pork Fat, and Maple-cured bacon.
The mains were up next. Like most restaurants, the mains were not as strong as their starters. It was not, however, as big a let down as many of the other meals I have experienced. Our party ordered the highly touted ribs, pickerel and the daily special – halibut. By far, I enjoyed the pickerel the most. It was exceptionally moist and flavourful. It was a very light fish and was not too heavy – a complaint I normally have with many prepared fish dishes. Many restaurants tend to overpower light fishes with heavy sauces and creams. This one was served with a cauliflower puree beneath it, and a pesto to its side. The ribs were much to rich for my liking. However, I am not a “rib” person and do not generally appreciate such rich meats (though I enjoy a nice venison or game-meat from time to time). The halibuts were unfortunately the big let-downs of the evening. They were overdone IMO and could have been better – I think a nice olive oil poaching would have made the dish amazing. I had it once at a restaurant in NYC called Degustation – it was the best fish I had ever had in my entire life.
Next came desserts. All I can say is make sure you save room for these gems. Because the waiter was so bang-on with his earlier recommendation of the Insalata Caprese, we ventured to try the bread pudding. Though I am not typically a fan of this type of dessert, I would have to say this was one of the best desserts I have tried at a restaurant of this price point. The pudding was crisp on the edges and dense and rich on the inside. It was served alongside some Niagara poached peaches. Other desserts we sampled included the Strawberry & Champagne sorbet, and the yogurt panna cotta. The panna cotta was quite a strong entry and had a very robust yogurt essence. The tartness of the yogurt balanced nicely with the sweetness of the blueberries that were mounded alongside it.
Overall this was a great dining experience that will most certainly guarantee me future dining experiences with my now wonderfully appeased guests. I would definitely return and sample future menu items. As this seating allowed us to try almost every dish on the menu, I will wait until the menu has been updated for the changing seasons. I highly recommend this restaurant as a solid, “safe”, and excellently priced restaurant. David Lee even came out for a brief moment out of the kitchen to admire his new restaurant. I applaud him for introducing a superior restaurant that fills the void that Toronto has had in the area of fine-dining with excellent food at a medium price point. Toronto now has a gem of a restaurant that the masses can afford.
Dinner for 4, not included wine, <$300.
Thanks CHer's for the positive early reviews and the assistance on choosing a restaurant that fit all my criteria.
Cheers and Happy Eating!