Some of the best and most enjoyable meals I had in the past were at Michelin stars establishments scattered around Europe and the Orient. However, here in North America, my most memorable meal was NOT at some Michelin star stalwarts located in New York, Chicago or California, but rather, a tasting menu created by Chef David Lee at his ' Old Splendido '! Chef Lee's creation might not be as contemporary stylish, artistically bizarre or visually beautiful as some of those put forward by 3* gastronomic temples like Per Se, Jean George, Alinea or EMP... However, taste and flavor profile wise, some of the dishes I had from him, easily out-shined similar creations offered by those aforementioned legendary establishments. I am sure this must be partly attributed to the palate, skill and training Chef Lee gained whilst working as Saucier and Sous under renowned Swiss Master Chef, Anton Mosimann in England.
Now, back to the present. For the past decade or more, my brother-in-law, Clement and I had been having regular annual combined 'Men Only' birthday bashes. With our fondness for 'tasting menu', we have been seeking out options in and around the GTA. From the now defunct Perigee, Truffles, both old & new Splendido and BERO... to George, Scaramouche and younger blood like Shoto and Alo. We even ventured far afield to Treadwell in NOTL and Langdon Hall....etc in order to seek them out. Over the years, we believe we must have covered and tried almost all options available?!
This year, for this special occasion, we decided to pay Chef David Lee a long over-due revisit in his newly renovated restaurant. Unlike most legendary chefs in town nowadays, who have been elevated to celebrity status and spend more time looking in front of TV cameras. Chef Lee is still one of those rare and unique individual who prefers to spend time looking after his kitchen(s). When we contacted Nota Bene for inquiry and reservation, we were both impressed and astonished by Chef Lee's amazing memory....since he actually responded by asking us whether we would like a 'tasting menu' prepared by him and his team! Only available on a seasonal basis and currently not a regular option on the menu, we immediately jumped at this rare and special opportune offer.
I am so happy to report that, every components of our birthday meal put together by Chef Lee tonight was absolutely delectable!....a true reflection of his forte in developing unique and wonderful taste profile. Dishes and courses were perfectly proportioned, beautifully conceived and crafted, gorgeously plated, and most of all, wonderful in both taste and textural interaction..... this is truly a Michelin star caliber creation and culinary experience! Using both classical French cooking technique and well calculated touches of Asian/Japanese fusion, the scrumptious and exotic food, though packed with imagination and flare, did not push any unnecessary boundaries or technicalities. I guess the kitchen's main focus was to make sure every element served cannot be faulted. When we first sat down, our goal was to 'eat'. However, after a dish or two and a few heavenly bites, our goal has changed to that of ' longing'! Longing for the remaining courses and eager to taste what Chef Lee has installed for us? At the end of the meal, I came to realize It has been quite a while since I last came across so many ' wow factor ' dishes in a single meal. Some of them so delicious, they rendered me temporarily speechless.
As if that was not enough? To make our meal even more memorable, our favorite Toronto server - Adlee, has returned to join Chef Lee's front-of-the-house team and on this particular night, was assigned specially to look after us. Still his usual ultra-friendly, professional, attentive and full-of-humor self. We started and ended our evening with a big friendly hug!! A truly unforgettable dining experience, worthy of this detailed posting and a special place in my rare OMG dining encounter collection!
OKAY! Onto detail of our 'uber-delicious' Tasting Menu! The courses included:
AMUSE - Chipigane Oysters, yuzukosho
- Crispy fried pig's ear crackling, house smoke Berkshire pork cheek
NANTES CARROTS & BUTTERCUP SQUASH - New Farm organic beets, kale, cranberry
KANPACHI CEVICHE - coconut, nori essence, Thai basil, mango-chili puree, yuzu
RICOTTA RAVIOLI - shaved black truffle, Parmigiano
WILD DUCK BREAST - duck leg confit & celeriac hash, wild mushrooms, jus
GLAZED B.C. BLACK COD - dill & fennel salad, sweet potato, shaved bonito, togarashi
A5 WAGYU STRIPLOIN, MOTOBU FARM, OKINAWA - wakame & cucumber, wasabi, citus soy
LEMON SORBET - wild blueberry compote
YOUNG THAI COCONUT FOR 2 - Scottish oats, organic apricot, mango, Kaffir lime leaf
Asking me to pick a favorite or favorites amongst the above would be as challenging as asking me to pick from the creme de la creme line of say, AUDI, BMW or MERCEDES. All I can say is, the impeccably seasoned and moist, Black Cod tonight tasted better than the infamous miso black cod of Nobu's. The seared, melt-in-the-mouth, perfectly rare Wagyu A5 reminded me of the ones I had at the Japanese Michelin stars Ryugin. The pasta, tasted better than a similar one at NYC's Babbo....the sauce so amazing, we asked for bread! The crispy skin, pink, tender and moist interior wild duck breast was as flavorful as Michel Rostang's of Paris, the duck confit and celeriac hash, so addictively good. The exotic tasting Kanpachi Ceviche can easily rub shoulder with Kaji's. The complex, aromatic and multi-dimensional Coconut dessert, a wonderful first encounter!.......
Based on the above, our next year's birthday bash will have a pretty tough target to beat!!