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Nota Bene - Amazing experience yet again - review + pics

Based on Matt416's and others' suggestions (and the fact that I very much enjoyed my last outing to Nota Bene and eventually realized that it is now my go-to place for a satisfying meal at that price range) I decided to return to Nota Bene and try their other dishes. I did not want to wait for the chef to lose interest before returning as people were right - there is so much more on the menu to sample!

Once again, I was blown away. This time, David Lee was not at the helm, but it was still an amazing experience. The bread pudding was done a bit differently this time, and I preferred the last preparation of it a bit better (more bread, less custard in their bead:custard ratio, thus having a bit more 'crustiness' to it), as well, the charcuterie seemed a touch smaller (but that could just be because I was shocked by the variety the first time, and it lost that 'surprise' appeal for me this time), but still excellent. But those were minor complaints in the grand scheme of things.

Charcuterie: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Bread & Butter Pudding: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

For those that have not yet tried Nota Bene, you do not know what you are missing. Truly a great find in this city - even removing the standout prices of this place, it has some of the tastiest food you can find in Toronto. I truly hope that I can still call this my favourite restaurant in the many years to come.

This time, I tried the amazing Boudin Noir tart, as everyone has suggested. Forget the seasons - this dish is for all seasons and is AMAZING. I could eat this everyday (and probably die of a coronary), but it is just THAT good. Granted, you have to enjoy the earthy flavour of the dish, which reminded me a good deal of truffle aroma. Amazing. Paired with the mushrooms, it was a hearty dish that was full of punch. The 'tart' was a thin phyllo crisp beneath the mushroom, suckling pig, and boudin noir topping. The suckling pig was sweet and succulent. It was perfectly executed, and was so sickeningly tender. It was topped with crisp bacon that added an excellent texture contrast. And for such a punchy dish, it sure did have a delicate presentation. Truly one of my favourite dishes at the moment.

Boudin Noir: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

Before I go on to my other favourite dishes of the evening, I just wanted to mention the scallops. They were excellently done, but IMO, they were just scallops for me. Nothing too special. But they were very sweet, and juicy. Fresh produce, and excellent bed of lentils underneath them with a flavourful broth.

Scallops: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-... (poor photo though, apologies

)

My next favourite dishes were the crab cakes (the special of the day) and the ocean trout. Let's start with the trout. Wafer-thin slices of trout sashimi with presented on a sprinkling of olive oil and soya sauce, topped with shiso leaves, coriander and thai basil. The shiso leaves really stole the show here and were an excellent addition to the dish - it provided the contrasting punch the dish required of such a fish. Well executed. Only complaint was that there was not enough to go around!

Ocean Trout: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

Now onto the greatest crab cake I have ever known. If there was any binder used in this crab cake, I could not tell because it was just that minimal. At the forefront of this dish was none other than the Maryland crab. Truly a feat of wonderment. I really hope they recycle this dish and have it in the future as well, because it was only on the specials menu. The meat was so succulent and sweet. It was as if you were eating by the ocean and were eating straight from the crab shell. Only someone was so kind to collect all the lump crab meat with put them on the plate for you, and lightly sear its exterior (fine bread crumb mixture breaded the cake, which was ever so lightly pan-seared - no oily residue). At first when it arrived, I thought that it was the smallest main dish I had ever seen (minus the experience I had at Thuet that is), but upon tasting the dish, I would never desire the chef to 'stretch' the ingredients by adding filler and binder to it to create an average calibre crab cake that was twice as large. I could go on and on about this crab cake, but all this talk of food is making me hungry and it's almost lunch time.

Crab Cake: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

Next up were the desserts. As previously mentioned, I went back to my favourite dessert of my last meal and had the bread pudding. It changed a bit (more custard, less bread - which was more like a thin 'toast' crust on top of custard) and I preferred the last variation a bit better. But to each their own. Then we also tried the chcolate tort (dark, rich and creamy chocolate) with a so-so raspberry sorbet accompaniment, and the cherry crumble. The raspberry sorbet lacked the texture I usually associate with raspberries, and the taste was not strong enough of the berry. A bit of a disappointment next to the strongly flavoured tart. The Bing Cherry crumble was another strong dish - excellent crusty topping. Cherries were a bit tart as expected and thus the dish was not overly sweet. Would be my second favourite dessert after the Bread Pudding, but just ahead of the subtler panna cotta.

Cherry Crumble: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Chocolate Tart: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

I can only hope that David Lee and his team continue to produce such excellent fare at such an affordable price. They are truly a force to be reckoned with in the Toronto food scene right now. I can finally feel confident in recommending a restaurant to my friends and coworkers and not worry that they will have a disappointing experience.

Cheers and Happy Eating!

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  1. Thank you for the thorough review - number one on my to check out list.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DDD

      Glad to hear it. This was my second visit (other review posted as well) and I was blown away even more than the first time. Let me know how you enjoy it.

      Cheers

      1. re: BokChoi

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/550928
        This was my original review. Just to link them all together. Cheers!

    2. I'm curious as to why you seem to think David Lee would lose interest in his business??? It seems to me he's nothing but professional, and would only want the best for his two restaurants.

      8 Replies
      1. re: phisherking

        I have been to many restaurants that have gone downhill after they solidified their status. Also, many tend to become complacent. Supply and demand also drives the industry - and I worry that as he becomes more and more popular, will he maintain the same pricing structure that he currently employs at Nota Bene that makes it so affordable to the masses?

        Many ‘celebrity’ restauranteurs expand their empires faster than they can train their staff. It is a natural constraint. The man can only be in so many places at one time. It takes a great team to maintain an excellent restaurant. I just hope that he would not be the same as so many others and can prove me wrong.

        Cheers

        1. re: BokChoi

          Actually I was there two Saturdays ago and David Lee was in the Kitchen but his Front of the House guy was not in and I can confirm that the service suffered... The waiter was slow & disinterested, the food arrived cold and with strange timing... and the whole experience was sub par...

          David just popped his head out of teh kitchen did not visit any tables while we were there...

          Also has anyone ever seen the lounge busy? it seats like 30 people and I have never seen more then two people at the bar...

          1. re: OnDaGo

            My DH and I went for lunch today - our first visit - and the staff were great. Nice, relaxed, and chatty - a failing of mine is asking everyone how they are, some places they just smile, nod and leave but here, everyone stopped, responded, asked how we were enjoying ourselves etc. Very nice.

            I can't hope to compare with BokChoi's amazing reviews. DH and I had pretty much the same meal:
            - prosciutto to start - a nice contrast between the bitter greens and amazing meat
            - Friday's lunch feature - Nova Scotia Lobster Club. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it definitely wasn't a lovely crusty bun with two huge pieces of wonderful lobster in side. The sandwhich also had crisp lettuce and some lovely smokey bacon. The fries on the side were lovely and the cheese (name escapes me) on top added that extra "something"
            -I had the chocolate tart for dessert and while it and the raspberry sorbet were quite nice together it wasn't my favourite. In interests of full disclosure though, I should stop ordering chocolate desserts. I love milk chocolate and can only just tolerate dark chocolate. This was wonderful dark chocolate though.
            DH had a rhubarb apple crumble which was quite delightful. He only allowed me a forkful!

            All in all, very nice. A bit pricey for us for lunch ($150, for three courses and 1 glass of wine each + tip) but definitely worth the money. Just have to be a bit sparing with our visits.

            1. re: redleaf55

              Great review, redleaf55. I have yet to try their lunch, so this was very useful for me. Glad to hear that their lunch is executed well. I have heard mixed earlier reviews about the lunch experience, hence why I have yet to try it. It may be close enough to the financial district for me to make a quick stop by for lunch one day.

              Cheers and happy eating!

          2. re: BokChoi

            I couldn't locate a website. What are the prices like?

            1. re: grandgourmand

              The website is hard to track down. But here is the link:
              http://www.notabenerestaurant.com/

              Prices are in the mid-twenties for mains, with appetizers in the mid-teens on average. Desserts around $10.

              Cheers

              OnDaGo - the service is already starting to suffer? That is quite saddening. I did notice that the service was not as coordinated during my second visit, nor as doting in nature, but I still found it above par - just not as surreal an experience as the first time. I hope this is not a sign of things to come!

              1. re: BokChoi

                Had dinner there on Friday with my son. We loved it. The Tuna Tatare, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Pickerel, Beef Ribs and Beets were all excellent. Good service as well. Thanks for the recommendation, BokChoi.

                1. re: BrownRB

                  Thanks for the comment. Glad my review helped you discover Nota Bene. Truly a gem (IMO). Cheers

        2. I wish I worked close to NB so I could eat the lunch specials...going to check it out on Saturday, super-excited!

          1 Reply
          1. re: charxchar

            Another post on another thread stated that they were underwhelmed by the lunch special, so it could be lucky that you can't make it there.

            Hope you have an enjoyable meal. Please report back if there are any special dishes and let us know how your evening went.

            Cheers!

          2. I've been to Nota Bene twice in the last two weeks and both experiences were great. Excellent food, service and value for money. The charcuterie plate was awesome and unique and just the right portion. Also, we loved the $8 (well worth it) pecorino cheese fries. Delicious!

            1 Reply
            1. re: so_lovefood

              I still must try the pecorino fries. They sound very enticing. I always see the tables beside ours devouring them, but I always find myself very satisfied just ordering a three course meal there without sides. An amazing new restaurant in Toronto. Excellent value. Cannot wait to return.

            2. Food looks very interesting but the wine list has ridiculous markups.