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Nota Bene- no thanks!

Went to Nota Bene last night with a party of 5- dinner at 9:30.
Service, as others have noted, is trying but awkward. Really fell down at the end of the evening- 9 servers flipping tables, but not one will get us the bill (and refusing to make eye contact- hate that).
Starters were the: octopus rapini salad- octopus was quite mushy and fairly bland; duck salad- the slaw was also a bit bland, though the duck was awesome; barramundi tandoori- completely lost on me, not flavorful like you'd expect; lobster salad w blue cheese dressing- BORING; duck procuitto salad- nothing special. I particularly dislike the bowls that the salads were served in- nearly impossible to eat from, although that style is not unique to NB.
Mains were no more impressive: paparadelle with rabbit- oversalted, and if I'm saying that it was a LOT of salt, as I'm a bit of a hound, and another spice that was overpowering, maybe cinnamon?; Suckling pig and boudin noir- suckling pig and pastry delicious, boudin noir offered very litte (don't want to sound like a total jerk, but have only had this at Akelarre and this was nothing like it- quite a let down); tuna with squash- poorly conceived, no textural interest...just felt I didn't get it; red snapper- I didn't try this but k. liked it; scallops were well recieved but not exciting.
I guess I would expect more from a place that has received so much buzz with such a noted chef at the helm. I would not go back - luckily, my company was great.

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  1. Wow! Most interesting review! A total 180 degrees divergence from some other postings, especially Bokchoi's! Got a feeling this post will start another round of firework! Guess thats what makes us chowhounders unique!! Such diverse viewpoints and opinions!

    1. I must be one of the few that agree w/ nummanumma in that I wasn't impressed either with Nota Bene. My wife and I went last month (we rarely get out nowadays with 2 small kids). We asked our server what was on the Charcuterie plate... he only named 1-2 items on it and couldn't recall the rest. I made the mistake of ordering it as a app, followed by the boudin noir... I was overwhelmed by the amount of oil I ingested that night. Wife had the duck salad, followed by the seared tuna, again nothing positive to say about either dish. We also ordered a side of frites, which our server completely forgot to put the order in. By the time we got it (near the end of completion of our mains), the fries were limp. This was a night where David Lee was actually in the house, so you'd expect the food coming out to be impeccable.

      Maybe we just aren't big David Lee fans, since our one and only time we went to Splendido for their tasting menu, we weren't blown away like all the rest of CH'er seem to be. To each their own, I guess.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Royaljelly

        I also wasn't impressed by my dinner at Nota Bene. The quality of the ingredients seemed to be very high, but I wasn't wowed by the flavour combinations in any of the dishes I ordered. I have the same complaint about JKWB.

        The service was courteous and professional when I dined at Nota Bene. The service was the best part of my meal.

        I'd return to Nota Bene if I needed a decent dinner close to the Opera House.

      2. Hi, my first post, so a little nervous.

        I also went to Nota Bene on Saturday (Jan 17th). We were a party of 6 and had an early dinner at 5.30. It was my 3rd time at Nota Bene and I loved it every time. We enjoyed all of our dished. Octopus salad was good, my boyfriend said it was the best octopus he's ever had, charcuterie was excellent and our waiter was very knowledgeable about it with a lot of explanation. I had duck proscuitto salad and although I thought it was a touch too oily, it was still very good. Another person enjoyed Lobster Salad and found it interesting with bits of bacon. I heard that beef tartar was very good, but I haven't tried it. Two people had Boudin Noir Tart and said it was excellent, I had a rib enree and although the flavour was quite simple, it was very satisfying. Seared tuna was ok, nothing special. Hangar steak was amazing! I have to agree that barramundi wasn't a good dish, I had it before, but everything else is very good, interesting, fresh and exciting.

        Service was also good. We were told when we were making reservation that they need to have our table by 7.30, so at around 7.15 they asked if we were ok with relocating to the lounge area. At that point we already finished our entrees, so we had desserts there. Everyone was very polite and helpful.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Julia_K

          the beef tartar is not good. specifically because it is overwhelmed with aioli and masks any good beefy flavour. it also adds a creamy element that i didn't enjoy. richness from a raw egg i can fathom but the aioli brings about an undesirable texture and flavour.

          1. re: pinstripeprincess

            Can't comment on it, since I don't eat raw meet, but everyone who tried it like it. There was a comment saying that it was better than the one at Auberge du Pommier

        2. Very strange. Different tastes I suppose, but when I had the barramundi, I found it bursting with many layers of flavour. Also, the lobster salad for me was pretty tasty especially when you got a bit of everything into one bite. Can't comment on any of the other dishes because I didn't try those.

          1 Reply
          1. re: LTL

            maybe I just had an off kitchen crew- depends on who is putting the plate together at the end of the day I guess.

          2. I have been twice and twice I ordered the tuna tartare. The best dish there by far and it was recommended by my server. Better than the steak tartare I had the first tiem there for sure. Agreed that the scallops are good but not particular exciting. Hangar steak was totally amazing and you can't get anything like that at that price. The suckling pig and boudin noir tart is heavy but it was supposed to be like that. After all, it is all pork and puff pastry. I say it is a very tasty and interesting dish. Service has been good both times and at that price point I would definitely recommend the restaurant as long as you stick to the tried and true dishes.

            1. Very interesting thanks for sharing!

              1. I meant to write a review of my visit in Nov. but never got around to it and have been reading a lot of mixed reviews about NB and I figure I share my experience.

                Took my SO on her birthday and were promptly seated. The much talked about service level was not a problem at all all evening. I made the reservation on OpenTable and noted that it was her special day and when dessert came we got a little little chocolate card and candle which was a nice touch. Service was more than above average despite being quite busy tonight and staff was knowledgeable and the staff that brought us the Charcuterie dish knew all the different cuts and were eager to explain each.

                We had the crispy duck salad and charcuterie to start.. Both were excellent. The charcuterie plate was not cheap but I enjoyed every last piece and you can tell the quality of the meat were top notch. The duck salad was excellent despite the duck not being crispy but yet still tasty and went well with the salad and had a nice spicy kick to it.

                Our mains were boudin tart and seared tuna. The tuna were well executed and good quality. It wasn't anything spectacular but we were both happy with it. The tart in our opinion was the most memorable. The suckling pig tasted very similar to the Chinese style ones you find at Chinese BBQ houses/restaurants, but it was really tender and it went extremely well with the bacon and sausage. The pie stole the show as it was extemely flaky and added depth to the dish overall. We both love mushrooms and the truffle flavour rounded out the memorable dish.

                We had the bread pudding and creme caramel to finish off. Both were quite similar in terms of taste, but the bread pudding was another highlight. Even though it was a heavier end to our evening, it was definitely worth a repeat taste as far as the bread pudding goes, it was really good.

                Our waitress definitely could have been a little more attentive and we did have to look around to see where she was when we were getting ready to pay. But asides from that, the evening was as smooth as it could have been. The staff repeatedly offered to take pics of us when she saw our camera and wish her a happy birthday.

                We've been dying to go back for a repeat visit but haven't gotten around to it, so I really hope that they haven't gone downhill already cuz we had a fabulous dinner there.

                1. I didn't write a review after my first visit just before Christmas, but I have to say my experience was similar to that of nummanamma's. The food was ok but really under seasoned - we actually asked for salt - not something I would normally do and the servers were anything but interested in serving us. I am a huge fan of David Lee so to say I was disappointmented was an understatement.

                  I will give it another try but I'm hoping this time they remember to season the food before sending it out.

                  1. We went to Nota Bene last night 7:30 reservation - table of 7 for a birthday. 1st time for all. It was very enjoyable and we all agreed that we would go again.

                    We had lots of the above mentioned items and had a complete different experience.
                    I thought that everything was seasoned and sauced beautifully. Nothing was over salted - in fact the steak was just riding the balance of under salted.

                    Our only issue was that the service was very stop and start. When they came around we were surrounded and wine glasses were full. Then everyone disappeared and the wine wasn't in easy reach for us to refill ourselves.
                    For starters:
                    I had the YELLOW FIN TUNA TARTARE (Citrus Soya, Ginger, Avocado, Crispy Shallot Bits) - LOVED it! The first bite was a flavour sensation in my mouth. Lots of depth.
                    Other CRISP DUCK SALAD, DUCK PROSCIUTTO and the STEAK TARTARE. I grew up with Steak Tartare (Dad's a butcher) and I have to say it was very well seasoned and just spicy enough.

                    We agreed that the winner of the night for mains was the SUCKLING PIG & BOUDIN NOIR TART. My husband Mike loves blood pudding (being English) and said it was the best of his life.

                    For me especially good were the sides - we ordered them all - BRUSSELS SPROUTS (Awsome - think Kimchee style) POMMES FRITES (least interesting) - ONION RINGS (crispy light and not at all greasy) - SAUTÉED RAPINI - BRADFORD FARM BEETS (Yummy - butter and warm balsamic)

                    So not the best meal of our lives but we all had a very good time and had a very enjoyable meal. The service was up and down, but in the overall didn't deter too much. Its definitely worth trying out.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: tweeze

                      Heading there for the first time on Valentines Day. What other entrees would you recommend? For myself I think I"d like the steak tartare and boudin noir and I'd like to provide a couple recommendations for my gf.

                      1. re: szw

                        The steak tartare didn't look to appetizing the last time a dining companion ordered it. I would go with the fish apps (not the octopus). The daily specials are a good deal, not sure what they're offering for V-day though. I enjoyed the sea bass.

                        Cheers and happy V-day!

                        1. re: BokChoi

                          the steak tartare was over powered with aoili, would not ever order this again, it's flavoured so strongly as if to mask poor meat quality.

                          1. re: pinstripeprincess

                            It's interesting to hear the aioli overpowered the tartar.

                            I didn't try the tartar, but every dish I ordered at Nota Bene (the H & S soup, the lobster salad, the scallops, the roasted beets) was either bland or under-seasoned. Maybe I could get a side dish of aioli next time I visit, for emergency use? ;)

                            1. re: phoenikia

                              ha ha, if aoili flavour is what you want! i found the extra creaminess completely unappealing and really unpleasant. the dish was all flavourings but no beefiness!

                              otherwise i do have to agree... with the rabbit pasta and the boudin noir... i found more than 4 bites just lead me to be quite bored with what was going on. i guess i wouldnt' classify it as bland so much as completely melded in flavour so that the tone was very one-note.

                              they had a little dish of parmesan for the pasta dish... can't say i didn't end up sprinkling a little bit on most of what i ate even though it wasn't the pasta!

                              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                I don't feel as isolated .
                                Early on, I just didn't get the glowing reviews for Nota Bene.

                                1. re: erly

                                  I found the food decent at first, but the service very weak. The service is mediocre now (up from weak), and the food is not even up the the same standards it was when they first opened (for example, a non-crispy crispy duck salad, overcooked fish (many times!), one-note, boring dishes, etc.)

                                  At first I was going semi-frequently, but now I wouldn't be bothered. There are some dishes that are good, but you can only have them so many times. The tartare was definitely not good in the least; might as well have eaten spoonfuls of condiments instead.

                                  I did enjoy some things, certainly, but it's hard for me to go back and order the same things over and over again because most of the other dishes aren't great.

                        2. re: szw

                          Hangar steak and short ribs are very tasty!

                        3. re: tweeze

                          Thanks for the review tweeze. Brussel sprouts sound great.

                          1. re: BokChoi

                            I personally love the cornish hen and think it's one of the best dishes on the menu!!

                        4. Just came back for NB tonight, just wanted to make a couple points.

                          SO and I originally had a VDay reservation (5pm)...but decided to stay in that night to cook together, so I decided to take her out tonight instead to try their Pre-theatre deal. Had reservations at 6:15, so we barely made it and were seated promptly. We actually got the same waitress as our first visit, never got her name either times. Her service wasn't particularly bad during our first visit, but it was definitely nothing to write home about, so we were thinking, hmmm...let's see how it goes this time around.

                          We were asked whether we would like some water to start and I said tap is fine. Here's the thing, my SO and I are 25 and not wine drinkers whatsoever. I'm more like a beer guy while she gets really red after even one drink, so we never order wine for our meals. I know some will think that meal's not complete without a good wine, but we just don't know how to appreciate it so neither of us want to waste the money and pretend that it would enhance our experience. So water arrived and she asks whether we would like some wine to start which we declined. We then ordered our food and she asks whether we would like any cocktails or sodas. I understand her trying to upsell us some beverage, but we felt a little akward having to keep declining her. Sometime we do feel like the service level drops at some places due to the fact that we don't order beverages, not sure if you guys feel the same way. Throughout the night, she was not very busy at all, and did a lot of standing around, but she was not very engaging/energetic and kind of did her thing when needed. I don't recall her coming to tables mid course asking how things were. Once again, she did nothing to ruin the evening, but never tried to make it a better one either.

                          Onto the food, we order two pre-theatre 2 course meals, one with an app and one with dessert and a suckling pig tart to share as an app. The app was an arugala salad with smoked salmon with capers/lemon dressing. This was the only complain I have of the meal, it was the most plain looking dish we have ever seen. It was a big bowl of greens with 4 smallish strips of smoked salmon on top. The strips were long and cannot be eaten in one bite, but since it was in a salad bowl, it made it very akward to use the knife to cut into bite size bits. We were expecting something a little more 'ordinary' at NB, it was just awful presentation, it tasted alright but it was a huge letdown.

                          Tart was crazy good as before, short rib and sea bass were both well cooked and enjoyed. The passionfruit sorbet was delicious and we ended up ordering a flourless chocolate cake as well which was really good.

                          So overall, my SO and I feel like we can spend our $115 at different places before returning to NB, both our visits were more than enjoyable, but feel like they might be slipping just a bit. Will be go back, probably just for their suckling pig pie haha...

                          1. Ah, so it’s not just me. There are others among us who do not think Note Bene is “awesome”. I have eaten there 4 or 5 times before the ballet or the opera and have never been bowled over by the food - not like I have been quite often at Splendido. I especially hate the dinnerware - it was designed by a designer not an eater. The opening in the wine glasses is so small they are difficult to drink from (no, I do not have a big nose). The huge winged bowls are awkward - I have seen other diners struggling too. And the coffee cup handles are non-functional. Usually cup handles are made in the shape of a question mark so your second finger doesn’t come in contact with the hot cup. These handles are round and when you pick up the cup, it tips forward and the coffee spills out. Nearly got burnt the first time. We are going there tonight and I will not be having wine or coffee (no, I do not have a large nose or fat fingers). I usually end up with the roasted chicken but there is some funny taste to it - tarragon? Most of the other things I have had there I would not re-order. And by the way the chef at Splendido, Victor Barry, has actually been doing most of the cooking there for a long time. The departure of Davis Lee has not compromised its food in any way.

                            88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

                            1. I went there last Saturday night and even though the service was good, the prices were outrageous. 8 oz glass of Cabernet Souvignon is 24 dollars. Yikes! The support staff ie; bread runners were all confused and brought us bread at the end of the meal. Otherwise, the food was great.

                              1. I made the mistake of dining alone at the bar a week ago. That's when you see the flaws with Nota Bene. The place has the warmth of a McDonald's. Nota Bene works best when you are with good company or a business meeting. I don't think it's , nor is it meant to be, a foodie destination. If McDonald's wanted to create a upscale restaurant, it would be Nota Bene.

                                Nota Bene
                                180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

                                9 Replies
                                  1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                                    I had the hamachi ceviche, which was aggressively tart. The bowl was on top of crushed ice, if I recall, which was a nice touch, but the dish nothing exceptional. The portion was a small. They were out of the sauv blanc I wanted, so the bartender recommened some southern Italian varietal I had never heard of, which was nothing like sauv blanc. With so much lime in the dish, a Corona would have been a better match. Main course was the hangar steak. It was pan seared and cooked mid rare. The steak was chewy and pretty bland. At home, I avoid rubs and marinades as a way of adding flavour to steak, instead I depend on heavily searing the outside to get a maillard reaction and I cook it in beef fat. Lately I've been using a wild leek oil left over from a confit I did. The point is the steak was missing flavour and there are many roads they could explore to solve this problem. All the accompaniments with the steak were simple but very good. The steak doesn't come with a starch, which you are encouraged to order seperately. I thought the portion was good and I'm glad I didn't order fries or something. I had some amber ale which did nothing for the steak, but it was me who ordered that. Dessert was the sticky toffee pudding which was quite rich and very good. I had coffee with that. The bill came to $81 before tip, which is not that bad considering what I had. I didn't plan on going to Nota Bene, I was in the area and wanted something different from the Queen Mum. There was no interaction with staff, take your order move on. I don't really have a problem with Nota Bene, it is what it is, upscale fast food. I made the mistake of wanting the kind of experience I would get at a place like Reds if I sat at the bar.

                                    Nota Bene
                                    180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

                                    1. re: dubchild

                                      What makes it upscale fast food moreso than any other restaurant of its ilk? It's a dine-in restaurant that cooks to order. I don't see the connection at all.

                                      1. re: jamesm

                                        Its lack of warmth. The way the menu is designed, many choices to please a wide market, but no real sense of a chef's unique voice. The production line style service. My experience there is that it is solely a business, there is nothing personal. It all depends on what you are looking for.

                                        1. re: dubchild

                                          mcd's is a stretch, but it has been said many times that it has a much more corporate feel.

                                  2. re: dubchild

                                    I can't even begin to process the comparison of Nota Bene to an upscale McDonalds.

                                    Nota Bene
                                    180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

                                    1. re: jamesm

                                      i think it's an unfair and inaccurate comparison. lee et all opened NB as a lower market alternative to Splendido in prescient anticipation of a downturn in the economy and a pullback in personal and business entertainment spending.

                                      accordingly they desinged a menu providing local, seasonal and artisinal products....they might be accused of hopping on multiple trends at once, but that's also called providing diners what they desire. it's not my favourite restaurant in the city but i do think it offers good value for money.

                                      i think one of the biggest challenges top chef's face when opening their "bistro concept" resto is expectations. do you expect canoe food when you go to canoe for a licious event?

                                      just my two cents

                                      1. re: downtownfoodie

                                        While the comparison to McD's is obviously an exaggeration, I agree with Dubchild in some respects. The atmosphere is very business like and the menu is definitely aimed towards pleasing the greater market. As I posted in another entry, I too find the prices to be high for what it's supposed to be. The ceviche was indeed far too small for the price and $25 for a pasta is not what I'd expect to pay at a spot that is supposed to be affordable. While the food is good, I think the prices have to come down by at least 25% in many cases. But perhaps it's just not my thing...

                                        1. re: SMOG

                                          Using McD's was maybe not the best move. Corporate could be substituted instead of McD's and my meaning would stay the same.
                                          But I do find it interesting that many people, it's been mentioned other times, consider this restaurant to be local, seasonal and artisanal. Granted there are a few local ingredients on the menu and some are seasonal, even though I can't help but feel that it's accidental, but it seems the majority of the menu is none of these. The biggest complaint with Nota Bene has been how little the menu changes. A menu that doesn't change can have a difficult time being seasonal. There is, of course, an advantage to not changing, which is that it is easier to maintain cconsistency. Consistency is the all mighty mantra of corporate chain restaurants like McD's.

                                          Nota Bene
                                          180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

                                  3. I'd try the place out if anything on the menu appealed to me.

                                    1. We split an interesting discussion of charcuterie and offal over to the General Chowhound Topics board: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/711897 since it wasn't an Ontario specific topic, and we think it will be of interest to the broader audience. We hope you'll follow it there.

                                      1. Head's up folks: Nota Bene appears to have increased its prices by 2 to 3 bucks across the board.

                                        E.g., the burger (previously $19) is $21.

                                        Nota Bene
                                        180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

                                        1. nota bene has lost its flair. it does have an extreme corporate feel from the last time I dined there. t Also, (and I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt here), perhaps they were off their a-game the day we dined there a few weeks ago, because my wagyu beef burger had an unappetizing gummy texture to it.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: sugarcube

                                            I agree. I'm not a fan of Nota Bene at all. The quality of the food or service is nowhere near where it should be at it's price point. This is a shame as I really liked the food at Splendido when they were owners.

                                            88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

                                            Nota Bene
                                            180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

                                            1. re: flyinggonzo

                                              Agree as well. We've been to Nota Bene a few times through the years with different friends and each time we were underwhelmed in light of the hype.

                                          2. I know for a fact that both Yannick and David Lee both follow Chowhound!! Hopefully, upon reading all these negative postings they will do something to improve things!!

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: Charles Yu

                                              It is too bad that David Lee took to a more casual style at NB.

                                              If any restaurant in Toronto was ever worth a Michelin star, his previous venture was arguably at the top of the list.

                                              Hopefully one day he will return to those roots.

                                              Though I am a fan of those paper thin onion rings!!

                                              1. re: Sadistick

                                                Agree with you 100%!!
                                                The 'Old Splendido' was definitely Michelin star calibre! If not two, then at least one. For years, a warm welcome at the door by Yannick followed with their multiple course tasting menu by David Lee with wine pairing by Carlo and service by Adley was the most enjoyable dining experience in town!! Pity it has to end! Sigh!!
                                                With so many new luxury hotels being built right now, the David/Yannick team should ressurect the experience by opening up a fine dining establishment in one of them?! Since Truffles is going to re-surface in the new Fourseasons and a new restaurant already planned in the new Ritz Carlton, that leaves the Trump Tower and the Shangri-La. Either of them would make a great choice!

                                                88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

                                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                                  For whatever reason, it seems as if he has taken a more hands off approach, especially as of late, at NB.

                                                  Perhaps his interests lay elsewhere? Who's to say, regardless; I agree and would like to see the David Lee of old, once again.

                                                  1. re: Charles Yu

                                                    When I think about the old Splendido I'm so sad. I truly enjoy George which is now my go-to for fine dining but it isn't the old Splendido when they were at the top of their game!

                                                    88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

                                                    1. re: JennaBean

                                                      Yes!! I too miss the OLD SPLENDIDO!!! and one of the best server in town - Adley?

                                                      1. re: Charles Yu

                                                        Charles, that was a post from 2 years ago!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                                        1. re: Charles Yu

                                                          Last time I was at Nota Bene Adley was serving there.

                                                          1. re: estufarian

                                                            Great to hear!! Time for a re-visit!!

                                                2. agree, horrible service! pretentious and rude. food portion was ridiculous. sincere advice: take your money somewhere else

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: fatongue

                                                    hmmm. i eat there often and get very attentive service, never pretentious and never rude. serving sizes are perfect- mind you i don't eat american style over the top portions at any time so it fits my appetite just fine