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Nota Bene tonight -- any recent/new recommendations?

A group of 'hounds are meeting at Nota Bene tonight. It's my first time there, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm curious to hear recommendations from anyone who's been there recently. I've looked over the old threads and the poached asparagus, crispy duck salad, boudin noir tart, short ribs and some of the fish dishes get great reviews (and I'll be sure to avoid the lobster salad). The menu sure doesn't seem to change much and I'm surprised to see some of the heavier dishes on the menu for the summer. Is it just that the web site menu doesn't get updated? Or do they really keep mostly the same menu year round?

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  1. i didn't order onion rings the one time i went back in the winter, but they sure looked good, piled really high on a plate (or in a shallow dish). enjoy the dinner, looking forward to hearing people's comments about it!

    2 Replies
    1. re: auberginegal

      I has some onion rings there about 5 weeks back, and they were extremely oily. Hopefully just an aberration.

      1. re: foodyDudey

        The ones I had were also pretty bad.

    2. Enjoy, TorontoJo! Go for the boudin noir tart and the sticky toffee pudding!

      1. TorontoJo-
        I actually liked the solid components of the lobster salad- the lobster itself was perfect the night I was there. I just wish they'd use a light, citrusy dressing rather than the heavy/creamy buttermilk blue cheese dressing they use;)

        The dish that I would definitely avoid is their Yucatan hot and sour soup, if that's still on the menu! Blech! If you do want to try a hot & sour & Mexican soup, check out the tortilla/lime soup at Cava!

        1 Reply
        1. re: phoenikia

          The one consistent complaint about Nota Bene appears to be the failure to adapt the menu to what is in season, let alone to prevent boredom from setting in. I have been several times and my favourites continue to be the crisp duck salad, any of the steaks, the frites, the white asparagus salad, the papardelle w/rabbit loin and the halibut (which I think is one of the specials). I likely won't go again until they put some new items on the menu. The boudin noir tart is good but nothing revolutionary, it is a very heavy dish, especially for a starter and especially in the middle of summer.

          oh and the sticky toffee pudding is very good as well.

          Still, at the price point, which is very reasonable, the food and service is all very good. You will have a great time.

        2. Yum! I definitely second the crispy duck salad (and unlike phoenikia, found the lobster salad very pedestrian (but agree a citrussy dressing would be more suitable!) - sadly so, since the individual components were generally very nice, just too bland as a whole dish). The onion rings do tend to feel greasy once they've been sitting, but fresh on the table they're terrific - delicate and flavourful. I say go for it. When I was there in June, they had a rabbit soffritto, which looked a lot like the "PAPARDELLE PASTA, GRILLED RABBIT LOIN" listed on the current menu, but I'm not sure whether they changed the name because "soffritto's" unfamiliar to many (including me!), or whether it's a totally new dish. If it's what they were serving in June, it was (to my taste) phenomenal - on the "comforting" side (so maybe not the first thing you'd think of in August) but unqualifiedly one of the best dishes I've ever eaten. Have fun!

          1 Reply
          1. re: urbnmns

            It's too late to warn you to ask for a restrained hand on the salt on the onion rings and frites - otherwise they are fun to eat but don't let them loiter on the table and go cold and soggy. The lobster salad I agree has a horrible dressing, butI love the crispy duck salad. The air conditioning was set to "meat locker" last time I was there, so I always warn friends to bring a parka!

          2. My husband and I went just last night to celebrate a special occasion, as well as the fact that we just moved back into the neighbourhood after being out of the country for a couple of years.

            The menu was somewhat different from what is posted online. Some of the main components of the dishes are the same, but the preparation is different. An example off the top of my head would be the pickerel dish which online states it is prepared with spinach and tomato curry but is currently prepared with a cauliflower puree and other ingredients.

            One seasonal item that I did order as an appetizer was the zucchini flower salad. I was worried that it would be too greasy, but mixed with the greens and grilled peppers, it hit the right note for me. As an aside, after reading so many good things about the tuna tartare, I was fully prepared to order it... but the (excellent!) server helped me come to the conclusion that while I can probably try the tuna tartare on my next visit, the zucchini flowers were seasonal and likely wouldn't be available. (The white aspargus dish was not on the menu, by the way). I sampled my husbands hamachi sushi which was nice, although he commented that the portion, even for an appetizer, was a bit on the smallish size (we agreed that quality was better than quantity!).

            For my main, I did order the suckling pig and boudin noir tart. Yes it was heavy, and yes I did love it! I have to admit that I was caught up in the hype around what I'd read about this, one of the chef's signature dishes - and for that reason, as well as having never tried boudin noir - I ordered it. It didn't disappoint at all, but I can definitely see how someone with a delicate stomach might be turned off by this heavy dish. My husband loved his order of pulled braised lamb with penne pasta. We also ordered frites and while we enjoyed them, we looked longingly at the next table who were enjoying onion rings that looked divine.

            We had wine pairings with each course, and finished it off with blueberry compote panna cotta and strawberrys & a scone.

            We can't wait to go back and try some of the other dishes, including the charcuterie, the onion rings and the cheese platter.

            I'm sure you will have a great time, and look forward to reading your review.

            1. The menu has mostly remained the same for a while, with minor updates to some dishes. Just go for the items recommended by most people, as they're likely the ones that are great. I've had a bunch of miss dishes, so I tend to stick with the same things when I go. I also find that even the good items, like the duck salad, can sometimes be poorly cooked; out of the five times I've had it, there was no crispiness to be found twice.

              1. Thanks to everyone for the advice! I ended up ordering the crisp duck salad, the braised short rib and the yogurt panna cotta with wild blueberries and meringue bits. The duck salad was as good as everyone has said -- fortunately, my duck confit had beautifully crispy fat and skin, which is pretty much guaranteed to make for a good dish. I enjoyed the light, citrusy dressing on the slaw underneath.

                The short rib felt like it would be heavy for a summer dish, but since it wasn't that summery and the restaurant was cold, I went for it. The flavour was very good, but I did feel like the meat should have been braised for another hour or so to render out some of the big pockets of fat (others at the table also commented on the somewhat excessive amounts of fat). I did appreciate that it was served with a small salad rather than a more traditional accompaniment of mashed potatoes or other heavy starch. We ordered one of each of the side dishes for the table -- onion rings, fries, beets, rapini, broccoli. The onion rings (which we had them bring out first!) and the fries were indeed very good. The salt levels were reasonable, and yes, we ate so fast that they didn't have time to get cold and greasy.

                The highlight of my evening was the panna cotta. I had a hard time deciding between it and the stick toffee pudding. I LOVE sticky toffee pudding, but it sounded really heavy and I was feeling full already. I also love panna cotta, but it is too often made with a heavy hand and turns out too dense (like a custard) and often grainy. Ick. But fortunately, this was my dream panna cotta texture -- light, delicate and melt on the tongue delicious. The tang from the yogurt was wonderful against the sweetness of the wild blueberries. The bits of meringue added an nice textural contrast. The stick toffee pudding was ordered by about half of the table and several people were slightly disappointed in it. So yay for panna cotta!

                I had a brut rose from Italy that I really enjoyed. It was a brut, so it was dry (as I like it), but it was amazingly fruity and floral. It would be a perfect summer patio drink, if we ever have summer patio weather.

                Hopefully, other will chime in with their thoughts on their dishes. It was fun evening, with food ranging from good to great. Catching a late showing of Julie and Julia was a perfect capper to an evening of food and food talk.

                Here are photos of dinner, taken by fickle:

                http://www.flickr.com/photos/41249722...

                15 Replies
                1. re: TorontoJo

                  Okay, I'll bite.

                  I started with the softshell crab with spicy cucumber salad. The salad was nicely done - personally, I would've preferred more "spicy" but the bites I had with the little rings of chili were spot on...just not enough chili to go around. The crab was well prepared, but the shell was less soft than you would usually expect from softshell. To be fair, the waiter warned us of this and I ordered it anyway because I love crab and softshells are only available for so long. It was a tasty dish, but just crunchy enough to make it a little more difficult to eat than it should have been.

                  I had the boudin noir tart and promptly lapsed into a porkfat coma. It was delicious, but if I were to tweak it, I might scale back the amount of boudin noir just a bit. It seemed to dominate the flavor and texture of the dish just a little bit too much - for me, this is what makes it feel so rich. The pulled pork, mushrooms, truffle dressing, cracklins on top...all of those were wonderful together but I had a hard time finding them if I had a big chunk of boudin in each bite.

                  I had the sticky toffee pudding to finish. It was good. Not the best I've had, but it did the trick for me. I tried Jo's panna cotta, and I think I have to agree that it was a better-executed dessert, but being in more of a sticky toffee mood, mine hit the spot.

                  Overall, Great dinner + Better company = a fab Friday evening.

                  1. re: Wahooty

                    I started with the crispy duck salad, which was quite tasty, though I ended up envious of those who had the charcuterie platter.

                    My main was the short rib, and unlike TorontoJo, I didn't find any pockets of fat in mine. Just lucky, I guess. I thought it was lovely, and the sharp, acidic pickles in the salad were a nice contrast.

                    I was one of the people who was disappointed in the sticky toffee pudding. If I had to describe the problem, I'd say that the cake itself seemed stale. I don't think it actually *was* stale, but it had a kind of slightly dried out, hard texture to it that I associate with stale backed goods. Had it been soaked with the sauce, that bit of a hard edge would have been great for balancing the sweet, gooey sauce, but it wasn't soaked -- the sauce was just poured over top last minute and there was no real interaction between the cake and the sauce. I looooove sticky toffee pudding, so it's not like I hated this or anything, I was just expecting more.

                    1. re: Jacquilynne

                      Just want to comment on how impressed I am with the above threesome of reviews. You each obviously have your own opinions - and together this makes for a far more useful review than almost any 'commercial' restuarant review I've read.
                      Kudos all round!

                      1. re: Jacquilynne

                        I loved our starter of onion rings, they were very tasty and much less saltier than the batch I had the last time I was there. The tuna in the tartare was very light and refreshing and paired well with the potato chips. The avocado unfortunately overwhelmed the soya, ginger and shallots so you could barely detect they were there. The duck prosciutto and the pickled onions were the highlights for us on the charcuterie platter. Wonderfully delicious.

                        I agree with TorontoJo that the short rib could have been braised a little longer. The flavour was great so if the texture was just slightly more tender, it would have been perfect. The hanger steak was cooked perfectly, the meat was tender and guajillo spice was a winner. Our only complaint was the chutney part of the avocado chutney was missing.

                        My SO found the sticky toffee pudding too sweet. He thought it was fair but nothing extraordinary. I had the passion fruit sorbet and thought it was just fantastic. It was incredibly flavourful so it was a perfect end to the meal for me.

                    2. re: TorontoJo

                      I've noticed nobody's commented on the burger. While a burger would probably be the last thing on my mind at a place like this, the picture of it looks great and I'm really curious whether this it's something really special?

                      1. re: SMOG

                        Two people had the burger and they haven't chimed in here yet. I don't recall any specific reaction at the time -- deabot and sugarcube, what did you think??

                        1. re: TorontoJo

                          I plan on having the burger in the near future.

                          I have heard very good things about it.

                          1. re: Jamie Eats Burgers

                            Compared to the other "fine dining" burgers around the city, Nota Bene's isn't worth trying.

                          2. re: TorontoJo

                            Burger was very beefy and juicy, the brisket mixture ensured that but a little underseasoned I think. And they were stingy with the stilton! Just a small itty bitty square on top. Anyways, I prefer Harbord Room's version.

                            Fickle: I've been having dreams about that passionfruit sorbet...so good.

                            I am going to go back to try the charcuterie plate-THAT looked amazing.

                            1. re: TorontoJo

                              I was looking for more of a 'beefy' flavour from the brisket burger. granted it was cooked just as requested (medium rare), but the meat itself was missing in flavour. The stilton lent a nice pungency to the burger but because it was a small slice, the flavour eventually got lost to the meat, bun, and caramelized onions.
                              also appreciated the homemade condiments, though I do wish the homemade ketchup had a bit more tang to it.
                              frites were crispy and seasoned well, not overly salty.
                              Overall, it was all right, but I would definitely choose the harbord burger or the bymark burger over this one.

                              I had the sticky toffee pudding and I share Jacquilynne's sentiments regarding it. It was not the best I've had, and as she mentioned, it did taste a tad stale. I had to press quite hard to get through the harder and slightly drier exterior of the cake. If it hadn't been for the accomaniments that saved it (sauce and spotted dick ice cream), I don't think I would have finished it.

                              Oh, and starter, I enjoyed the crisp duck salad immensely, tender pieces of duck with crisy skin and a fatty layer nestled between the two. I liked the spiciness of the bed of slaw the duck sat in-- enjoyed the textures and how refreshing it tasted.

                              1. re: sugarcube

                                Man, I'll definitely have to try out the Harbord Room burger. I loved Nota Bene's burger - it was so juicy and beefy. I thought the stilton was great because it didn't overwhelm as blue cheese is apt to do.

                                1. re: sugarcube

                                  100% agreement, the meat lacked any beefyness, screaming for seasoning too. The stilton wasn't that strong either, given the small sliver. I felt the meat to bun ratio was off, the patty itself was too thick. With the cheese on top, it was slipping and sliding between the brioche esque bun. In its defence, it was cooked to a perfect medium rare, fries were also quite good.

                                  I would not order it again, should've listened to tjr. I'm kind of a burger completionist though, so I tried just so I could accurately comment on it. That's my excuse.....

                                  It's not topping Allen's in the $10-20 burger category. Have yet to try Harbord Room or Globe's rendition.

                                  1. re: aser

                                    Ya, for me as well, they got the other components (like the fries, condiments, bun, pickles) right but there were textural and flavour deficiencies in the meat itself. Perhaps the brisket isn't such a good idea. I had heard raves about their super luxe version, but it looks like they've replaced the foie with shaved truffles, and added some braised short ribs with it. Oh, my duck salad wasn't crisp either.

                                    Harbord Room tops that list so far. Still gotta go Globe.

                                    1. re: Chester Eleganté

                                      Hmm. I tried the $15 Harbord Room burger after hearing so many positive things on this board about it... and I was really disappointed.

                                      I asked for medium rare, and was assured that medium rare is the only way the kitchen does it. It came back medium. Barely pink inside. The bun was nice but the meat was dry. The caramelized onions were a nice touch but honestly I didn't enjoy the burger nearly as much as I enjoyed Nota Bene's $19 stilton burger. My dining companion was nonplussed - and she enjoyed Nota Bene's $39 Wagyu beef burger far more than the Harbord Room's rendition.

                                      To each their own, I suppose?

                                      1. re: Chester Eleganté

                                        I didn't mind the texture so much last time I had it. but that was a while ago.

                                        The burger at Globe is pretty good. Its quite different in flavor while not having anything crazy in it. It kept me on my toes. pictures provided on a request basis.

                            2. First time we ate at Nota Bene I was wowed. Second time less so. If the menu was updated more frequently (even just seasonally), I am sure we would have been back several more times...