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May 26, 2010 08:17 PM

Nota Bene Lives Up to the Hype (Mostly)

I have to say, I was avoiding Nota Bene for the longest time. I aways heard good things, but nothing to motivate me enough to go, especially since I heard the atmosphere wasn't exactly "warm".

Well, we finally went tonight for my wife's birthday and I have no regrets. The food was very unique, fresh and full of great flavour. The atmosphere was quite cold and hotel lobby like, but it is tastefully done and perfectly fine. It does get a little loud and the crowd is a bit staunch for my liking, but not a huge issue at all.

We started with the special Italian buffalo-style cheese that they only get twice a year and it was quite spectacular. I've never tasted cheese so rich, creamy and sweet all at the same time. I couldn't quite catch the name of the cheese, but it's rare and I apparently wouldn't be able to find it anyway.

Second we enjoyed a crispy duck salad and lobster salad, which were both great. Nothing too special, but just great quality ingredients and nice flavouring. The duck was really crispy and delicious. The lobster salad had generous portions of lobster and double smoked bacon - very nice.

For mains, I had the brisket burger (the 19.00 one, not the 40.00 wagu) and my wife had the Tuna tar tar. I wasn't expecting much for the "budget" burger, but it was as a good as any that I've had in the city and I've had many 20.00-40.00 burgers and this tops most. Cooked to perfection, rich in flavour, nicely toped with blue cheese and a perfectly crisp homemade bun. The frites were a little disappointing and not worth the calories - a better side could have really taken this over the top. My wife really enjoyed her tuna, but I didn't try and can't comment. The presentation was impressive - it's the dish they have a pic of on the website.

With all this food, we didn't have room for desert, but my wife did manage to try one of the salted truffles, which she loved. She actually begged me to get another one after we already got the bill. This is where I think they Nota Bene went wrong. I had already got the bill (almost 150.00 for 2 people) and my wife was hinting to the waiter that she wished she got one more. The waiter said he would bring another and I foolishly and perhaps greedily expected him to comp us for this in the end (they were only 2.25 each for Pete's sake). When he brought it to us, he asked for the bill back as I was about to sign to adjust it for 2.25!!!! I think that's really weak for a restaurant of this calibre and a bill that size...especially when it was my wife's birthday. Anyway, maybe I'm being cheap, but that wasn't a great way to end what was a truly great meal and dining experience.

I'll definitely be back and I'll make sure to order all the truffles before I get the bill!

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

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  1. Thanks kosherdill. This is my favorite review of a restaurant-you hit all the right notes. Just one question-did you mention that it was your wife's birthday upon making the reservation?


    3 Replies
    1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

      Thanks....I didn't mention, but I should have. I did mention it to the waiter more "in passing" when we got there. We are going out for the big birthday dinner later in the week. We're trying Sidecar as reco'd by Chowhounders. I'll make sure they know in advance.

      1. re: kosherdill

        Happy anniversary and birthday! I love Sidecar and recommend it frequently, but I do want to point out that it is a VERY different type of restaurant than Nota Bene. It's a very casual, bistro-type restaurant. Good food, good service, great cocktails. If the weather is nice, ask for a table on the patio in back. But the experience will be quite different than Nota Bene -- both in terms of the quality/complexity of the food and the formality of the service. Just a heads up, not a deterrent (I hope!).

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

        1. re: kosherdill

          I don't think it would have made much of a difference. When I took DH to Nota Bene for his birthday, I mentioned when making our reservation that it was for a birthday celebration. We got no preferential treatment, but DH didn't care either way, so it was all good.

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

      2. the burger is very good, but the wagyu burger is a taste of heaven! it is one of my favorite dishes ever. burger patty, topped with short rib, topped with truffle, topped with a poached egg. for the regular burger, try getting the onion rings instead of the fries - much better.

        the tuna tartare there is one of the best in the city.

        you're right about the atmosphere, and not my usual kind of place, but the food is so good!

        5 Replies
        1. re: igk

          I recall being comped something when we went there for my girlfriend's birthday but I'm having a hard time remembering what it was. And agree that the food is very, very good.

          1. re: jamesm

            I put a little note when making a reservation online. They gave us a chocolate bar with 'Happy Birthday" that came along with the dessert. Our server was friendly and took pictures of us with the dessert. Not 100% sure whether they had a candle as well. Sidecar is also a lovely spot and the service is friendly and the food is good bistro food. I agree with the previous poster, it won't necessary wow you, but I really like the atmosphere there and you'll have a great time.

            1. re: ragged25

              For my sister's birthday they definitely included a candle (I mentioned the occasion when making the reservation over the phone). Also, it was more of a large thin solid oval of (yummy!) chocolate rather than a bar that she received.

              1. re: LTL

                Poor description on my behalf, yours was definitely more fitting and you're right, it was good too.

                1. re: LTL

                  Hmm. No candle or chocolate with dessert when I went there for DH's birthday celebration (I made a note when I was making the reservation). It must depend on the server. Although, to be fair, I didn't make a big deal about the birthday.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. Thanks for your review, kosherdill. It is definitely a superduper burger. My favourite in the city so far...

              I went to Nota Bene this week and unfortunately did not have the positive experience that you did. In particular, my two dining companions tried the Wednesday night pulled dorset lamb and fresh pasta special, and the seared scallops as their mains. We had the steak tartare and two orders of the softshell crab salad to start. I had the tuna tartare app as a main.
              First the good: the starters (including my tartare) were amazing. Especially the softshell crab salad appetizer. Perfect combination of flavours: fried, succulent crabby goodness, tangy vermicelli and pickled daikon, and a hit of serious spice. I loved this dish. I also loved my tuna tartare which was fresh, and luscious thanks to the avocado overlay. I also enjoyed the crunch of the accompanying taro chip.

              The scallop dish came exactly as described. My DC found it uninteresting but I suppose that is more a matter of taste than anything. The scallops were fresh and perfectly executed.

              The pasta was a mega fail, though. The lamb was DRY and tasteless. And the pasta was too chewy. There was no flavour in the sauce to speak of. I have no idea what happened with this dish but the quality was unacceptable ... I'm a fairly regular patron of the restaurant and I've never encountered this kind of thing so I'm hoping it was a one-off.

              Service was impeccable as always.

              Anyway, I'll probably just stick to the burger and the apps going forward --- I really find that those are Nota Bene's strengths.

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

              1. Interesting to hear your comments about the bill. I went once shortly after they opened and then again very recently. I found the restaurant to have changed with respect to value. I understood that Nota Bene was set up originally as a semi fine dining spot with high quality food at reasonable prices. I did not find this to be the case on my last visit.

                We ordered the hamachi ceviche to start. I believe it was around $16. It was good and served in a nice way, but we had about 7-8 thin slices of fish, which I felt was not much quantity for the price. I almost ordered the $17 white asparagus appetizer (special of the day), but hesitated. The table next to us ordered it and it was 3-4 spears with a small amount of salad. Regardless of how good it was, I find it very difficult to justify that price.

                For mains, we had the salmon ($29) and the pasta with rabbit sofrito ($25). I found the salmon to be fairly ordinary. It was cooked well and the sides were very nice, but nothing special. The pasta was excellent (fresh, but not made in-house) and I really enjoyed it. The portions were decent and the quality of food was very good. My gripe only is with the prices. I felt the fish should have been closer to $20 and pasta under $20.

                Service was excellent. Atmosphere was ok, but not my thing, as I prefer more casual and fun places. Overall, the food was good, but didn't blow me away. The prices are mainly what will keep me from returning.

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