Nota Bene, on Toronto’s Queen Street West, has it all going on: comfortable, sophisticated space; creative food, under executive chef David Lee; and polished service.
I was reminded of this, once again, on a recent visit, where all aspects of the restaurant were firing on all cylinders.
Leading off our tasting menu are sparklingly fresh Savage Blonde oysters. Cultivated in Savage Harbour Bay, PEI, these sparklingly fresh bivalves boast a sweet, slightly briny flavour sharpened by the accompanying vinegar- and shallot-based condiments.
Coconut milk, chiles, avocado and coriander animate a sophisticated ceviche of yellowtail given textural crunch from corn nuts. Scoop ceviche onto razor-thin housemade taro chips. Inhale. Repeat.
And then a Nota Bene classic: plump, cloud-like ravioli stuffed with a mixture of pureed sweet pea, parmesan and asiago and accessorized with lemon and earthy morels. It’s the city’s best ravioli dish, bar none.
For the main course, the kitchen sends out rosy slices of juicy Quebec venison cleverly complemented by a puree of dates and guajillo chile, chanterelle mushrooms and an exquisite pave made of thinly sliced potatoes and celery root, which adds sublime sweetness.
To finish, there’s dark, intense chocolate tart on top of torched meringue, passionfruit sauce and hazelnuts. Along for the ride, housemade banana ice cream.
In recent years, the split-level space has simplified its look, adding drama via a rotating selection of modern art and 70 tumbleweeds, sourced from Nevada, hung from the ceiling. The effect is one of contemporary understatement.
Under the watchful eye of general manager Alanna Stuart-Young, the serving team is gracious and knowledgeable.
Group buyouts will be considered for the full space, which accommodates up to 180 people. A semi-private space seats up to 36.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,300 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.