Nota Bene Restaurant

Photocollage of Nota Bene Restaurant

A couple of weekends ago, I took the Ginger Ninja out for a fancy dinner to celebrate her new job. Since it was a celebration for her, she got to pick the place and found Nota Bene online (I believe through Chowhound’s discussion boards, a generally reliable source of restaurant information). The head chef is David Lee, the head chef of Splendido (here’s a Toronto Life review; here are all the Chowhound discussions on Splendido).

Nota Bene is located in the new Canada Life building near the corner of Queen and University, just west of Campbell House. It’s easy to miss; the building is a characterless silver slab, the sort of thing that makes me want to smack architecture students on the nose with a large hardcover Mies van der Rohe book and scream “Bad dog! Baaaaad doggie!” Walking in the door, I half-expected to end up in a club playing a lot of OONTZ OONTZ OONTZ music, as the building reminded me of the equally nondescript structure that housed the Industry night club, an odd tenant for an office building.

Inside, Nota Bene is warm and woody, all deep brown and white, done in that sort of “Japanese minimalism meets Frank Lloyd Wright” design that gave me a sense of deja vu. I later realized it’s reminiscent of the way Gordon Ramsay redesigns restaurants on the British edition of his Kitchen Nightmares show, which I took to be a good sign.

The service here is very friendly and very attentive. The staff appear to know that they’re working at a restaurant barely weeks into existence in one of North America’s most competitive markets. They also know that at the eastern edge of Queen Street West, with club-goers and their clothing shops to the immediate west and south, and the opera house and financial district to the immediate east. This understanding was reflected in our waitress — an excellent and friendly server — who would’ve fit in either at Canoe or the Bovine Sex Club. The sommelier was informative and helpful rather than condescending. Neither my wine nor water glass dipped below the halfway point without someone refilling it. At one point, I counted 15 front-of-house staff working away at the restaurant’s 30-odd tables.

The crowd was an interesting mix: I’d say there were an even number of people dressed to catch something at the opera house across the street and people dressed to go clubbing on Queen Street or the entertainment district after dinner. There were as many suits as there were t-shirts; it kind of reminded me of some of the better restaurants in Manhattan, where such mixes are common. (I wore something halfway between the two — a suit-ready dress shirt with nice jeans and dress shoes, which seemed appropriate.)

The menu is a mix of fancier dishes like papardelle pasta and rabbit soffritto and upscale versions of comfort classics like pork chops and burgers.

I had:

  • Tandoori-spiced barramundi: Fatty bits of the Australian fish, dusted with tandoori spices with slivers of mango and cucumber wrapped in lettuce. It was a nice opener for… ($15)
  • Cumbrae Farms dry-rubbed pork chop: A succulent pork chop from one a premier meat farm with a tasty dry rub with a small lobster salad on the side. ($34)
  • Chocolate tart: dark and rich, served with a “local raspberry sorbet” ($10)
  • Cappuccino ($5.25)

Wendy had:

  • Crisp duck salad: bits of duck with crispy skin with “sumac-dusted green papaya slaw” and cashews ($15)
  • Grilled “rare” hangar steak: Tender slices of beef with Mexican flavours — “guajillo spice, tomatillo, lime, avocado chutney” ($22)
  • Pot de cremes: Four small pots of delicious custards: coconut, pistachio, chocolate and coffee flavours ($10)
  • Coffee ($3.50)

We also split:

  • A bottle of 2004 Bodegas Darien Rioja Crianza ($60)
  • Sparkling water ($8)
  • A side order of the onion rings ($8)

With taxes and not taking tip into account, the bill came to $220. It’s not a cheap night out, but if you’re looking to impress a date, celebrate a special occasion or just live a little, it’s worth it.

I liked my appetizer but Wendy’s — the crisp duck salad — was amazing. I’m having that next time. As for the mains, I preferred mine: this was a pork chop done right. The desserts were also great — sometimes a restaurant does well with the opening and main courses and falls apart when it comes to dessert (Crush Wine Bar, I’m lookin’ at you!) — but our meal was consistently very good from start to finish, with service to match. We’re definitely coming back.

Other Write-Ups for Nota Bene / Reservation Info

The Chowhounds approve of Nota Bene.

Here’s Martini Boys’ writeup.

Spotlight Toronto also approves.

Want to make a reservation? You can phone them at (416) 977-6400 or do it online via OpenTable.

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