A restaurant team doesn't get much better than this: Executive Chef David Lee, General Manager Yannick Bigourdan and Franco Prevedello are the proprietors of the new Nota Bene Restaurant located at Queen and University.
The idea behind Nota Bene is to bring the quality of food from Splendido - their "sister" restaurant -to those who might not want to pay Splendido prices. That is not to say that it is cheap, Nota Bene's pricing is comparable with most of the fine dining establishments in th
e downtown core.
And this $3 million dollar venture means that you get to sit in a truly exquisite room that exudes both power and grace. Walnut walls and Brazilian cherrywood floors give the space warmth, while the high ceilings and spacious seating exude an air of affluence. The space, designed by Tom Payne of KPMB, really is the place to be and to be seen.
Even the paintings are exquisite. We spend a great deal of the meal looking and talking about the series of brightly coloured paintings, which are hung on both sides of the large dining room at the back.
In my opinion, the service is the best in the city. We count 12 servers on a Monday night. Everyone is attentive, yet remain at a distance, allowing you to enjoy the meal to the fullest.
And you will enjoy the meal. How could you not with the Yucatan Hot & Sour Soup ($10), a smooth, subtle creation that is not too spicy, includes smoked chicken, carrots, red pepper and goji berries that add a soft pop with each bite. The Potato & Collard Greens Soup ($10) develops as you eat it. Its fresh earthiness gives way to a comforting, soothing blend finished with an exciting hit of espelette pepper oil and sour cream. Both are some of the best soups you'll ever have. They may even send you into the kitchen, trying to figure out just what David has done-how does he do that, you'll cry, as you taste yet another ingredient.
The Crisp Duck Salad ($15) is a warren of flavours and textures-sumac-dusted green papaya slaw, cashews and crispy, meaty, duck all conspire to make one of the most exhilarating salads you'll ever have. And remember folks, these are just the appetizers.
With the Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare ($15), it's all about sensuous softness. But unlike most tuna tartare, this one doesn't shy away and fade into the background. It takes centre stage. The bold citrus soya ginger dressing lifts the tuna and avocado, while the crispy shallots add texture to balance the dish perfectly.
While the appetizers are light and exuberant, the mains, outside of the seafood, remain heavy and hearty.
Take the Suckling Pig and Boudin Noir Tart ($25) for example. The thick flaky pastry is just the base for the rich maple-smoked bacon and intense blood sausage, all finished with a truffle vinaigrette. It is filling to say the least and extremely rich.
And the heft continues with the Braised Short Ribs ($24). This generous square of rich, soft meat is only accompanied by a large, clean bone (for presentation), pickled horseradish salad, cucumbers and cornichons. Between my companion and I, regardless of how indulgent the dishes may taste, we can't finish either dish because they are both so filling.
But that doesn't stop us from indulging in dessert.
The Niagara Apple Crumble with Mulled Apple Cider Jus ($10) is perfection on a plate, complete with the finest homemade vanilla ice cream. And sinking further into sheer decadence, the Flourless Chocolate Fudge Cake with Dulce de Leche Ice Cream ($10) has us moaning with delight.
The table next to us does the same thing 20 minutes later.
Nota Bene is what you always hope for when wanting to experience fine dining-a beautiful room in which you feel appreciated and yet comfortable; food that stops you mid-sentence, making you extend your fork to your companion saying, try it, you won't believe it; and service that has you wondering why the rest of the city can't follow suit.
And that's what makes Nota Bene one of the best restaurants in the city.