Thursday, August 07, 2008

nota bene restaurant

dinner at nota bene restaurant last night was a fantastic dining experience. the room is very large and has a generic, modern, contemporary feel, with big pieces of art on the walls and tasteful sage and walnut accents. it feels like a restaurant that could be in a gallery, or in a hilton or something. very spacious with lots of breathing room.

the service was exemplary. warm, attentive without being overbearing, adroit. plates were cleared and the table was de-crumbed swiftly. we never had to ask for a repour of our wine or touch the bottle ourselves. the servers, hosts, and manager managed to strike the right note. the talk never seemed forced and seemed really natural, which is the best you can ask for. when you go to a restaurant, you're paying them to be nice to you. some of the best service i've had in toronto at a restaurant yet.

first up was the bread plate, served with a lightly grassy, round flavoured olive oil for dunking.

the dotytron and i shared everything. to start, we had the charcuterie plate. clockwise from the bottom left: creemore bacon, maple bacon, saucisson sec, whipped pork fat, pickled beets, olives, mustard, roasted pork cheek, cured salami, duck proscuitto.

everything was delectable. the standouts were the whipped fat, which was so airy it was lighter than foam, heady with rosemary, and studded with sparkling grains of crunchy sea salt. i could eat vats and vats of that stuff. it tasted ever-so-slightly of sweet, porcine goodness, without any grease or heaviness in the mouth. we spread it on the toasted baguette crisps provided and ate it fat-side down to savour the melting unctuousness on the tongue, suffusing the palate with featherlight, flowing, golden, bliss. i also really loved the pork cheek, which featured a thin strip of meat, a layer of molten pork fat and a crispy, puffy, crown of crackling. it was so so so hard to share that piece of meat with the dotytron! the meat was impossibly tender, the fat dissipated in the mouth like an airy whisp of cloud and the crackling dissolved in a shower of crisp the teeniest, tiniest, pork flavoured pop rocks imaginable. love love love! other favorites were the maple cured bacon (smoky, delicate) and the creemore bacon (paper thin slices of sweet meat, vaguely reminiscent of ham). the duck proscuitto was probably the best iteration of duck proscuitto that i've ever had. what really struck me about the charcuterie platter was how nothing left your mouth with that greasy coating that cured meats tend to impart. it was very, very clean, which is a pretty admirable feat considering the sturdy flavour profiles that duck has, and that pork can have when it's natural sweetness and clean flavour are battered down with salt and the curing process.

the dotytron ordered the crisp duck salad with sumac dusted green papaya slaw and cashews. i really liked how chef david lee sneaks in asian references without being heavy-handed or gimmicky. this salad was crunchy, light, fresh and perfectly balanced flavour-wise. the green papaya was finely shredded and offset with more woody, crunchy strands of taro. coriander leaves were used judiciously and the whole effect of the salad played well against the duck, which had been flattened and cooked down until the meat was juicy and tender, the fat completely melted away, and the skin had been nudged into that sublime state where a crackling, gossamer thin structural layer shatters around airy pockets of duck-flavoured perfume.

for our mains, the dotytron got the wednesday special of lobster pappardelle pasta with chanterelle mushrooms and fresh peas. the pasta was chewy but tender, studded with chunks of lobster, sweetly starchy peas, woodsy chanterelle mushrooms in a lobster-broth infused sauce. snips of tarragon gave the dish a slight asian dimension.

i ordered the suckling pig and boudin noir tart wtih maple smoked bacon and truffle vinaigrette. it consisted of a disc of pastry (flaky, but a trifle tough and difficult to cut through), heaped with juicy strips of shredded suckling pig, shitake mushrooms, boudin noir coins (the boudin was fabulous. not heavy or overly minerally the way boudin noir can get), maple bacon and some kind of edible flower. the tart sat on top of a bed of roccola that had been dressed with the truffle vinaigrette. with all those elements, i was expecting something heavy and wintery and rich, but the vinaigrette had a puckery sharpness that cut through all the theoretical heaviness of the plate. the execution of the elements and the quality of the ingredients didn't lend themselves to dull, weighted, tastes.

for dessert, i got the niagara bing cherry crumble with vanilla ice cream dusted with nutmeg. sweet, juicy-but-not-too-wet cherries, underneath a bubbly crisp topping...classic and clean.

the dotytron got the pot de cremes (coconut, pistachio, coffee, and chocolate). the coconut was probably my favorite, full of nutty, toasted coconut flavour. the texture of the pot de cremes was a little off. heavy and a trifle gummy and pasty...not as creamy as pot de cremes should be.

the portions were pretty big. compared to lucien, i'd say everything was a good 1.5 times the size of the plates we got there and much, much tastier. the dishes are well thought out and well executed with a degree of restraint and consciousness of textures and balance. my overall impression is that the food is very light and clean and extremely well thought-out. it's not overly cerebral but you can tell that care and attention has gone into each plate and all the elements of service. all told, we spent $245 for three courses each, a bottle of wine, tax, and tip. i thought it was a great experience overall and i would definitely recommend it and would love to go back. nota bene restaurant gets a big thumbs up!

tonight i'm made nicoise sandwiches and now we're heading to the dotytron's sister's cd release party at revival.


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