At night out with a friend at Nota Bene

Several months ago I was in a book store with a friend looking at pastry books and deciding where to go for a post dinner snack.  On our way to the register with a copy of Flowers for Algernon my friend brought up the subject of the fat friend.  The fat friend, as my interpretation goes, is the friend that is always down for eating (doesn’t particularly reference body shape).  She had made reference to another friend from her past when broaching the subject but seeing how I was so easily convinced to go for more food that evening I think she was subtly calling me her new fat friend.  From then on, since she is almost always down for eating like I am, I occasionally refer to her as my fat friend (she is actually pretty skinny but can eat almost as much as I can… I honestly have no idea how she does it).  It had been a while since I had gone for a fancy-ish meal so last week I told my fat friend I was taking her out for a nice dinner.  (Wow, that sounds really rude reading that back).

We made our way to Nota Bene, a chic new(ish) restaurant at Queen and University.  The front entrance area was small as we cozy-ed up next to some friendly visiting Americans upon entering the restaurant.  The bar area next to the entrance was lit with some trendy lights that reflected off the numerous liquor bottles adorning the long shelves behind the bar.  I confirmed our reservation and then we took our coats to the coat check people.  We were shown to our seats at the back of the restaurant while noting the interesting art pieces on the wall, a fairly open layout of tables and the trendier clientele (a lot of suits and fancy dresses).  My friend commented on the above average noise level which we both agreed was nice since it felt less pretentious.  The noise however didn’t help me since my friend is a little hard of hearing and found her saying, “What?!” almost every time I opened my mouth…or maybe I just mumble.

The waitress was extremely attentive and friendly.  After deciding on a German Riesling blend for drinks she commented on our “energy”.  We responded saying that we were just really hungry and really excited to eat.  She laughed and said we had come to the right place.

For appetizers we shared the Mozzarella di Bufala which was served on top of local radicchio, preserved lemon, balsamic and olive oil.  The cheese was wonderful.  It was smooth, creamy and mixed well with the somewhat sharper tasting radicchio.  My friend had the first bite and quickly said she could sit and eat a whole tub of the cheese alone.  I had to agree.  We also shared the special appetizer of the night, a sashimi plate with a number of oils and seasoning on it.  Our waitress ran through the list of ingredients so fast and it all sounded so delicious that I don’t even remember what she said but responded, “We’ll have one of those too”.  The plate came with six beautifully plated, thinly sliced pieces of fish.  It was good.  Not our favorite dish but tasty.  The last appetizer was the crisp duck salad with sumac-dusted green papaya slaw and cashews.  This was our favorite appetizer.  The duck was succulent, fatty and loaded with flavor.  The rich meat served on top of a refreshing medley of veggies and cold noodles was a home run for me.

Once the plates were cleared the mains arrived shortly after.  My friend had the seared rare big eye tuna which was served with chickpeas, sunchoke and smoked cherry bomb peppers.  I only had a bite of the tuna which was perfectly cooked having an almost light grey-ish color on the outside of the filets with a dark red-ish/purple-ish center.  My friend commented on how amazing seared tuna was because you get the taste of both cooked and raw tuna.  She was right, the bite that I had was amazing.  Light seasoning on the outside and the taste of the raw and cooked tuna in my mouth had my eyes rolling into the back of my head in delight.  I had the pulled suckling pig and boudin noir tart served with maple smoked bacon, mushrooms with a truffle vinaigrette.  The pig meat was tender and juicy.  Even the larger chunks had no hint of dryness.  The little black tarts that were laced throughout the dish were also delightful and the fruit puree on the side seemed to mix well with everything.  This dish was much heavier than the fish and was well executed.  In addition to the mains we ordered two side dishes, the rapini cooked with chilies and the onion rings.  The rapini was so-so.  I was expecting a little more kick from the chilies but could only really taste the oil and the greens.  The onion rings, which the waitress boasted were the best in the city, could be THE best onion rings I have ever had.  The onions were cut laser thin and came out in beautifully tangled mess.  As I began pulling one out it reminded my friend of the children’s game a-barrel-of-moneys since they all appeared linked together.  The balance of flavors between the batter and the onions melded perfectly.  I find a lot of onion rings too salty but these were perfectly seasoned.

We couldn’t finish the sides and asked to have them packed up.  Although we were both pretty full and ready to pass out into a food coma we decided to get dessert anyways.  We went for the crème caramel.  The approximately six inch in diameter little cake came out drizzled in a caramel glaze and was topped with a dried out vanilla bean.  Surrounding the center-piece of the plate were hard caramel candy pieces with nuts entombed inside.  They reminded me of those sap pieces from Jurassic Park but instead of a mosquito inside, there were nuts.  The crème caramel was soft and light.  It wasn’t too sweet but just sweet enough to leave you satisfied after a big meal.  With the numerous dishes, wine and a generous tip for the outstanding service it ended up being a bit of a pricey night.  It was worth it though.  You can’t put a price on enjoying really good food with great company.  My friend’s candor and sense of humor are refreshing and her passion for food far exceeds my own.  That “energy” that waitress had referred to earlier in the night could be the beaming happiness I exude when laughing with friends… or  maybe it was just the excitement for the food.  Either way, it was a “ferociously” delightful evening (inside joke).  

(Sorry, no pictures since it was a little dim in the restaurant and my phone doesn’t take good pictures in the dark.  Just trust we when I say the food looks as awesome as it tastes).

~ by jlowjlow on November 8, 2009.

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