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Lunch at Nota Bene

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By James Geneau

Since we here at Gremolata are always having “off-site” meetings, lunch is almost always held somewhere new.  And a week ago, that place was Nota Bene.  I had heard the hype, read the rave reviews from other publications, and knew it had to be at least as excellent as Splendido, but I also had some concerns for the owners.  After all, who the hell opens a restaurant at the beginning of a financial meltdown and recession?

So, we decided to make Nota Bene our lunch meeting location for a Wednesday.  We were greeted and shown to our seats and I was impressed not just by the surroundings, but by the fact that it was half-full with patrons at noon.  Not bad for a Wednesday I thought.  I enjoyed a lovely glass of 2005 Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon while I admired the surroundings.  Bright, open and airy with soft beiges and a touch of wood made the place open and friendly without being over-styled.  The first thing that came to my mind was how lovely it must look in the evening, when the lights are dimmed and the illuminated half-wall dividing the bar from the dining room is giving off its soft glow.

First course was the Yucatan Hot & Sour Soup, a lovely surprise.  It has shredded smoked chicken and Gogi berries and is decorated with lovely edible flower petals.  I think this can be best summed up as Hot & Sour soup for grownups.  It was not too tart, and not too spicy.  What was interesting, and to this day I am still trying to figure out, was the smoky bacon aftertaste I had after every spoonful.  I was stunned, and it became a topic of conversation for at least 10 minutes as we enjoyed are starters.  I love it when I am surprised like this at lunch.  After all, that is one of the pleasures good food provides - pleasant surprises and new discoveries.

My main course was a Lake Huron Pickerel Filet with forest mushrooms, potato gnocchi, and basil pesto.  This was not an overpowering dish, which is why I think I enjoyed it.  It was light, fresh, and with a mild lemony dash that allowed the flavors of each ingredient to kind of stand on their own or allowed me to mix and match bites to my liking.  As a sharing side, we ordered the onion rings.  I hate to admit it, but these were divine and I secretly wished I could steal a few, run back home, grill a big steak, and sprinkle these onto it.  I am sure Chef David Lee has a bounty on my head now for even suggesting this.  They added some saltiness to the main course as I navigated between the fish and the rings, back and forth.  It was at this time that I noticed something remarkable.  The restaurant was full to capacity.  Every seat was taken and people were laughing and making those oh so familiar faces one links with good food and great company.

Finally, it was time for dessert.  It was a cold and dreary day outside and I wanted something that would make me feel warm, comfortable, and ready to take on the walk home.  I opted for the Niagara Apple Crumble with Mulled Apple Cider Jus.  One bite and I was in Christmas shopping mode.  The mulled cider jus was heavy on the cloves which was suitable given it was served with a generous scoop of rich vanilla ice cream.  It was lovely and was quickly shared with the other members of the table.  They all agreed with me, this was a great dessert to have after a lovely lunch and full morning of holiday shopping along Queen West.

So, would I recommend it?  Certainly, but it does look like the recession is not having any impact on their business.  Considering this, you may want to make a reservation.  If you don’t have time for lunch or dinner, at least pop into their street front bar for an Apple Crumble and Cappuccino before the holidays.  


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