“Pay attention,” the Toronto famed Executive Chef and Owner, David Lee, talks about his highly acclaimed restaurant, Nota Bene. Deriving from the Latin phrase, ‘notare bene’ or more commonly referenced by its abbreviated version, N.B., Chef Lee explains how his restaurant is not insinuating for visitors to ‘pay attention’ but rather the contrary. He strives to prove that even while working well into his seventh year of business, the Chef’s unwavering attention to the guests, the service and most importantly, the food, is still very much top of mind. Dedicated and hard working, Chef Lee notes, “My happiest accomplishment is when a plate comes back to the kitchen empty.”
Smack dab in the middle of Toronto’s eclectic Queen West scene, the split-level restaurant and sleek bar lounge attracts the tailored suit lunch crowd, the hungry and parched happy hour pack and the relentlessly devout evening foodies. At the relaunch of the space in early 2016, the interior decor and his menu received a face-lift. Alluding to the ingenious thinking that has crafted each dish, the menu quotes, “When you live in a country with four completely different seasons, the menu can’t help but follow the same rhythms,” a concept that Chef Lee whole-heartedly believes.
The philosophy at Nota Bene balances three key components to craft every dish as a memorable one – simplicity, seasonality and flavour. “We’re very picky on what we deliver on the plate. If it’s not the best, then it doesn’t make sense to me,” Chef Lee explains about his standards. With a commitment to source the finest, seasonal ingredients for the menu, Chef has shaped lasting relationships with local suppliers to help bring his vision to life. Organic, locally-raised meats and produce make all the difference in the flavour. Noticing a shift in dining out, patrons are offered a delightful menu that caters lighter, simple yet delicious dishes. Don’t forget to start with or pair one of their many Gin&Tonic concoctions or a bottle of red or white from their long list of complementary wines. Easily categorized by Snacks, Begin, Follow and Share plates, the menu will get taste buds elated with Begin dishes like the Zucchini Carpaccio, Tunisian Octopus and their very popular Heirloom Cookstown Carrots and Follow dishes like their Nova Scotia Lobster Tagliolini or signature Cumbrae Farms 60-Day Dry-Aged Ribsteak for Two. No matter your decision, your mouth is in for a divine meal from beginning to end! The challenge is creating options inclusive of vegan, dairy and gluten-intolerant diets, and for this, Chef Lee relies on his inspiration from the ingredients, “You have to be passionate about food and you have to be in love with this job, if you’re not then it’s very difficult to produce these dishes.”
Yet the menu is the not the restaurant’s only reflection of nature and simplicity; the space outside of the kitchen tells the same story. Tumble weeds cover the ceiling leaving the walls sparing both art and décor. Mixed neutral wood and leather pieces, a pop of colour for bench seating in the dining room with an extensive wine collection display sitting in the sleek lounge and a reclaimed iron wood tree trunk with 3-D printed branches featured at the entrance. The recently revamped room accomplishes the a casual-dining, constantly evolving feel that Chef Lee envisioned for his own restaurant, a dream he has had since he can remember.
From humble beginnings in the U.K., both his parents and grandparents mentored him, which crafted a respect for food that is deeply embedded in his heart. “Would my grandparents approve of this dish? Did I make this dish the way they would? Have I given enough love to the dish?” These questions arise every day. “It’s just very natural for me to be in a kitchen,” he says reflecting on his upbringing around family. Now as a third generation Chef, he hopes to pass on his appreciation and love for food to his children and other aspiring chefs.
What is your favourite dish to make for yourself?
Sweet or Savoury?
Red or white wine?
Morning or Night person?
What’s your nickname in the kitchen?
Favourite meal of the day?
What do you do to relax?
Spend time with my family
Favourite restaurant in the world?
That’s easy – Asador Etxebarri in Spain
Do you have a role model or mentor?
Marco Pierre White
Soigne, it’s French for ‘to take care of’, and that’s what we do in the kitchen
To book a reservation call 416.977.6400 or visit NotaBeneRestaurant.com
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