Sunday, June 28, 2009

Nota Bene - Never Go Wrong!

I've been to Nota Bene several times, a regular and reliable spot for us. The chef, David Lee, is of Splendido fame, and although I haven't been there myself, I have only heard great things. Nota Bene is the more affordable option, and sufficiently impressive for me already!

For starters we had the steak tartare and soft shell crab salad. I can't say I was enticed by the soft shell crab initially (it's not a Japanese restaurant!) but the batter was very light and it was pretty good! The steak tartare reminds me of my favourite from a restaurant in Calgary (The Living Room) - I think it's the capers that add a unique flavour I like.

Nota Bene doesn't boast a wide range in their regular menu, but they feature delicious daily specials that change season to season. On my first visit, the special was lobster for $29 - what a deal! That's when I became a fan! Last night, the special was braised lamb with penne...and it delivered to expectation as always. Most notable on the menu, however, is the suckling pig & boudin noir tart. I have never seen or tasted anything like it before - suckling pig is incredibly tender, and paired with maple-smoked bacon and truffle's simply irresistable (and yes, that is blood sausage!). It is quite a heavy plate, I don't think I could ever finish it myself, so I am always glad when Tony orders it and I can have a bite :) While we didn't order any sides last night, it is generally a "must do" at Nota Bene - the onion rings come a plenty and are enough for a table of 4 and the rapini is delicious and is affectionately loved by the chef. While on a diet several years ago, David Lee apparently ate a lot of rapini and believes it is a vegetable that deserves more recognition.

Nota Bene is casual chic and suitable for any occasion: drinks at the bar, a fancy night out, or just simply for the good food. While it is a lively restaurant, I love that it is not too noisy to have an intimate conversation if you wanted. So next time you don't know where to eat, you can count on Nota Bene for good food and a good experience.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Vegas: A Whirlwind Weekend for Foodies!

Every year, we go away on a little trip for Tony's birthday. While it would make sense for us to stick to the East side of the continent - the deals to Vegas are simply too good to be passed up right now! For the price of one night in NYC, we were able to spend a full weekend in I thought, WHY NOT? We love Vegas! Last weekend, we made the whirlwind trip there with our friends Merrill & Jackie from Toronto and Sam & Surina from Vancouver - it was great to have them join us. Food, shopping, and the company of good friends...the weekend flew by before we knew it (and yet, it felt like we were there for days and days!).

We landed late at night, but the time change was on our side - after meeting up with Sam/Sur the 6 of us went for a quick bite at Fix at the Bellagio. I often feel like I am not meant to eat there - Tony and I have missed a reservation there in the past, and this time, we landed late and missed the "regular" menu. The late night menu was...ok, but not spectacular. We had lobster tacos (in fact, everyone at the table did!) and yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno. Merrill's kobe sliders looked delicious...and maybe more filling :)

After our quick meal we took a walk around the casino - for a Friday night, Bellagio was relatively dead. In fact, we were able to play craps for $10! Is that normal?? It was a short night, as we had planned an early start to the outlets on Saturday...

My first couple trips to Vegas did not include Premium Outlets - I was never a big outlet shopper, felt like I get caught up in buying stuff I don't really need but felt compelled by the GREAT deals. Besides, there is such good shopping on the strip already - Caesars forum (everything from Abercrombie and Victoria Secret to Dior and La Perla) and Fashion Show Mall (Nieman, Macys, Saks AND Nordstroms!?). But I must say, Premium Outlets in Vegas is prettttty good: BCBG, Burberry, Coach, cK and Kenneth start. The deals are good! I picked up a fantastic Coach bag for my mom last year at a ridiculous discount, and this time, Tony found Kenneth Cole dress shoes for $35! Maybe it's the recession? I'm doing my part to stimulate the economy! The 6 of us split up and made our merry way through the many stores. It was a good day half indoors, half out :) And I think we all picked up some great bargains!

I had made reservations at one of our FAVOURITE restaurants - Shibuya at the MGM. Our waiter at the Alain Ducasse restaurant (Mix) recommended it during our first trip to Vegas together - who knew sushi in Vegas could be so good!? Shibuya is also where we fell in love with sake, the menu is extensive and educational, including pictures of bottles/labels, regionality and thorough taste descriptions. With each sake you try, they also present you with a Shibuya business card with the name on the back - so you never forget the great little drink you had! Genius! But the food is the hero of the show of course: Merrill and Jackie opted for the Omakase, a 9 course meal, which was the initiation of our love affair with this restaurant. - you really get the best Shibuya has to offer! Sam and Surina chose the futari for two, a family style tasting menu. Several of our favourites were included with this menu as well - such as the albacore with crispy onions, and lobster and scallop in uni butter. In fact, we ALL HAD the lobster and scallop in uni butter - yes, it's THAT good. Tony and I also had lobster miso soup, kobe beef tataki, toro tartare, tuna sashimi, miso black cod, and braised kobe short rib and seared foie gras. Needless to say, we were stuffed after this scrumptious meal. We had talked up this restuarant to our friends, and I was a little nervous it wouldn't stand up to their foodie expectations....thankfully, everyone walked away happy and satisfied, which made us all the more happy to have brought them there.

Merrill and Jackie then made their way to see O (the BEST Cirque and any live show, in my opinion), while the rest of us went to see Jersey Boys at the Palazzo. The show was FANTASTIC, the 2006 Tony Award winner for best musical lives up to all the hype. Not going to lie, I wasn't sure who Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were by name, but apparently, I did know a lot of the songs - like Big Girls Don't Cry, and Can't Take My Eyes Off of You! And the crowd was adorable - the average age must have been 60, and they just sang along with their old time favourites. We enjoyed the show even more than we thought we would - it is well writen, well performed and the music is fun. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting!

We sadly said good-bye to Sam and Surina Sunday morning, and made our way to Bouchon, by Thomas Keller, at the Venetian for brunch. Surina and I had had a wonderful dinner there last year for her stagette - but Tony had never been! Our meal was AMAZING...and food-coma-inducing. We started with less than impressive moulets et frites, but the rest was heavenly: chicken & waffles with chives, in a bacon and mushroom sauce (seriously, how can you go wrong with that!?); butter poached trout with green beans (I didn't know I could like the taste of trout so much!); a Croque Madam ( toasted ham and cheese on brioche); and the best corned beef hash ever. There was no bad meal on the table - and I think I need to go again to try the French Toast. That was definitely the best brunch I have ever had!

We walked off our excessive brunch with some shopping at Fashion Show Mall (seriously, the sales were unbelievable), and eventually made our way for dinner at Michael Mina. Unfortunately, this is another restaurant we are not meant to try - the boys' shorts were deemed inappropriate attire (isn't this Vegas???) so we never even made it to the table. Tony and I had previously missed a reservation at a Michael Mina restaurant in Miami. Instead, we had a lighter dinner (probably a good idea in hindsight!) at Noodles in the Bellagio. I have been there before with my parents, and although it's ridiculous to pay twenty-some-dollars for noodle soup, it's pretty darn good! The brisket soup tasted like it had been boiling for days, and my laksa curry noodle was uber delicious! This is a nice change from the luxurious food we had all weekend, can't take the Asian out of us!

So we left Vegas full and happy - another great trip, and I know we'll be back again. We just can't get enough of the world class food, shopping and service. I've done the student trip, the romantic/food/theater trip, the girls trip, the parents trip, now the couples trip and I've even had a 24 hour trip! What next? I'm sure I'll find a reason.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Comfort Udon at Manpuku Eatery

Manpuku is a modern Japanese eatery tucked away inside the Village by the Grange. We never would have found it without out neighbour's recommendation (thanks!). The first time we visited was shortly after our Japan trip in December - it was an unexpected and comforting reminder of our vacation and now we always think of it that way. As soon as you sit down, order the takoyaki (dough balls stuffed with octopus, rolled and grilled in a yummy sauce). I can't say I was a big fan before Japan - they don't taste right here because people cheap out on the octopus and all you get is dough...but it is worth having at Manpuku. Be warned that if the place is busy, it can take 30min+ to get your takoyaki!

This past weekend, we also had curry beef udon (I inhaled it), and niku udon (beef with onions and sauce). Both were delicious and really inexpensive! We also tried the takosen for the first time, which was essentially takoyaki served with prawn crackers for you to squish them between like a sandwich. It was interesting, but I'm ok just having the takoyaki straight up! I also recommend trying items on the special menu, notably the miso chicken udon.

I loved that we were able to have a comforting and simple Japanese meal for less than $25 on a rainy Friday night.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Delicious Tapas at Lee for Girls Night Out!

I was happy to visit Lee with some friends visiting from the West this past weekend....and glad that they had a good foodie experience! Lee is one of our favourite spots in Toronto - one of our first visits there had the server disproving our adament insistence to order 6 dishes between Tony and myself. We told her we had big appetities, and she was convinced we wouldn't have been able to finish it all (plus it wouldn't fit on our table)....and she was right. We underestimated the good portion sizes, especially for 2 people! The restaurant is best enjoyed with 4+ people so you can sample more dishes. It is a casual/funky restaurant that is reasonably priced and was well suited to our girls' night out. I have been numerous times (including my last birthday) and always have a good experience. The drinks are yummy and refills come fast and often - try the ume martini if you want something a little different. The King West location is also convenient for a post-dinner night out.

Menu favourites:
Singapore Slaw - 17 ingredients! As my friend reflected "imagine needing 17 ingredients to make a salad!" It was delicious as always and loved by all. This is a favourite at Lee and a MUST have.
Braised Beef - one of my favourite dishes, the beef is falling-apart tender. Especially good for any boys you bring along to dinner to prove that tapas can be filling!
Black Cod - this seems to be the new "it" fish at restaurants, and it is delicious at Lee, done just perfectly and includes plenty to go around for 4. You can't eat at Lee without trying this dish.

The first couple times I went to Lee, I gorged so much food I never had a chance to try the desserts - and finally, several months ago, we did! The molten chocolate cake is very satisfying - there is ALWAYS room for the cake! We didn't have it this past weekend, but I also highly recommend the creme caramel with black rice pudding...unique and delicious. Black rice pudding is very healthy as well!

Other items we had:
Orzo with crab, spinach, pine nuts; Green Curry; Seared Scallops; Chocolate Cake with blueberries.

Overall, we had a good dinner experience - minus the uber keen servers asking us constantly if we were going to finish what was on the plate (it was delicious, why wouldn't we!?). I recommend a late dinner seating vs the early one if available - they are always busy and hurried to turn the tables over. On the upside, if you ever need a good early dinner, there is generally room at Lee. Can't go wrong :)