Nota Bene is a fixture on Queen St. just west of University. Even as it has become progressively more casual over the years, the food remains some of the city's most refined.
The interior from Toronto studio tongtong features tumble weeds mounted to the dining room ceiling, a dangling all-leather wine rack inspired by kelp, and a tree trunk of kiln-fried iron wood retrofitted with geometric 3D leaves printed out of nylon.
Dinner here (especially with a couple drinks) can easily soar into triple digits, but there's also a menu of bar snacks that can be ordered in its entirety for $40.
The incredibly attractive cinq a sept-styled offerings showcase eight small plates for $4 each between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. ($7 afterwards).
Among the highlights are a crispy pork jowl sprinkled in maldon, salt cod fritters with a milk-based pimeton mayo, avocado topped with sweet BC prawns and a plate of addictive chicken fried mushrooms.
The bar menu boasts one of Toronto's largest selections of gin and the classic G&T ($17) is the house specialty served with a DIY selection of garnishes including grapefruit, cucumber and hibiscus.
The drink list offers appropriately festive after work cocktails like the Oh My Darling ($15), a blend of vodka, aperol, St. Germaine and clementine juice.
Moving on there's more small plates to try. Tendrils of grilled octopus ($12) presented with peppery arugula, capers and dusting of powdered pimenton is well worthwhile.
The Cookstown heirloom carrots ($16) is among the vegan options casually peppering the menu without distinction. Vegan or not, it's a delicious dish starring roasted, blistering carrots accompanied by a swoosh of dairy-free sunflower seed "sour cream" and a salad of kale and radish finished with crunchy fried channa dal and hemp seeds.
The St. Canut suckling pig ($32) is among the meatier entrees and there's lots to wax on about. The crackling skin and boudin noir sauce are lucious while gently braised Savoy cabbage, apple sauce and Kozlik's mustard add familiar and comforting components.
I'm especially enamoured with B.C halibut cheeks ($36, top photo), a dish composed of supple fish on a bed of lima bean mash with smoked shiitake mushrooms, tangy capers, zippy gremolata and sweet black garlic purée.
For dessert, there's a refined take on s'mores ($12) featuring a quenelle of chocolate ganache with fleur de sel as well as roasted marshmallow, milk ice cream, caramelized milk powder, Graham Cracker crumbs and tangy seabuckthorn.
Photos by Hector Vasquez.