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Jacob's Kitchen

Michael Mina at Nota Bene

Sometimes too many chefs is exactly …what you want


The Egyptian-born American celebrity chef Michael Mina – whose eighteen restaurants include twin, Michelin-starred eponymous flagships in San Francisco and Las Vegas – paid his first visit to Toronto this week.

He came to cook under the banner of the Visa Presents dining series, with David Lee’s Nota Bene (ranked #9) playing host, and the exceptionally gifted Marc St-Jacques (Pearle Hospitality) gratuitously adding his toque to the ring as understudy.

Lee’s opening volley was a salute to our long-awaited spring, in the form of poached white asparagus and ramps, spot prawn (crunchy torso, lightly poached tail), and onion flowers. Mina answered with a seductively smooth cured foie gras, wherein white miso had done the job usually performed by plain salt. It came rolled in sesame seeds, and enhanced with a sweet, succulent reminder of how much better spring is where he comes from: a roast, fresh apricot.

Next, St-Jacques fielded a dish of unusual finesse and discreet originality: lightly cooked halibut cheek, in a pool of buttery clam broth, in which the vegetal interplay of roast asparagus and nori made the dish sing. Lee answered with some lovely squab, which shared the plate with a slice of boudin noir sitting in a tiny pool of the most remarkable sauce – a rich, velvety purée of chicharrón (really!).

Mina followed with roast veal loin and braised cheek with its jus, and a lovely fricassé of sweetbread, ceps, and favas. And yes, of course – there were cheeses (four), and an appropriately light dessert of lemon curd pavlova with sea buckthorn sorbet. In a word, the food was superb – and an unusually harmonious offering for a multi-chef format that seldom works that way.

Lee: poached Dutch white asparagus with wild leeks and spot prawn

Lee: poached Dutch white asparagus with wild leeks and spot prawn

Mina: Miso-cured Foie Gras with roasted apricot, toasted sesame, green almon and tempura cherry leaf

Mina: Miso-cured Foie Gras with roasted apricot, toasted sesame, green almon and tempura cherry leaf

St-Jacques: Halibut cheeks with roasted asparagus, toasted nori and clam butter

St-Jacques: Halibut cheeks with roasted asparagus, toasted nori and clam butter

Lee: Squab breast with poblano chutney, boudin noir, chicharròn sauce and spy apple

Lee: Squab breast with poblano chutney, boudin noir, chicharròn sauce and spy apple

Mina: Assiette of milk-fed veal (roasted loin, braised cheek, crispy sweetbread, cp marmalade, fava beans and leaves)

Mina: Assiette of milk-fed veal (roasted loin, braised cheek, crispy sweetbread, cp marmalade, fava beans and leaves)

Lee: Lemon curd pavlova,  Caledon sea buckthorn sorbet

Lee: Lemon curd pavlova, Caledon sea buckthorn sorbet

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