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Aeroplan plus Summerlicious makes for fantastic Toronto meals

Advanced reservations at one of Canada’s best restaurants. And at a bargain price.

Aeroplan this year is a key partner in Toronto’s Summerlicious restaurant program, which allows folks to book outstanding city dining spots at substantial discounts.

More than 200 restaurants are taking part in the program, which this year began on July 11 and runs through Monday, July 23. Diners are offered three-course dinners at a fixed price at restaurants across the city, with just about every style of cuisine you can think of.

The Nota Bene interior is stylish and sexy. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

I was able to get advance reservations at Nota Bene, a hot restaurant that’s often hard to get into, courtesy of Aeroplan. I’ve been an Aeroplan member for years, which allowed me to make a reservation before the general public was able to book tables.
Of course, I also was able to use my Aeroplan credit card to pay for my meal and earn points toward a great trip (I redeem points every year to go see my Dad on the west coast) or to use online to buy everything from spa getaways to golf clubs, jewelry, electronics and more.

I had a great meal at Nota Bene, located on Queen St. West and just a two-minute walk from the Toronto Transit Commission subway stop at Queen and University (Osgoode station).

And you can go, too, courtesy of Aeroplan, as I’m giving away a $250 gift certificate for Nota Bene. All you have to do to win is drop me an email (jim@jimbyerstravel.com) and tell me what Nota Bene means. Hint: It’s not Italian, but it’s close.

Design your own “G and T” at Nota Bene in Toronto. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

One of the fun, ongoing things they have at Nota Bene is a “design your own” gin and tonic special, which is especially great on a warm summer’s night during Summerlicious. My wife and I were able to pick from amongst more than a dozen gins, some of which were made in Canada and each of which was given a full description on the menu.

Next you check out the three styles of tonic they have in stock; some tart and crisp and others more floral in nature. And then you pick your style of ice for your drink; either crushed or cubed or one giant ball for fans of stronger drinks and the slow melt.

I went for the juniper-forward Ungava Gin from Quebec with an elderflower tonic from Fever Tree while my wife had the floral Whitley Neill gin with a tart Mediterranean tonic, also from Fever Tree. Our waitress also brought us dried juniper berries, cucumber and a grapefruit slice we could drop into our drinks to further customize the taste.

I think my wife’s was a little better, owing to the fact I liked her tonic more than mine. But they were both excellent and it was a hugely enjoyable and unique cocktail experience I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Nota Bene serves everything from local meats to Asian-inspired salads. – PHOTO COURTESY NOTA BENE

The Summerlicious menu included a starter, a main and a dessert for $48; a good price considering the quality and the amount of food. My wife had a lovely salad with tomatoes and gouda cheese, while I opted for the crispy duck salad. I wasn’t sure how a restaurant that sounded Italian would do with an Asian dish like this, but it was absolutely sensational; one of the best dishes I’ve had anywhere. There was a ton of duck, done confit style to make it extremely moist, plus some salad greens, coriander, mint and green papaya in a Thai-style vinaigrette topped with crumbled, dried chickpeas for a perfect crunch. I could eat that almost every day, it was so flavourful.

The flatiron steak was perfectly medium-rare, just as I ordered (that’s not so common these days) and topped with red chimichurri sauce and a thyme-rosemary ash, served with a fabulous, sweet summer corn succotash on the side. The pasta with truffle oil, mushrooms and green peas was wonderful; nice and simple but well executed with woodsy flavours.

For dessert we had lovely Canadian cheeses, including a sinfully good aged gouda from Mountain Oak in southern Ontario, as well as an Ontario strawberry trifle served in a glass with sponge cake and heavenly cream for a light, delicious finish.

Nota Bene does a wonderful job with fresh pasta. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

Our waiter suggested some Syrah from Santa Barbara Winery, a great spot north of Los Angeles. And it was bang on perfect; smooth and supple and full of flavour without edging towards the Hershey bar sweetness that some California reds bring to mind.

All in all, a magnificent dinner that was served in a warm, bright space that featured plenty of natural wood but also colourful glass panels in shades of pink and green and even what looked like pale tumbleweeds hanging from the ceiling. I really loved the space, and I can highly recommend the restaurant for folks who want to take advantage of Aeroplan and Summerlicious over the next couple days.

If you miss the Summerlicious festival, be assured there are lots of other great ways to enjoy the perks of Aeroplan membership. . In fact, for foodies you won’t have to wait too long as Aeroplan is sponsoring the Montreal a Table event in November.

Use your Aeroplan points to book trips to great cities such as Vancouver. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

The company announced recently that in addition to Avis, members can now redeem for Budget car rentals online at aeroplan.com. With more than 3,000 Budget rental locations in Canada, the U.S., Latin America and Europe it gives members more choice and flexibility when it comes to finding a car that fits their needs. Members also can earn 100 miles every time they redeem for a Budget car rental. You can check it out here.

On another note, until Aug. 21 members can convert their hotel points and earn 35% more miles. That’s the largest conversion promotion Aeroplan has ever had.

On top of all that, Aeroplan members also can now redeem points for more comfortable seats and a higher level of service with Air Canada’s premium economy sections.

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