Rhymes With Jacuzzi

Xacutti's decor shows great taste, but the food doesn't


XACUTTI (503 College, at Palmerston, 416- 416-323-3957 ) An impossibly chic symphony of chocolate browns, gleaming whites and rectangular minimalism, this boite du jour attracts A-list fabulosi who order ill-focused Indo-inspired dishes by Palm Pilot. Pretentious? You betcha. To think they gutted Ellipsis for this. Complete meals for $60 per person ($25 at brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6:30 pm to 1 am, for brunch Saturday 10:30 am to 3 pm, Sunday 10:30 am to 4 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN


Working the room at Xiacutti like a runway, several servers sashay from one end of the restaurant to the other, occasionally consulting the kitchen by Palm Pilot. That’s right, they e-mail the chef. God help the servers if their server goes down. Though not as flashy, wouldn’t a string and two tin cans be equally cutting-edge? Lately, there seems to be some unspoken inverse equation used by aspiring restaurateurs. The more money they spend on the decor, the less consideration they give to the grub.

It’s excusable that Xacutti — pronounced sha-koo-tee and not exe-cutie, according to its stylin’ but unfathomable Web site (www.xacutti.com) — is still going through shakedown, since the spot’s barely a month old. But until Brad Moore’s (ex-Monsoon and the Rivoli) fuzzy-focus food gets the same amount of attention being given to the constantly preened spray of fresh-cut lilies in the front window, there’s little to note here.

Roasted cumin-parsnip soup ($6) couldn’t be blander, its promised spice an undelivered tease. Four thick rice wrappers stuffed with mushy fish — Tandoori Cod Rolls ($11) — arrive excruciatingly hot. Conversely, tempura-battered onion rings ($5) show up greasy and room temperature.

Mains read like critic bait. Cardamom-smoked spring lamb ($27) sees four sizable chops wimpily dusted with spice and sided with inconsequential veggies and a no-alarm mango chutney stirred with cinnamon bark. A nice piece of pan-fried fish, Jeera Halibut ($21), is again underwhelmed by cautious spicing despite its accompanying puddle of tomato-coconut curry.

Maybe the blame goes to the soap opera — no, call it a soup opera — that preceded the demise of the once-esteemed Ellipsis and the launch of shiny Xacutti.

Here’s the lowdown. The owners of El Bodegon, College Street’s Peruvian cantina, want to expand they find a nearby storefront for sale. Problem is, there’s a sitting tenant, one Nancy Barone’s country-French Ellipsis, a charming oasis with a loyal following. But the lease is up, so good-bye, Ellipsis.

Barone decamps to Kleinburg and opens the shortlived Ellipsis in Klein, a gourmet gift shoppe in a bucolic burb just north of the city whose major cultural event is the annual Binder Twine Festival. The shawarma joint at King and Jarvis she buys is now history, too. Watch for a larger new-concept bakery/take-away Ellipsis somewhere undisclosed downtown in the near future (hint).

The El Bodegon folks rent the building to Wayne Parent and Leslie Gibson from next-door Teatro (once Barone’s Ellipsis 505), who, with partners, plan an upscale Indo-inspired eatery helmed by chef Moore. Teatro chef Aldo Lanzilotta joins the team. But the Parent-Gibson partnership soon splits, with Parent taking complete control of Teatro. Then Lanzilotta jumps ship, too.

Do keep up.

So, thusly, Xacutti. It’s a lovely room: dark planked floors, smooth chocolate banquettes, a pair of Ingo Maurer’s Zettel’z light fixtures, which look like an explosion of Post-it Notes. But it’s not Ellipsis.

Where there was once an ornate art nouveau bar flanked with gilded mirrors and flowers, there’s a tall Rain-style communal table rung by highchairs already occupied by would-be fashionistas. (Faux pas: a sweater tucked into high-waisted trousers is not a look.)

Ellipsis used to own brunch in this town, and Xacutti understandably coasts on that cachet. However, theconservative weekend spread now being served would be more suitable at Howard Johnson’s. How else to explain the formally dressed couples at the next table? Wedding party? Door-to-door missionaries? People who haven’t noticed it’s not Ellipsis any more?

A mini-stack of blueberry pancakes ($9) with Devonshire cream pleases. But the grilled cheese and bacon on challah ($8) contains so much cholesterol, I drop a triple Lipitor afterwards. Xacutti Benedict ($10) is plain perfunctory, while the wild mushroom and goat cheese omelette ($11) tastes dry and rubbery, as if reheated.

One of our posse weeps, “What have they done to my Ellipsis?”

Attention, trend-seekers: come September, Xacutti unveils a second-storey fondue lounge. Figures.

stevend@nowtoronto.com

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