MARMALADE (306 Davenport, at Bedford, 416-921-5666) While its daytime card of designer sandwiches, salads and bistro-lite mains has potential, after sundown it's so dark here, who knows what they're serving? Caution: DJ on premises. Complete meals for $45 per person ($25 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Saturday noon to 2 am, Sunday brunch noon to 5 pm. Fully licensed. Smoking section. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NN
i'm sorry, but the only two words I never want to hear in a restaurant are "I'm sorry." Regrettably, Marmalade, a three-month-old self-described "café moderne" located in the same space where Just Desserts got theirs, has much to apologize for.
It's a comfortable room, all late-60s deep chocolate and screaming orange. A tall bar topped with Murano glass ashtrays and a mushroom lamp (!) gets reflected by several angled mirrors that allow for surreptitious people-watching.
In the front window, two overstuffed caramel leather club chairs face a circular coffee table and a stack of style rags, including Vanity Fair, W, Surface and Wallpaper.
Just after dark, the Literary Device and I sink deep into the gold-dusted vinyl banquette that runs along the opposite rough concrete wall, which is hung with black-and-white photographs on oversized mats.
Early-90s funk-lite (Sade, Jamiroquai) spins on the CD player. A thin young thing takes our drink orders -- a glass of red (Hardy's Bayside Shiraz, $9.50) for LD, a Heineken ($5.25) for me -- and returns a moment later with them.
Only now she's wearing a shearling bomber jacket and carrying a shopping bag over one arm. Without saying a word, she plunks down the plonk, then heads out the front door, never to be seen again. Half-price sale at Prada?
Without explaining the changeover, our next server delivers a small starter, Rilette de Lapin ($7), a thin slab of pink rabbit pâté resembling Spam plated next to a petite pyre of undressed designer greens. Tasty, though, and quite unobjectionable -- if the portion were twice the size.
We go right for the mains, the Device opting for bouillabaisse, a steaming bowl brimming with red snapper fillet, a few mussels, two shrimp and a clam. Topped with thin toasts spread with a delicious, garlicky red-pepper rouille as tradition dictates, the saffron-scented seafood unconventionally ranges from mushy to tough. My Jarret d'Agneau impresses with tender, falling-from-the-bone lamb shank braised in a cumin-kicked broth that's swimming with Jerusalem artichokes and chickpeas plus the odd bit of okra (both $15). But it's too damn hot, and I burn myself on the metal dish it arrives in.
"I'm sorry," chirps the server. "I should have told you about that."
How about some pepper? She points to the baluster-sized mill perched on the bar and explains that it's broken. Maybe we could get some bread to sop up all this first-rate -- if scalding -- soup? More apologies. We're beyond complaining when she returns with slices of baguette ordinaire but no butter. Until the lights go out.
Someone has hit the dimmer and adjusted the room's lighting to near darkness. We now stare into a void that was once our supper, not knowing whether to laugh or leave. All things considered, we've quite enjoyed Marmalade up until now. But this is ridiculous.
We try to get the attention of the shadows moving behind the bar, but they don't see us.
Our server eventually finds her way back. As we explain that we can't tell what we're eating -- "Look, I'm really sorry," is her reply, as the lighting drops even lower. To make matters worse, the tunes get cranked up and then cranked again. Surrendering, we soldier on.
The Device is hoping to revive her taste memories of summers spent on the Champs Elysée, but her Tarte Tatin (all desserts $6.50) reminds her of unevenly reheated and soggy-crusted upside-down apple pie. Slap on a slice of Velveeta and you've got Mom's white-bread suburban version.
A few weeks earlier, the posse checked out Marmalade's Sunday brunch, served up to the accompaniment of a DJ. Although the only turntable skillz we witnessed happened when a scratched CD inadvertently got stuck on the deck, at least the volume was bearable. And the grub visible.
Cheesy and 'shroomy Crepes Supreme ($8.50) come stuffed with cubed ham and sauced with a béchamel rich with nutty Gruyère. Oeufs Russe, fluffy scrambled eggs laced with truffle-infused oil, float over buttery puff-pastry vol-au-vent sided with a stingy single sheet of smoked salmon ($9.50).
Menu-described as "fresh," orange juice ($4.50) gets poured into tumblers from a jug labelled Just Squeezed.
Wanting to give Marmalade a thumbs up, I find I'm all thumbs instead.
I'm sorry. email@example.com