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UfficioAddress: 1214 Dundas St. W. (at Ossington Ave.), 416-535-8888, ufficiorestaurant.comChef: Frank VendittiHours: Tuesday to Sunday from 6 p.m.Reservations: YesWheelchair access: No Price: Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip: $145Fish first Fish is...

Ufficio is an uneven pescatarian experience: Review | Toronto Star

UfficioAddress: 1214 Dundas St. W. (at Ossington Ave.), 416-535-8888, ufficiorestaurant.comChef: Frank VendittiHours: Tuesday to Sunday from 6 p.m.Reservations: YesWheelchair access: No Price: Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip: $145Fish first Fish is...

Ufficio is an uneven pescatarian experience: Review | Toronto Star

Ufficio

Address: 1214 Dundas St. W. (at Ossington Ave.), 416-535-8888, ufficiorestaurant.com

Chef: Frank Venditti

Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 6 p.m.

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair access: No

Price: Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip: $145

Fish first

Fish is the dish at Ufficio.

The year-old restaurant is the rare Italian kitchen in Toronto that prioritizes the piscine over the porcine. Seafood is the star, with backup from pasta. Yet Ufficio’s performance in delivering enjoyable food and service is as spotty as a grouper.

Zuppa di pesce ($29) is one success, a tumble of shellfish and fresh cod in a chili-flecked tomato broth that begs to be spooned up. When partnered with wonderfully smoky grilled focaccia ($3), it is the entrée to beat.

New chef

When the partners behind Ufficio (“office” in Italian) first opened, they hired celebrity chef Craig Harding (Campagnolo) to consult and Jeff Lapointe (ex-Splendido) as head chef. Lapointe left; Harding is no longer a consultant.

The new chef is Frank Venditti, who last ran Jamie’s Italian in Yorkdale. His food there didn’t exactly bowl me over, but at Ufficio I sense an attempt at bold, modern cooking and clean flavours.

But attempt doesn’t equal achievement. Of 10 dishes sampled over two evenings, six disappoint, such as a salad of shaved Brussels sprouts ($16) no better than raw cabbage.

The vibe

Ufficio is a handsome restaurant, with mid-century furniture and smoky globe lighting by Commute Design and penny tile floors. A hanging fishing net is the main art.

The crowd is older and chicer and fills the room most nights. Thanks in part to the open kitchen, the decibels reach 95 mid-week, equivalent to eating beside a lawn mower.

Like the food, service is uneven: good on wine recommendations, long on wait times. Staff neglect to bring bowls for shells and forget the coffee. Two of the three bathroom faucets are broken.

Cut bait

Fried rice balls called arancini ($12) here taste like fairground corn dogs. So what if there’s octopus bolognese inside? The crust is oily and stodgy.

Scallop crudo ($19), the server relates, uses “carbon dioxide to push the citrus flavour in.” Regardless of technique, the citrus remains distinctly on the side in the form of blood orange segments. But that’s a quibble: The real problem is too much salt.

Some of that salt needs to be redirected towards bland spaghetti ($24) in tomato sauce. But that wouldn’t help the mushy prawns in the pasta.

Reel ‘em in

When Ufficio works, it works quite well.

Mild grilled mackerel ($15) offers a nice contrast in temperatures and colours with its red romesco base and wilted greens on top. Blindingly white cod ($33) shines in saffron broth; the kitchen should omit the chewy lobster meat.

Skip the stiff chocolate mousse ($10) for the improbably delicious celery panna cotta ($10). The celery layer is thin and pale green, more herbal than vegetal. The white chocolate gelatin underneath is as irresistible as an Easter bunny.

It’s a welcome life boat in a storm-tossed sea.

apataki@thestar.ca , Twitter @amypataki

apataki@thestar.ca , Twitter @amypataki

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