Expectations high for official dining spot
5th Elementt launched last month Named for location and food fusion
Toronto Star - Toronto, Ont. – Aug 2006
PRITHI YELAJA STAFF REPORTER
An upstart restaurant founded by fledgling restaurateurs newly arrived from India has won the hipness jackpot, being named official restaurant for the Toronto International Film Festival.
Its primo location, huge patio for Euro chain-smokers and trendy Indian-Mediterranean fusion food, approved by picky film industry reps, helped. The pujas can't hurt. But is 5th Elementt up to the challenge?
"It's a tough business, we know, but we're confident we can do it," says the soft-spoken, pony-tailed Vijay Karumanchi, 30, sitting in the exotic dining room, its walls painted three shades of orange.
For the 10 days of the festival in September, 5th Elementt has been booked as the private watering and dining hole for some 3,000 sales and industry delegates from around the world, the place to seal a film deal over drinks or dinner.
Garnering that distinction has the potential to catapult the eatery, on Bay St. just south of Bloor St., into the major leagues of Toronto gastronomy, just a few weeks after it was launched and a year after its owners arrived from India.
"It was such a great surprise to be chosen. We are blessed," says Karumanchi, who emigrated from Hyderabad with his wife, Sampurna Sikha, in May 2005.
Before choosing it, film fest organizers flew in people representing industry bigwigs from California, New York and Washington — the kind who plan to hold private parties at the restaurant — to taste-test 5th Elementt's menu, an eclectic mix of Indo-Med dishes such as halibut, Goan-style strip sirloin and pork ribs marinated in mango chutney.
"It goes without saying this is a great opportunity for Vijay to introduce his new
restaurant," says Giulia Filippelli, head of the festival's sales and industry office, who lives part-time in the U.K.
She calls the cuisine "modern Indian," which is all the rage in London's posher circles. She describes it as "more refined and lighter food, not the saucy, heavy stuff that we have in our minds as typically Indian."
The restaurant's strategic location between festival headquarters at the Sutton Place Hotel and the Varsity and Cumberland theatres — and a huge outdoor patio with its white organza curtains that give it a dreamy, ethereal feel and can hold 400 — were also key factors, says Filippelli, adding that a back door providing private access was also helpful.
"A lot of business is done around food and drinks, and many of our delegates smoke, so a large outdoor space was very important." Karumanchi persuaded the board of the condo building housing the restaurant to let him add a gazebo that would double his patio during the festival.
The previous restaurant in this location tried and failed to get clearance for an expanded patio. Sage, which closed last fall, had also been one of the festival's designated noshing venue. But the affiliation isn't automatic, says Filippelli.
"We have a historical bond to the place, but just because Vijay's restaurant is in the same location doesn't mean it would automatically become a partner. What clinched the deal was that he was very accommodating, and the fact his restaurant is Indian was a big plus because India is very hot right now."
Karumanchi realizes expectations are high. His restaurant's performance during the festival — in a location that has seen five eateries open and close in 20 years — could be a make-or-break test. To bolster their chances of success, the couple have performed pujas — ceremonial offerings of fresh flowers and fruit to the Hindu goddess Durga — in the restaurant. They also added an extra "t" to Elementt, because it makes the name luckier in numerology.
"A lot of people think it's misspelled," chuckles Sikha. The name derives from their belief that food is the fifth essential element, after those described in Hindu philosophy: air, water, fire and earth. Though Sikha holds a day job in software engineering, most nights she joins Karumanchi at the restaurant after work, chatting with customers and helping out in the kitchen. On Saturdays, she cooks the staff brunch before they start work. In charge is chef Johnee Savarimuthu, who previously worked at Sassafraz in Yorkville and before that in Manhattan.
In preparation for the extra-long hours they'll work during the festival, the couple has moved into a condo across the street and booked another for their staff so they don't have to travel back and forth from the suburbs to work. Both educated at American universities, Karumanchi and Sikha led a comfortable life in India, where he had his own interior design business and she worked for Satyam Computers. They moved to Toronto solely for family reasons — to be closer to Sikha's older brother, who lives here and suffers from Crohn's disease.
"I thought, it will take the load and stress off my parents to know someone is here taking care of him. It was just the right thing to do. He would do the same for me," says Sikha, 32, who got a transfer to Satyam's office here.
Her husband, meanwhile, found a job working in promotions for a now-defunct Indian restaurant to gain experience before launching 5th Elementt. "I always wanted to have a business related to food, shelter or clothing. All these three things are glamorous, but they're also basic human needs," says Karumanchi, who bought the restaurant, with the help of loans from his parents and in-laws.
To make up for their inexperience in the business, the couple relies heavily on ancient food wisdom from India — using various spices not only for taste, but also for their healthful properties. Turmeric, for example, is thought to be anti-carcinogenic, while black pepper warms the body in cold weather.
"These are all things we grew up with back home," says Sikha, who, along with Karumanchi, is vegetarian and a teetotaller. They also depend on advice from their customer base, which has grown steadily since their official launch last month. The restaurant has already been booked for wedding receptions and other large private parties
Celebs take to Yorkville’s dining hot spots
Metro Published September 14, 2006
Lobster dishes and steak platters are some of the hot picks on the menus of several restaurants visited by film stars.
Hollywood’s stars have been spotted dining on some Yorkville delicacies. Here’s three spots where the stars of the Toronto International Film Festival, have dined:
• Fifth Elementt: As an official TIFF restaurant, the Fifth Elementt has been hosting its fair share of parties. Because of its location between the Sutton Place Hotel and the Varsity Cinema, restaurant owner Vijay Karumanchi said many top models and film stars have been taking advantage of his restaurant’s location as well as the traditional Indian and Mediterranean cuisine.
Some celebrity menu favourites this week have included appetizers of lentil and beef soup and the new buttered lobster and shrimp salad. Karumanchi said the lamb shank is by far the most popular main course, followed by the striploin steak sandwich and halibut dish.
Deacon Dr. Fresh
Gangsta of Cuisine and Culture
A rainy day hello to all my fanz, homeboys, homegirlz and hangers-on! A special Wassup to Rozeen Diego and the South Central Wine Posse, Billy Munnelly, Tony Aspler, and the Garry Kasparov of wine: Zoltan Szabo!
Yo too, to my hundreds of regular readers from Colorado to Prevessin France. (Remember to send me an email and I'll let you new readers know whenever I write another rich ramblin'.)
And lest we forget Amy Pataki and all you mofo, tinsel-brained, Yellow Tail drinkin', Beemer drivin', TV addicted, Prozac swallowin', flu-shot receivin', illiterate, self-important, peckerdine, DIX out there, who still don't understand what the Deacon's all about but tune in anyway 'cause you're scared of missin' somethin' good...
WASSUP to you too!
Well your Deacon is back in style! A while ago I was gonna write this fine article, but got bogged down because your Deacon gots assaulted! Now y'all know that anyone stupid enough to try to test the Deacon's mettle is gonna get his fricken neck cranked and sign up for the Wheelchair Olympics, so you know I ain't talkin' 'bout physical violence here. In fact, your Deacon has had no physical alterkashuns since he choked out Robert "Nosey" Parker in the MGM Grand Hotel Octagon last November. In reality, it was my computer that got hit with a massive cyber attack. Thanks to the ministrashuns of Ashley Milne at Midac Solutions, we're back and secure again. Anyway, the long and short of the story is I've been offline and couldn't write the review that you're about to read. So sit back with a glass of Madeira and enjoy my rich wit and glib argot...
It was a rainy day...
(Man I hate that stupid commercial!) Well, it was a rainy day, when the Deaconess and I accepted Zoltan Szabo's kind offer for lunch at 5th Elementt at 1033 Bay Street. The restaurant itself is tucked away on the East side of the street, just across from the University of Toronto. I dropped Herself off at the door and parked in an underground lot, conveniently located just a block North. When you pass through the door, you're immediately struck by the fine sense of style and line value. The music was soft and unobtrusive. (The only thing worse than eating in silence and listening to the clicking sounds in your own head is trying to eat while some mofo DJ is blasting Mariah Carey's particular brand of shrill backhouse wailin'). 5th Elementt is easy on the eyes too; translucent saffron screens, full-length windows and muted pumpkin and eggplant tones. It's no accident that the owner is trained in both design and fashion. It shows immediately.
Vijay Karumanchi is the consummate host; the epitome of the cultured and sophisticated modern Indian male. Tall and fashionable in tasteful black and white, he's an impressive figure who radiates serenity and relaxed control as he effortlessly walks the balance between modern urban life, and the millennia of wisdom and history that are India. He got the Deaconess and I settled in and although he didn't eat anything, he joined us at our table for the extravagant meal. Where do I start? Let's just say that if this is how 5th Elementt does lunch, I can't even imagine how frickin' lurch dinner must be! The restaurant is a first for Toronto, specializing in Indian/Meditteranean Fusion, and is amazing, the Toronto Star's Amy Pataki and her crackerdine "opinions" notwithstanding! This fine dining establishment might easily have been airlifted from New York, San Francisco, or some other gastronomic capital, it's that good! Amy apparently didn't like her meal though, and saw fit to give 5th Elementt a lousy review. What the hell does she do? Flip a coin and say "Tails! That means it's time to treat a fine restaurant, a great meal and a fantastic staff as though it was Mr Sub"?
Well I could go on a Deacon Rant here, but I'm not going to say that Amy Pataki's educated beyond her intelligence and drunk with the exercise of her meager "power". And I'm not going to say that her reviews are just cracker-jive, self-aggrandizing, jank-bucket swill! I'm not going to say that at all. I'll just keep my opinions to myself. Instead, I'll just say that I dissagree with her. I'll also say that despite the modern view that everything should be treated with "corners of the mouth turned down" distain, it's still actually ok to like things!
So where was I? Oh yeah the food!
The menu is spectacular, as is the incredibly diverse and flawlessly selected winelist created by Uber-Sommelier: Zoltan "Hungarian 007" Szabo. The waiter brought us two bottles of Norwegian bottled water, still and sparkling and asked for our orders. Overwhelmed by the gastronomic wealth of the menu, we asked Vijay to bring whatever he thought we should try in both the food and wine departments. Then it began to arrive...Hot, tiny wedges of fresh pita bread and home-made hummus. Then there was the salad...Julienne of mango tossed with slices of Clementine, mesclun and a masal dressing. Next were the huge and meaty New Zealand half-shell mussels cooked with exotic spices and herbs, coconut milk and tomatoes. Each and every flavour was drenched in complexity; new layers of olfactory and gustatory discovery with each bite. And then the main courses arrived...The Deaconess had Coriander Crusted Halibut Fillet, served with Semolina "Kitchiri" and drizzled with kozhambu and garnished with a fresh oyster (which I stole from her). You gotta realize, although I love shellfish, as a rule, I'm not crazy about fish with fins. Nevertheless, I loved this halibut. Perfectly cooked and as delicious and brilliant as you're ever gonna find. Paired with the fish was a glass of 2004 Sauvignon Blanc and Assyrtiko, by Pavlidis, Greece. Talk about lurch! The combination rocked my taste-buds! I was served a generous portion of Hyderabadi Lamb Shank, braised with whole garam masala, fresh herbs, red wine and caramelized onions, served on top of mashed potatoes and feta cheese! Unreal. The lamb was so tender (having been slow cooked for hours), you could actually cut it with a spoon. The waiter brought us a 2001 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Salvalai, Veneto. Between bites of lamb and gulps of the lush wine, my palate was drenched by a kaleidoscope of psychedelic flavours.
We were suitably stuffed, but Vijay wasn't going to let us escape without dessert. The Deaconess and I shared a huge order of Pineapple Halwa, which is pineapple boiled for about 200 hours in its own juice. The result is a concentrated and chewy burst of flavour that perfectly topped the meal. Chef Johnee Savarimuthu came out to meet the Deacon and Deaconess and we told him we weren't worthy of his magnificence, because he's an effing genius!
Listen to me homeys: Y'all gots to check out 5th Elementt. You're honestly gonna love it! The Deaconess is a food-snob par excellence and she gave it a Perfect 10, for decor, atmosphere, service and quality. If you're in the mood for a really creative and delicious meal that's gonna take your breath away and wake your tastebuds up from a long hibernation, look no further. Check out 5th Elementt. They're able to look after small as well as large corporate groups too. I'll say it again: You're gonna love it!
The Weekly Voice
5th ElementT-A Whole New Dimension To Indian Cuisine
Saturday, 11 November 2006
By Binoy Thomas
So okay, you've been a regular at all those Indian, Pakistani or the Pak-Indian (when the owner is from Pakistan) eateries that dot the GTA culinary landscape. Yes, some of them really pamper you with the familiar and yet different tastes from back home, dishes served in a different settings and carrying different prices that don't pinch your pockets even if you are out to lunch (buffet) a bit more than what is recommended by the heart doctor. Some of you, I am guessing here, also must be a little bored, and yearn for something really exotic, an ambience that matches, if not rival, some of those gora places.
Well, there is one at last, opened in the heart of Bay Street, catering to an elite set of people who are looking for just such a dining experience. Called 5th ElementT (the extra 't' added to satisfy certain numerological calculations), the man behind the unique concept is a young Indian from Hyderabad - Vijay Karumanchi. When asked to describe his cuisine, he calls it Indo- Mediterranean, an excellent union as it turns out.
5th ElementT was launched in July, but it garnered the maximum kudos during Toronto International Film Festival when as Vijay puts it matter of fact, "a couple of Desperate Housewives and a James Bond villain" turned up to taste the creatively designed items on the menu. Actually, he had closed off the entire
restaurant to keep it exclusively for the international celebrities
who want to eat spicy without giving up too much of masala to the paparazzi. "They really enjoyed the idea of an Indian fusion," Vijay says. When you have a highly trained chef like John from Madras, then you can expect all kinds of unusual things to happen. Let's start with Grilled Bengali Salmon. This is where Atlantic salmon meets mustard curry sauce. Hilsa move over, this is much better and mind you, without the irritating bones. All you lovely Bengali people, go ahead send me that death threat for insulting the revered hilsa! Okay, you're a purist and will not stand someone mixing mustard masala with salmon (however delicious it tastes), then your choice in salmon is clear, go the gora way - Salmon wrapped in scallops - bay scallops wrapped with smoked salmon grilled and served with tomato and onion relish. Yummy!
The advantage here is that dishes are meticulously designed to appeal to a variety of tongues and moods. Now you may wish, once you land at ElementT with the spirit of adventure, that you want to be a pucca desi. And lo and behold! Trust John to conjure up a sesame-coated tuna fillet seared and served with potato masala and curry pattha mint sauce. Another that is now becoming popular and according to its fans, would someday give stiff competition to the tandoori variety is the Chicken Chettinad, made with specially imported chettinad spices. Vijay's ElementT is one of the two places in GTA where you can taste the authentic stuff. Not that he has ignored the tandoori and how could be without inviting the wrath of half the population of GTA. He calls it Tandoor Red Chicken, a different sounding name, but it's the same trusted and tried thing.
I could go on running through the menu, and I have not even started with the lamp chops. But I would rather you made that trip and find out further surprises awaiting you. But before I go I want to draw your attention to a couple of things. Do try one or two of the starters like Bombay Fish or Mango and Clementine salad. If you don't work right downtown, after all, it's a long way to go for a meal. So you might as well. Or if you do, try the Fixed Price Lunch (at $19) for a choice spread of three courses. The second thing I want to talk about it is the sheer style with which the dishes are served. They are, like I said earlier, designed to not just taste good, but to look exquisite. Perhaps, the earlier avatar of its promoter, Vijay Karumanchi, as a fashion designer, has something to do with it. He is in his Elements in the new surroundings!
1033 Bay Street (South of Bloor) Toronto
Phone: 416 923 8159