584 Tremont Street (South End), Boston; 247-2931
Dinner: Tue - Thurs, 5:30 to 10 p.m.;
Fri and Sat, 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Sun, 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Lunch: Tue - Fri, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Brunch: Sat and Sun, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Closed Mon)
Beer and wine
Credt cards: AE, DC, MC, Visa
by Stephen Heuser
I might as well get this out of the way up front. On my second visit to the
Metropolis Café, I got a loaf of reheated bread.
Not that the bread wasn't fresh, or handmade, or crusty, but its was the
warmth of stuck-in-the-oven-for-a-few-minutes. Admittedly, if I hadn't been
poking through the bread, temperature-testing it, checking for dry spots, it
would have been hard to tell about the reheating. And if I hadn't been a
restaurant critic trying to find some bone to pick with a ridiculously
well-run little restaurant, I wouldn't have been dissecting the bread in the
Metropolis is an extraordinary 40-seat South End bistro that opened last
November and began serving dinner just this May, when co-owner Seth Woods
migrated over from his job as executive chef at the Armani Café. His
background is at the Culinary Institute of America and at New York's noted
Union Square Café; his wife and co-owner Shari's background is as both a
pastry chef and a restaurant manager; and the space's background is as an
ice-cream parlor -- Tremont Ice Cream, which closed at the end of last summer.
The ice cream served here may be a bit rarefied now, but the spirit of the
parlor is still very much in evidence: a stamped-tin ceiling, a central counter
ringed by chrome-edged stools, and a row of oak booths lining the right-hand
The newer trappings are more Chic Simple than chi chi: red upholstery
with gold stars in the pattern, and wide-matted black-and-white photographs of
local nightclubs. One wall is a row of tall, narrow mirrors; flowers erupt from
an old victrola cabinet in the doorway.
The restaurant's popularity can lead to some timing issues with the service,
but we didn't encounter any food delays -- not a single dish came lukewarm, or
heat-lamped, or wilted. The clientele -- an easygoing mix of old and young,
straight and gay -- seemed as pleased as we were. The Metropolis doesn't have
the feel of a scene, like Botolph's on Tremont, or a production, like
Hamersley's Bistro, both across the street. And with tile floors and storefront
glass, this really is the neighborhood bistro its owners set out to create.
What a fortunate neighborhood.
For starters, even if you weren't hungry, it would be a struggle to keep
yourself ducking in for the smoked-bluefish pâté ($7.25). Served
on greens, with pink ribbons of pickled onion, it tasted like a genuine
pâté with a smoked-fish accent, rather than a pile of fish
puréed into spread. And the bibb-and-watercress salad ($7.50) was a
model of restraint: the balsamic dressing with crumbles of gorgonzola and
pancetta provided little bursts of flavor over the greens. For my money, the
best of the lot was the smoked-corn-and-mussel chowder ($6.50), a remarkably
full-flavored marriage of several textures -- the light crispness of corn, the
hearty chunkiness of potatoes, the meat of the mussels -- all in a base that
magically hints of lemon, tangy and steamy and rich all at once.
Whether you peg the Metropolis's food as Mediterranean with bits of Americana
creeping in, or New American with a Continental bias, it's certainly a
sophisticated version of the bistro basics, neither hidebound by tradition nor
self-consciously novel. Take the salmon pavé ($16.75). What's a
pavé? Sharon Herbst's Food Lover's Companion calls it a
"square-shaped, aspic coated mousse." This wasn't so old-fashioned as that:
there's no aspic and no mousse, but indeed it was shaped -- a fillet pressed
loosely into a cylinder, with the proportions of a tiny pillbox hat, that was
capped with a horseradish crust toasted just to the edge of goldenness. The
salmon was moist without being undercooked; the horseradish gave it bite
without fangs (crème fraîche making such a better binder
than the usual mayonnaise); and the sprinkle of lucent orange salmon roe on top
gave it panache. Not a huge package -- Metropolis isn't aiming to send people
home with doggie bags -- but how well-wrapped!
The rest of the entrees may not have been so electric in concept, but they
were seamlessly executed. A wild-mushroom risotto special ($15.25) was grand,
and given an added dimension by the crisped little chicken livers on top; a
bowl of gnocchi ($11.75) came in a sort of disassembled pesto: olive oil,
garlic, and pine nuts, all in a dish green with shredded basil.
I was surprised by the Delmonico steak ($18), not because I've had so many
Delmonico steaks, but because I hadn't expected this much flavor from a club
steak. This was pan-fried, soft and tender and buttery, with an internal
lattice of fat (yes, it's hard to talk about fat in a positive way, but that's
what gives the meat its richness) and a topping of chopped shallots and chives.
Similarly pleasing was the pan-roasted chicken special ($14), a breast and
thigh that came with a garlicked pan glaze poured over the top and baked onto
the chicken, providing a tasty brown crust for the moist meat inside.
The wine list has enough interesting choices in the high-teens/low-20s range
to make ordering a bottle with dinner a reasonable proposition. More
miraculously, all 25-odd wines are available by the glass.
Come dessert, Metropolis does a fancy kind of justice to its heritage as an
ice-cream joint. Pastry chef Shari Woods has come up with goodies that rival
the solidity and freshness of her husband's work in the kitchen: a lemon
tartlet with berries and sorbet ($5), a rich chocolate pudding cake with a
scoop of vanilla ice cream ($7), and a vanilla-bean crème
brûlée ($6) that was ideally caramelized on top, but could have
tasted less of egg and more of the eponymous bean. But that's a quibble.
Another nice meal ending is one that was listed both as a starter and as a
dessert: the plate of "artisan cheeses" ($8) which on our night were taleggio,
a mild English blue, and a goat cheese. Ironic, because the very last word I'd
associate with the Metropolis's charm and restraint would be "cheese."