Metropolitan 

Metro Mojo: In its teen years, Metropolitan evolves and hits higher peaks.

click to enlarge TED SCHEFFLER
If I’ve got the timeline right, in 2011 Metropolitan will celebrate its 15th anniversary. Since opening in 1996, the restaurant and its chefs have set a very high bar in Utah for contemporary American cuisine. Yes, the restaurant has waxed and waned. By that, I mean the food at Metropolitan has been at times very good and at other times very, very good. There have been peaks and there have been higher peaks.

With a new menu in place—which I recently got to eat my way through—the cuisine at Metropolitan has never been stronger. Metro, today, is reaching one of its highest peaks in terms of the food being served.

That’s fitting, since owner Karen Olson has hit a high note of her own. In September, at the annual meeting of Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA), Olson accepted the organization’s prestigious chairman position for 2010-11—only one other woman has held the position in 20 years. That a Salt Lake City restaurateur should be ushered in as chair of DiRoNA is a statement about how far the dining scene here has come since Metropolitan opened.

But, back to the food. “Handcrafted new American cuisine” is how the folks at Metropolitan describe it. And, I suppose that’s as apt a description as any. But it doesn’t capture the down-to-earth wholesomeness and comfort of the dishes on the Metro menu. You might not think of Metropolitan as dishing up comfort food, but the new menu is brimming with it.

I’m not talking about the worn-out variations on upscale macaroni & cheese or meatloaf. Been there, done that. The new menu features dishes that allow superb ingredients—many of them local and organic—to sing, without too much interference from chef Justin Shifflett, even as talented as he is. Kudos to him, and the Metro culinary team, for getting out of the way.

After all, why mess up something as simple and good as Blue Point oysters? At Metro, the oysters ($12 taste/$18 full) are topped with a smidgen of fresh kimchi and served with chopsticks and a small shot glass of “red beer,” a mix of Asian lager and tomato broth. A green lentil salad ($6 taste/$10 full) comes with glazed, diced Granny Smith green-apple pieces, tossed with intensely flavored, crumbled Spanish goat’s milk Valdeon blue cheese, roasted red beets and raw apple-cider vinaigrette, all topped with colorful microgreens.

Braised rabbit pizza ($13) on the appetizer menu is a brilliant idea, made with pureed white beans for the “sauce,” oven-dried tomatoes, potato confit and mustard greens. But the starter that really rocked me was “3 Little Pigs.” Everybody seems to be doing charcuterie these days; pork is this year’s cilantro. But Metro steps it up by doing a pork trio ($15) consisting of a house-made, rich and rustic country pate wedge (ground pork, rendered pork fat, allspice, brandy and toasted hazelnuts), a thick slab of maple-braised applewood-smoked bacon, and homemade pork rinds, which serve sort of as toast points. The dish is finished with grilled radicchio and mustard made with Epic beer. Fantastic.

But, those are just some of the outstanding new Metro starters. The main courses absolutely knock my socks off. One of the best new entrees from the Metropolitan menu—and, this would be a home run on any restaurant menu, anywhere—is the Arctic char ($27). This is, quite simply, a world-class dish. According to the folks in the kitchen, a stock is made using the body of the char, which is then used to stew white beans. Fresh rosemary oil is made. Then, a five-ounce boneless piece of skin-on Arctic char is pan-seared until the skin is crispy and served in a bowl atop the rosemary oil-infused white beans, and finished with shaved fresh black truffles. Wow. This relatively simple dish is comfort food at its most refined—the very definition of wholesome, quality ingredients used intelligently. It just doesn’t get any better.

Like charcuterie, short ribs have made it onto just about every upscale menu in the United States; you can thank Mario Batali for that. At Metropolitan, bison short ribs ($27) are featured. For this dish, a short rib taken from the chuck is braised with aromatics and juniper berries for several hours, until very tender. A chanterelle emulsion is made by caramelizing the mushrooms and blending them with veggie stock, salt and butter. A blackberry sauce for the ribs is created using pureed blackberries, sugar and vinegar. Then, the dish is assembled with sweet potato “hash,” poached baby carrots, the chanterelle emulsion and the short rib, bathed in blackberry sauce. Yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds.

Jimmy Santangelo—aka The Virtual Sommelier—who helps manage the wine program and works at Donovan’s, is also lending his expertise to Metropolitan. This is a good thing, because in my opinion, if there is one weakness at Metro, it’s the wine list. What once was one of the most distinctive wine selections in town has deteriorated. There are not many surprises here and, frankly, an embarrassing selection of wines by the glass. Crow Canyon Chardonnay for $7 per glass—are you kidding me? The stuff sells for $3.99 a bottle in our wine stores, and ought not to be on any serious wine list. But, Santangelo assures me that improvements are being made. I hope so, because a restaurant with food this impressive deserves a wine list to match it.

METROPOLITAN
173 W. Broadway
801-364-3472

Ted Scheffler:


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