Four on the Floor | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Four on the Floor 

Metropolitan reinvents itself, this time with a kitchen committee.

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Despite the importance of Metropolitan restaurant as Utah’s culinary equivalent to the Salt Lake Tabernacle, I last fully reviewed Metro back in 1998. Tiring of the revolving door of executive chefs at Metropolitan'each on paper more celebrated than the last'I turned my back on Metro, critically at least, assuming that by the time I wrote about the restaurant’s latest incarnation, its chef would have hit the road for greener pastures. For a while there, Metropolitan was averaging a new chef about every year. I couldn’t keep up.

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And neither, I imagine, could Metropolitan’s owner Karen Olson, who’d about had her fill of supersize egos in the kitchen. So she did something radical: In the midst of our celebrity chef culture, she decided to dispense with the star and implemented an approach she’s calling the “Metropolitan culinary collective.” It’s working.

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On any given night in Metropolitan’s kitchen, you’ll find a team of four talented chefs working side by side: Jed Banta, Chad Horton, Chris Durfee and Justin Shifflett. Each has his strengths. Horton, for example, served as pastry chef at Bradley Ogden in Vegas and also did time at the magnificent Le Cirque and Circo. If my two Metro dining experiences last week are any indication'and I sampled almost every dish on the new menu'four heads are indeed better than one.

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The white asparagus soup ($5 taste/$9 full) was simply wonderful, drizzled with olive oil, cracked black pepper and with a crunchy pancetta “chip” floating on top. Metropolitan mushrooms ($6/$12) are a crowd-pleaser, hearty wild mushrooms with red wine served in a feuille de brick pastry shell atop ethereal truffled mashed potatoes. Then there were the divine Manilla clams, served in a strange sounding but scrumptious Tabasco cream sauce with garlic and grilled bread ($5/$10).

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An artfully presented soft-shell crab salad ($14) came with roasted pineapple, sliced avocado and tomato gelée'and it was wonderful. A heartier charcuterie starter ($12) included fresh-made country pâté, cured salmon, duck “prosciutto” and a Scotch egg'a clever nod to the past in a restaurant much known for its cutting-edge sensibilities. Then, for those who find stopping actual wars more critical than outlawing goose and duck liver, there was Metropolitan’s fabulous “Foie-berry” shortcake: seared foie gras served shortcake style with strawberries marinated in aged balsamic vinegar. And those were just some of the Culinary Collective’s appetizers.

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I’ve been thinking for a while now that big-name chefs are overrated. Do you really expect to see Emeril or Wolfgang or Mario cooking in the kitchen if you dine at one of their multitude of eateries? Of course not. Chances are that your meal will be prepared by a team of talented cooks ranging from Culinary Institute of America grads to green-card immigrants. That’s the reality of the modern restaurant kitchen, from the fanciest to the funkiest. Metropolitan has simply formalized this approach and demolished much of the tyrannical hierarchy that defines most professional kitchens.

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The four members of Metro’s Culinary Collective freely and creatively exchange ideas and opinions while formulating menus. “So far, I haven’t seen any fists or knives fly in the kitchen,” says Olson, who looks happier in her restaurant than I’ve seen her in a long time. When I commented that the restaurant seems “lighter and looser” these days, she confided that over the past few years, she’d let go of the vision her brother Christophe had when he originally opened Metropolitan in 1995: an austere, sometimes intimidating place where attention to detail and precision often took precedent over comfort and kindness. That, too, has changed.

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There is a “collective” feel to the front of the house at Metropolitan these days as well. Manager Quincy Fitzwater works with a top-notch dining room team of pros like James, Craig, the two Jasons, Nick and others to provide a thoroughly professional and thoroughly enjoyable dining experience. Although, in my opinion, Metropolitan is still a world-class dining destination, there’s a stiffness there that has vanished: Yes, you can relish exquisitely prepared food and have fun at the same time!

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Metro regular Randall Carlisle wandered past our table and asked me “What’s good?” on the new spring menu. I quickly recommended the lamb chop: It’s a meaty double-chop seared until crisp outside but pink and medium rare within, and served with crumbled feta cheese, orzo, baby zucchini and tangy cherry tomato confit ($35). The hard-to-improve-upon lamb was made even more luscious with a pairing recommendation from Nick: a glass of stunning wine from Priorat'blending Grenache, Carignane, Cabernet and Syrah'called Como Vella, from Bodegas Mas D’en Gil. Fantastic.

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Handball-size diver scallops ($25) at Metro are served on cauliflower “couscous.” The cauliflower is ground in a food processor until it resembles rice, then quickly blanched. The result is a couscous-like veggie: Brilliant. The large scallops are served with mango chutney and micro cilantro; a ring of zippy “jerk” spices borders the plate. The “hot” portion of “Tuna Hot & Cold” ($28) was fairly typical: seared medium-rare sushi grade ahi tuna. Alongside was a perfectly formed timbale of cold tuna tartar with chives, presented with a lid and base of paper-thin sliced daikon radish. I thought the wasabi mashed potatoes that came with the tuna sounded like a bad idea, but was I wrong! The subtle wasabi flavor perked up what would otherwise have been a mundane side dish and made it something special.

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Muscovy duck “sous vide,” blue-nose bass with artichoke barigoule, venison and shitake mushrooms with carrot foam … it just goes on and on. I’ve always felt that Metropolitan on a bad day is better than most great restaurants on a good one. By all appearances, Metro’s bad days are well behind it. Sometimes it takes a village rather than a king.

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METROPOLITAN
n173 W. Broadway
n364-3472
nOpen for dinner Monday-Saturday

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