On Saturday, Jan. 23, I had the most spectacular dinner at the Metropolitan. My dining partner was my cousin and dear friend, Patti Ellis. We only made reservations to dine that day, so I consider this an impromptu visit, and due to the Outdoor Retailers Convention and Sundance, Metropolitan’s staff was extremely busy.
I had been working all day at the wine store so I grabbed, at the last minute, a half-bottle of ’05 Meursault — a buttery White Burgundy — to take along. When we arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted by the owner Karen Olson, who although so busy that she was even waiting tables herself, took the time to pamper us. She brought out a tiny amuse-bouche served on a porcelain spoon. This homemade, lightly-curried veggie tapenade with a chip of toasted flat bread made our wine even more delicious.
When we were first seated, the couple behind us was devouring something that looked like a huge chunk of filet mignon. I could tell by the gentleman’s facial expressions that he was really enjoying his meal. Although Patti and I had decided to let Karen show us her finest stuff, we absolutely had to have the dish our neighbors were having.
Soon after we made that decision, Brittany our beautiful and articulate waitress arrived. Meticulously groomed yet sweet and looking comfortable, she explained the menu in a smart, casual way. (I hate places where the waiters are stuffy and pedantic and go on and on about this ingredient and that preparation.) Along with the Meursault I had also brought along a new wine to the State of Utah, its David and Michael Phillips’ Petite/Petit. This wine is a blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot — two grapes that make particularly “big” wines, rich in character and deep in flavor. Our savvy waitress opened the red so it could breathe and placed it in the windowsill without my asking. She later decanted the wine. I was impressed because sometimes, placing a wine in the windowsill chills it just enough to create the perfect situation for drinking any red wine.
In the past, I think the Metropolitan had the reputation of serving delicious food that so closely followed the concept of Nouvelle Cuisine, that many Salt Lakers had to stop at Maverick on the way home for a dog! This is obviously no longer the case. Patti and I both commented on how hearty our food was, and yet how it was still beautifully presented. Karen has explained to me how carefully she chooses her products — only the best local meats and produce and only the best available in its season. In fact, all over the world, that trend toward tiny portions a la Nouvelle Cuisine has given way to heartier, regional dishes and new stylizations of comfort foods.
Remembering the swooning guy behind us, we asked our server what he was eating. It turns out that the filet had a large chop-bone on it, which the guy had now picked up to gnaw on! We were told that this dish was a local veal chop — tender, juicy and marbled and cooked to perfection. We ordered one before they were all gone! Patti is a personal trainer and fitness guru, so she got the swordfish.
Karen appeared from the kitchen carrying two plates. She was beaming with pride, so I could tell her chefs had done their best work. We were served two of the most fascinating appetizers I think I’ve ever had in Utah: the famous Metro Mushrooms and the equally famous steak tartar with stained glass window chips. These potato chips are made with two very thin slices of potato with a parsley leaf placed in between, then slowly roasted in the oven. True to their name, they truly glow and look like tiny colored windows.
At the same time, another server appeared with a basket of freshly baked breads and rolls. The yeasty perfume coming from the basket was mouth-watering. Being a baker myself, I was just blown away to get some bread for a change! Nowadays, almost no place serves bread. I think it’s a mistake, but who am I? Anyway, we were served citrusy herb rolls, fluffy brioche and crusty/chewy pretzel rolls with a gob of whipped Provenḉal butter. All my Mormon genes were quivering — it was so great to have bread again!
The rolls went perfectly with our appetizers. The mushrooms are served in a tall, crusty potato cylinder with truffle-oiled potatoes in the bottom. Shitake and oyster mushrooms are sautéed and placed on top at the last minute. The mushrooms were excellently seasoned — just the way I would do them. When you cut down through the cylinder to eat the soft potatoes, the crunchy shell and the fragrant mushrooms together on a torn piece of brioche … well, French angels sing the Hallelujah Chorus! The tartar was served with a tiny, poached quail egg on top and with the window potato chips — equally a heavenly experience. Patti told me that the Metro Mushrooms is a signature dish that has been served at the restaurant for 14 years. This is a practice that should never be changed.
By this time, our wine had mellowed into a dark, ruby-red mass of elegance. Lately, I’ve been so impressed by Petite Sirah wines, and this one was really good. The nose was scented with sandalwood, leather, vanilla and baking spices, the central palate was round and full of blueberries with a bit of strawberry, and the finish was long and slow and luscious. Please try this wine! It went great with our appetizers.
By the time our main course arrived, Patti and I were already feeling full, but we were still eager to experience the ecstasy of the lamb chop. It came very simply garnished with pan juices, a savory bread pudding and a spoonful of apricot mostarda. (I make a South African dried fruit chutney that reminded me so much of the mostarda — it is a very similar preparation.) The chop, however, was truly, for me and Patti, the delight of the evening: Juicy, melt-in-your-mouth, beautifully cooked and seasoned and drizzled with pan juices. Like the fatted calf, this dish was Biblical! And again, with the wine it was, indeed, divine.
A side note: Recently, I went to the Metro for lunch as well. Then I had a velvety beet soup which I loved, and a copper pot full of steamed mussels and clams that were so fresh I thought I was in a seaside city. I have also had Karen’s buffalo sliders from her bistro menu, and I would love to see those on her lunch menu as well. Please go to the Metro for lunch if you haven’t done so recently — you’ll be happy you did.
For dessert, Patti helped me stumble into the bistro where the cute, vivacious Mike was bartending. Instead of ordering more food, Mike poured us a vertical of three dessert wines which we shared. This was fun! We compared a Chalk Hill Botrytis/Semillon, California with an Elderton Botrytis/ Semillon, Australia, and Patti had the Veuve-Clicquot Demi-Sec Champagne. As I sat on a stool that had been occupied by Sissy Spacek the night before, we enjoyed, savored and commented on the three wines, which, weirdly, all had a similar level of sweetness. The Chalk Hill was awesome, and I have to try to get some special ordered into Utah. The Elderton paled in comparison, though, and the Demi-Sec seemed a bit watered down next to the thick dessert wines. But they were still lovely.
The Metropolitan is such a charmingly designed place — intimate yet airy, contemporary yet comfortable, and just kind of cool! If you don’t know, it’s located on Broadway across from the Rose Wagner Center. The appetizers range from $6 to $12 (half portions are available), and the swordfish and the lamb chop were in the $25-33 range. For this experience at the Metropolitan, I give Karen and her staff a 95 rating.