There has been much talk of the South End bistro that opened 27 years ago and closes Wednesday. Hamersley’s will serve its last roast chicken at a ticket-only benefit for the BCA. An era ends.
But let us not forget the South End bistro that opened 19 years ago and stays that way today. Metropolis, two blocks away from Hamersley’s on Tremont, is a different creature — casual, affordable — but no less a neighborhood mainstay. And its roast chicken happens to be very nice.
When I asked a friend to join me there recently for dinner, her reply was: “Good ol’ Metropolis!” That about sums it up. This is the kind of place everyone goes for brunch and has done forever, that everyone feels a fondness for, even if it’s not always at the top of the list of places we talk about when we talk about restaurants. It was the first property for the Aquitaine Group, which now also runs three Aquitaines, Gaslight, Union, and Cinquecento, blanketing the South End and beyond.
And it’s not quite good ol’ Metropolis anymore. The name has been streamlined from Metropolis Cafe, for one thing. And this fall the place was spruced up. It now looks like a cleaner, more modern Parisian nook: black-and-white tile floors, marble bar, brick walls painted cream, indigo accents, shiny red benches flanking the entrance, and a new sign. But the room is cozy as ever, with booths just big enough for approximately 1.75 people. This is a place to come with friends.
Here you can eat chef de cuisine William Bradley Nurse’s cherry tomato clafoutis, like a little quiche or custard stocked with tomatoes, flavored with leeks, Parmesan, and marjoram vinaigrette, served with a green salad on the side. Roasted cod cheeks are a bit more chewy than crisp, but they are served over excellent lentils, tart with lemon juice and showered with pepper, a bright salsa verde tying the dish together. There’s an endive salad with Roquefort and bacon, simple and classic. There is a basket of crusty bread with olive oil and cloves of roasted garlic. With a glass of wine, it’s easy to make an enjoyable supper of such things. (Metropolis doesn’t have a full liquor license, but it serves cocktails like the Orleans Royale, bubbles and cassis spiked with hard cider.)
The menu is only vaguely seasonal, in the way all menus were not terribly long ago. Vegetables tend to taste as much like the cheese they are doctored with as anything that grew in soil. Watercress appears on every other dish. A rich salad of roasted Brussels sprouts is bound together with lemon, Parmesan, and horseradish dressing. Beet tartare features the roots raw and roasted, formed into a crimson puck a la tuna tartare, overpowered by blue cheese, green onions, and pumpkin seeds. “Mexican street style” corn gratin, with Parmesan, lime, and chile, starts off cozy and warm, then suddenly explodes on the back of the tongue. That stuff is spicy! Restaurant-goers are finally learning that vegetables really, honestly do taste good, but after so much here-is-a-pure-unadulterated-carrot earnestness, it’s nice to just shut up and eat.
There are several iterations of risotto here. One with corn, smoky chorizo, and fried sage leaves is dynamite, cooked just right. On another visit, a side of cherry tomato risotto is underdone and far too salty. A dish imperially named The Rigatoni sounds grand. With veal glaze and chile flakes, fennel sausage and Marsala, it should be the most flavorful pasta dish ever. It’s merely fine. There is no discernible chile heat, and the dish is cold in spots. Metropolis has occasional off nights.
But meat and seafood main courses tend to be simple and well prepared. Veal scaloppine is nicely balanced, tart capers and lemon mingling with nutty, warm brown butter. Rib eye is perfectly cooked, although it needs salt and the herbs in the accompanying garlic-thyme butter are overpowering. Scrape them off, add salt, and you have a delicious, reasonably priced steak with fat, satisfying cottage fries on the side. For something more delicate, there is sole meuniere with roasted fennel, potato hash, grapes, and a tarragon-spiked sauce: classic, satisfying flavors that aren’t always elegantly plated. And then there’s the pan-roasted chicken with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and pan drippings. It’s great. For those in the neighborhood missing the version at Hamersley’s Bistro, try this instead.
Follow it with the outrageous butterscotch pudding, laced with big, crunchy flakes of fleur de sel, rum-caramel sauce pooling on the top. Enjoy some banter with your friendly neighborhood server. Lean back and relax. Metropolis is welcoming, unpretentious, and reliable. And, most important of all, it is open for dinner tonight.
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