BY ANDREW BITKOWER
If you squint, in fact, you might even think you were in Balthazar (after a martini or two).
Andrew JacobsWith Air France’s Concorde service suspended for the past year, we have all been forced to make some sacrifices. When hopping aboard Concorde to arrive chez Taillevent the same evening is not possible, many have turned to the Boston-area restaurant scene for our French food fix.
Brasserie Jo is one of my preferred inexpensive French restaurants in the Boston area. The hearty fare, such as my steak tartare and orange duck standbys, is always reliable and tasty, even if not particularly sophisticated. The crusty bread, accompanied — oddly but quite successfully — by carrot sticks in a spicy mustardy sauce, keeps one good company before the starters arrive. The atmosphere is nothing special but is not at all unattractive. Brasserie Jo has always been a favorite gathering place, with its friendly waitstaff, reasonably priced wine list and fabulous fishbowl-sized martinis. And not surprisingly, Brasserie Jo has fabulous frites. But Metro is no Brasserie Jo.
I had high hopes for Metro. In a moment of nostalgia, I had thought it might turn out to be the Balthazar of Cambridge. And what wonders that might have done for putting our own little Porter Square on the map. If you sort of squint, in fact, you might even think you were in Balthazar (especially after a martini or two). Ok, well maybe even that’s stretching it a bit, given the markedly different attire seen in Cambridge compared to SoHo. You might need three martinis. But given the inevitable comparison between Balthazar and Metro, I had hoped that it might turn out to be worthy of the comparison (or, for that matter, the 400-or-so words that I am devoting to it).
However, Metro was something of a disappointment. The décor actually was attractive and appropriately brasserie-like, reflecting a total remodeling of the space that used to be Cottonwood Café. But the interior design set up expectations on which the food failed to deliver. My first disappointment was that the kitchen had run out of the lamb: When our server seated us, she mentioned that there were only a few of the lambs left; she then disappeared for at least 15 minutes, taking every other customer’s lamb order before returning to us. Of course, by the time she returned, they were entirely sold out; so, grumpily, I chose another entrée.
My steak tartare starter was disgustingly lukewarm and was totally lacking in flavor. I was glad that I didn’t order it as a main course. The seafood platter, consisting of oysters, mussels, clams and shrimp was not particularly large but was quite good, especially the well-seasoned mussels. But it is difficult to mess up a raw seafood platter. (I had thought it was hard to mess up the seasoning for steak tartare, as well, but boy was I wrong!) The cabbage stuffed with duck confit that I ordered for my main course was pleasant enough as comfort food, reminiscent of the stuffed cabbage that my grandmother used to make — except she didn’t charge me for it. The highlight of the meal was the dessert, a pear tart with quasi-coffee ice cream, which David and I stole from Davis’ plate during his brief visit to the men’s room. (I’ll leave it to Davis to tell you all about the men’s room.) Our server was chipper and friendly, personality traits totally out of place for a would-be Balthazar. A bit more surliness and attitude would no doubt improve the atmosphere.
I cannot particularly recommend Metro. But now that Air France has again come to our rescue, we shall not be forced to dine in mediocrity for much longer.
A cut of hangar, steak, lean but juicy, seems like not a bad way to spend $16 in this town.
David BitkowerOnce again, I find myself in disagreement with my colleagues. Metro, although certainly not my favorite restaurant of the semester, is a perfectly reasonable approximation of French bistro food at a reasonable price. Perhaps it is because my impression of French Food was formed largely by FF13.5 student meals at the Cite Universitaire Restau-U, though you can’t beat the couscous with lamb chunks, two merguez sausages, deadly hot sauce, plus three sides that they used to serve on Sunday afternoons. Or perhaps it is because at Metro I stayed away from the fringes of the menu and stuck to the traditional steak frites. Nonetheless, I was pleased. A healthy cut of hanger steak, lean but still juicy, with some very competently prepared fries, seems like not a bad way to spend $16 in this town. The chevre salad was less memorable, but certainly not bad.
The décor, as Andrew notes, is also a nice change of pace from Metro’s neighbors such as Christopher’s or Temple Bar. We went on a Wednesday night with a party of six, and the place was nearly full, surprisingly large but nicely laid out, not too loud and pleasing to look at. In fact, although I would personally never drink on a Fed Courts evening, Metro seems like a very nice place to get together for drinks. The front room has several larger tables and a prominent row of two-person booths (videre et videri, comme on dit). And everyone knows it’s past time to move on from the tired Temple Bar/West Side Lounge scene.
My largest complaint about Metro is the limited dessert selection. Of the six choices on offer, only the Chocolate Napoleon and Pear Tart were appealing, and the Napoleon was not that great. But stealing the Pear Tart while Davis was off in the bathroom was the most fun I have had since sticking a pink triangle on Kelly Hartline’s back while she wasn’t looking.
Speaking of small-minded intolerance, if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s overpriced yet bland breakfasts. So I want to go out of my way to recommend the Neighborhood Restaurant & Bakery on Bow Street in Union Square, a little Portuguese diner with a great brunch menu. There are dozens of combos for $6 to $10, each of includes piles of pancakes, eggs, fruit, bread, hash browns and OJ, not to mention the free bread basket (homemade) and coffee and tea that you get, like those first 120 LSAT points, just for showing up. I had mango-banana pancakes, which were excellent, but not as excellent as my friend’s pumpkin pancakes with whipped cream.
The saucisse de coquillage was a horror: Its taste was more Japanese breakfast than French Bistro.
Davis WangMy colleague’s reference to Abercrombie and Fitch in our last review was darkly prescient: Last week, A&F announced that, in view of the national war effort, it would suspend its usual winter catalogue (of buff boys unusually insensitive to cold weather). Our dinner at Metro was therefore a memorial of sorts: The mood was somber, the lights were low, the crowd was sparse, the brand new mirrors were tarnished with the methodological precision of the Harkness Tower of the Other School, and the food sucked.
Were it up to me, the review would have ended here, I would not further embarrass the bar-restaurant-bistrot with an enumeration of its faults — indeed, as far as its self-characterization is concerned, only the bar part is accurate. There is a zinc bar, where clusters of two and three would gather and smoke domestic cigarettes. In any case, I digress — were it up to me, I would go on, instead, to analyze the suspension of the A&F catalogue as another unfortunate victim of terrorism. Even William F. Buckley Jr. appreciated the catalogue’s cultural significance, and wrote about its cargo shorts and those who modeled them (without, however, wearing them) with much eloquence.
But duty calls. I must be informative. The saucisse de coquillage was a horror: There was more white fish than shrimp in an eggy, spongy, tubular substance. Its taste was more Japanese breakfast than French bistro. (Well, Metro is located in the Porter Exchange Japanese colony). I thought Andrew’s steak tartare would be truer to form, but it tasted as if it had been semi-cooked. (Was this some sort of anti-anthrax recipe that we are not aware of? Someone should report this place to the CDC.) My m
ain course, a choucroute garnie — pork loin with sauerkraut — was crispy on the outside and dried to the crisp on the inside, as well. For dessert, the pear tart was just a tart with pear. It was a mistake for me to order an encore when I found my original order missing after a trip to the WC (which was, actually, one of the few highlights of the place. The washing stations were located in an anteroom outside the actual facilities, allowing for socialization among the patrons post-relief.) In fact, it was David’s chocolate napoleon that was slightly more redeeming — the feuilles were chocolate as well, an interesting touch. The most satisfying part of the menu was a plateau of raw oysters, served between the appetizers and the main course. But oysters without A&F boys, as we all know, do not a full meal make.