Metro makes an effort, but serves up only kitsch
1815 Mass. Ave. (Porter Square)
Open daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Metro, a relative newcomer to the Porter Square neighborhood of Cambridge, bills itself as a brasserie, bistro and café, all at once, on its awning. At first glance from behind a pair of rose-colored sunglasses, Metro seems slick and sort of cutely romantic. Very Parisian, of course.
I have not actually been to France, but I have seen Amelie and been to Disney World. These two experiences, I think, amount to all I need to judge Metro’s authenticity. The mosaic-tiled floor, big windows and lots of light wood are charming and airy, a contrast to the more moody Cottonwood Café that used to occupy the space. Deep red pleather booths and chairs are cute, but the Art Deco lighting (in addition to Art Deco everything) is too new-looking and the “tin” ceiling and the huge mirrors are obviously and poorly “antiqued.” The overall result is forced, too taut and sterile to feel comfy and really French, yet not enough of a caricature to be funky. One feels as though they’ve just stepped into the France portion of the Epcot Center, with cute French food vocabulary that anyone, not just French speakers, might understand (bierre en boutailles, eau de vie and les vins) printed on bright plastic panels behind the bar. Everything is too neatly arranged to be real, the white bistro-style dishes and dishcloths for napkins too self-consciously chosen. They amount to a bistro-style restaurant rather than a bistro. Probably somebody’s bistro-themed kitchen would feel more like Paris.
This is to say nothing of the food. Sunday brunch, I think, is the sexiest meal of the week. It is meant for sitting for a long time, chatting, prolonging the luxurious freedom of the weekend when there is nothing pressing to do. It is a time to lean close and talk hushedly of whatever debauchery one saw or did the night before. Perhaps to brush one’s slept-on and rearranged hair to the side and gaze conspiratorially at a good friend or, better, a lover. Brunch at Metro allows for the requisite lingering over one’s meal, but the déjeuner menu promises to be much more in print than what arrives at the palate.
A basket of fresh breads and pastries are an excellent start, and the croissants and pain de chocolat are crisp and flaky in the outer layers, tender and buttery and chewy on the inside, just as they should be—really top-notch. The typically short brunch menu lists a variety of mouth-watering options, including several omelettes, poached eggs and even brioche French toast (once and for all, I want to know: do the French just call it toast?). The omelettes, though, turn up bland despite tantalizing ingredients such as wild mushrooms and Gruyère, or Maine crab and crème fraîche. The omelettes are simply good, not fabulous, and contain neither enough of the promising ingredients from which they are made nor even enough salt and pepper to give them an appropriate kick. The poached eggs over spicy tomato and chorizo ragout blend too easily into the ragout, which tastes and looks like little more than a red sauce with sausage and lots of onion. The selection is helped by toast points which do well at absorbing just enough but not too much sauce, but even at that, one might as well be sopping up spaghetti sauce. The oeufs poches over rosemary bread with pancetta and hollandaise sauce is a tasty variation on eggs benedict, that brunch-time staple, although the bread could be more substantial so as to better complement the liquidity of the sauce and eggs.
When dining out, I have found that simple is often best, and so he who chooses the smoked salmon on (an average) bagel is rewarded with a lovely herbed crème fraîche as a light and savory stand-in for ordinary cream cheese.
What the bagel guy misses, though, is a hefty serving of homefries—ahem, pommes frites—which accompany almost everything else on the menu, and which are cooked to crispy-outside, smooth-and-greasy inside perfection. Along with the pastries, the frites steal the admittedly lackluster show. Super stereotypical French desserts such as tarte tatin (apple tart) and crème brulée were tempting and cried out from the menu as a possible redemption. I ordered the brulée and was once again let down with a resounding “oeuf!” as the burnt sugar crust required just a bit too much push to crack, and the chilled custard beneath (I prefer warm) had a hint of a stale dairy taste, suggesting that it had been in the no doubt adorably quaint Frigidaire for a bit too long. Even a cup of Earl Grey tea tasted like the parsley that was liberally sprinkled over everything else.
Sunday afternoon Francophile, do not despair! The large cluster of café tables in the front of the restaurant are a perfect place to enjoy the offering of breads, a cute carafe of eau and perhaps even a little pot of the Earl Parsley or a shot of espresso. This would be, after all, a more authentically French start to the day.