Metropolis and All Its Charm

Located amid a bevy of restaurants at the intersection of Clarendon and Tremont streets in Boston’s South End, Metropolis sets itself apart from its pretentious cohorts with a much more laid back atmosphere. There are none of the consciously funky walls or day-glo furniture that mar many of the very hip (and actually pretty good) restaurants in the neighborhood, and the menu features classic dishes—like veal scaloppini—made special with the addition of a little something extra.

One of the simplest dishes Metropolis makes is a pear, walnut and gorgonzola salad. The pear is perfectly roasted and spiced, cooked to exactly the right tenderness to easily cut with a fork but not turned into pie filling or baby food. It is served alongside lightly dressed, delicate Belgian endive and baby greens sprinkled with walnuts. The gorgonzola melts into a puddle of cream with a tiny drizzle of berry sauce that adds a tangy touch of sweetness.

The only unremarkable moment of the meal came at the beginning in the form of lobster and cauliflower bisque with fines herbes. The consistency was excellent—not too starchy or floury and yet not too liquid with a few smallish chunks of lobster. However, fines herbes must be French for parsley. The soup was good but not exceptional, although the large portion made up somewhat for a lack of complexity in the flavoring.

The appetizer course was made extra special by a glass of pro secco—Italian sparkling white wine—as suggested by Cynthia Ruffner, Metropolis’ general manager. The pro secco felt as festive as champagne but lacked the aftertaste and stale scent, making it much smoother and easier to drink. It functioned to open the palate and ready it for the truly great main courses.

Admittedly, the pre-Metropolis conception of veal scaloppini was not appealing, bringing to mind visions of ladies in pearls at Italian restaurants in the 1960s. However, after diplomatically describing a pommery crusted salmon served over crème fraiche and cucumbers, our server said that the scaloppini ($22) was “to die for.” She was right. The first bite of veal made my eyes widen and eyelashes flutter. The salty tang of capers and lemon in a peppery beurre noisette was balanced by a creamy potato, leek and asiago gratin, served in a little inverted casserole with a crispy crust and highlighted with a roasted red pepper relish.

The same skill of combining different tastes was even more apparent in the seared scallops special. Expertly seared scallops were served around a mix of heirloom potatoes, baby spinach, butternut squash and oyster mushrooms. Beneath the scallops was a brown butter sauce with a hint of pommery mustard that was subtle and mysteriously delicious. This constant attention to detail in the sauces and the accompaniments is what pushes Metropolis towards exquisite.

Alas, dessert. Once again, an honest waitstaff came to the rescue of the indecisive diner faced with very standard dessert choices—sorbet, crème brulée, apple gallette, bread pudding, something chocolate. In their opinion, the sorbet was really good, and while the traditional crème brulée was really great and made with excellent vanilla, a chocolate lover simply had to try the chocolate pudding cake. The sorbet trio was a duo at Metropolis ($7) and once again, this gold standard of the remaining desserts had just a little something extra that made it wonderful. A grape sorbet was sweet and tart and berryish, and three buttery, slightly salty cookies complimented both the grape and the mango sorbets nicely. The sorbet was not so refreshing as to leave one unsatisfied and the cookies made the dessert luxurious without being orgiastically decadent. This is more than can be said for the chocolate pudding cake ($8), which seemed to have been divinely inspired. Served soufflé-style, this chocolate fanatic’s must-have was cooked to the point that the center was not runny or formless but smooth and rich. The cake delivered the dense buzz of a chocolate headache after only a few (generous) spoonfuls, with a cool vanilla ice cream as the antidote.

Try Metropolis if you are in the mood for Italian flavors with a kiss of French, served up affordably: pasta entrées (such as gnocchi with asparagus, pancetta, toasted walnuts and that fantastic gorgonzola) and risotto specials are $15-$17, and meat and seafood dishes range from $17-$22. An original (and really much better) alternative to the North End, Metropolis’ warmly finished coppery walls, flickery candles and glowing Moravian star lamps add comfortable and sophisticated romance to a dinner that already shines. Call ahead for a reservation, as the restaurant is on the small side, and request a cozy booth.

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