Why do we go out to eat? Don't feel like cooking, save time, good place to meet friends without having to tidy the living room. But surely one of the best reasons is to eat food you're never going to go to the trouble to make yourself. If you are paying a premium over homemade just to keep your stomach from growling, you and I are not playing by the same rules.
Every time I ask chefs about their techniques, I am struck by the number of steps they're willing to go through and the unusual ingredients they're willing to source. Not to mention how they came up with the idea for all those steps and all those ingredients. Home cooking it's not.
Brendon Edwards of West Village's new Metropolitan Bar & Kitchen, formerly of Gold Cash Gold, is one such chef. If you read on the menu Chili Butter Cabbage, you may think, hmm, chili and cabbage? And when you read that its ingredients include "grana padano-fennel-miso," you might question "Italian cheese and Japanese fermented soybeans?" Edwards will explain that he likes to take his favorite "palate" — which is Latin American — and apply other cultures' techniques to those ingredients. That's why you'll see a horchata-flavored panna cotta, and olives (Mediterranean) with chili and lime (Mexico).
Edwards worked in Japan and in Playa del Carmen. He brought back from Mexico a stone molcajete on which the spices for his moles are ground with a pestle, as well as a Oaxaca-built tortilla press. The restaurant makes its own masa, using the ancient nixtamal process that soaks maize with slaked lime. Fresh masa means tortillas are cooked to order.
All this effort pays off in some outstanding dishes.
I liked everything I tried at Metropolitan, but perhaps the best was grilled pork collar: exterior-crisp morsels so tender they literally cut themselves if you touched them, glazed with tamarind and graced with paper-thin slices of apple and fennel. Every bite a marvel.
Also good, though not as transcendent as I usually find, were some fried scallops with a lemony aioli and red quinoa (I think the frying detracts). Grilled octopus comes with fried brioche (as if brioche needed more fat), charred grapes and a mildish green romesco.
The two-patty cheeseburger, which you can get for $10 during 4-6 p.m. happy hour, is served on a seeded bun with mild pickles and cheese and a zip aioli. I enjoyed it but would have liked the chance to specify a doneness level; it's not rare.
The meat and fish options are only five. In the longer vegetables column, I liked particularly maduros tostadas — sweet fried plaintains on those housemade tortillas, crisped and served with Peruvian green chilis and mild Oaxacan cheese. Sweet, hot, crunchy, creamy mouth-feel — a friendly riot of tastes and sensations. Once again, the sort of thing you're not likely to think up and, if you're like the unambitious most of us, unlikely to execute. I mean, most people give up long before "make your own nixtamal."
Likewise the winter squash tortilla is another friendly riot: both sweet and smoky-charred, with crunchy pepitas and salsa macha, a nutty, less spicy salsa, and somehow the tortillas hold their own and their flavor doesn't get buried under all that. Maybe it is worth it to make your own. I mean, worth it for Brendon Edwards to make for us.
About dessert: that horchata panna cotta is already on my "best of 2022" list. Panna cotta can be boring as hell, but not when it tastes like the best horchata. It's served with crisp puffed rice for that needed texture contrast, and little cubes of mango, for a bit of less-bland pick-me-up. No missteps here.
Almost as good are four chocolate-and-cinnamon doughnuts made from masa and cornmeal and served with chocolate cream. Again — the doughnuts taste great but they're a little dry, so you counter that with some creaminess. I use "you" in the sense of "Brendon Edwards."
Metropolitan puts a lot of thought into its drinks, too. The $12-$16 house cocktails run the gamut from floral to tropical to maple-y to medicinal. I liked the strong Fall Rouge because of the crowd-pleasing baking spices. Beers tilt toward Michigan brews, from an "easy drinking" Cerveza Delray from Brew Detroit to a "tropic floral" Nordskye from Blackrocks in Marquette. There's also a gluten-free Ground Breaker from Portland, Oregon.
But if the relatively short beer list at the restaurant isn't enough, you can go next door to the partner Metropolitan Variety Store, which has a selection of 200 to 300 beers that can even be bought one can at a time. They're the doing of Ashley Price, fresh off 15 years at Holiday Market's beer manager. I was boggled at the selection, and Price has about 200 wines as well, which you can take home or take to the restaurant for a $15 corkage fee. Price likes to sell varietals most people haven't heard of, or wines from countries that are not major wine producers, like Georgia and Slovenia.
Price is also responsible for occasional tastings of beer, wine, and spirits, like the one upcoming March 25 with Coppercraft Distillery's (from Holland) bourbon and rye. If you like your free sip, you can order a cocktail at the bar. The Store is still in negotiations with the state about selling liquor by the bottle.
The Variety Store is open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sunday noon-6 p.m. For the restaurant, reservations are recommended.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Brendon Edwards and Ashley Price.