Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Metropole at the 21c

Exceptional food is downplayed 
by impaired service and overlooked detail

The 21c Penguin Mascot Awaits Patrons
     Do you ever have that awful feeling where you really liked something and then a lot of people liked it after you did, but you no longer liked it quite so much?  It’s the downside of elitism and we’re guilty of it.  We stayed at the 21c last year in Louisville and were entranced by the concept:  cutting edge
art, cool – but not great – rooms, and a bar that had a vibe so electrifying that it could have been filmed as the first scene in an updated Red Shoe Diaries.

     21c opened on Walnut Street last month and we’ve already written about it.  The Metropole (recalling the former name of the building) is the restaurant and right now it’s the place to be seen. The vestibule is awkward because some hotel guests think it’s the entrance to the lobby, as do some that just want to see the artwork.  The hosting staff members compound this because they don’t know how to welcome patrons or how to take coats smoothly.  The setting is peculiar because the original tile floor has been restored, but it’s uneven so the servers continually perform the ‘placing of the shim.’
Fire Pit Kitchen
Much has been made of the fire pit, but it didn’t seem to be used that much or even necessary.  Instead, the open kitchen seems reminiscent of a movement that’s already passed.  Unfortunately, there’s little muffling so the din gets pretty intense.

Dining Area at Metropole
     The space looks superficially beautiful, but there are problems with the details.  The bar runs the length of the dining room with two TVs that most patrons can see so it’s like an upscale sports bar.  Generally, we wouldn’t care, but generally we aren’t paying $60+ a head.  There is a banquette couch that runs the perimeter of the room.  Two top tables are set along it, but the chair seats in the room are about four inches higher than the couch so patrons in seats look like David Letterman looming over his guests.  We changed tables to be at the corner so that I could sit on the couch as well and be on the same level as Neil.  The staff had never encountered such a reaction.  

Seared Octopus
     The food was excellent.  We chose the Seared Octopus with garbanzo beans, currants, hot pepper and cress as an appetizer and the fish was smooth with a beautiful char.
Snap Pea Salad

The newly listed salad of Snap Peas, grapefruit, buffalo mozzarella, onion, and radishes was crisp, sweet, and light.  It tasted like edamame is supposed to, but never does.  The Grilled Trout with braised Savoy Cabbage was perfectly cooked; the flesh delicate and tender with skin that was crisp and it was well balanced by the braised cabbage.  The Milk Braised Pork Shank with the Wiesenberger grits, roasted turnips and pearl onion was also perfectly cooked.  Neil thought both the grits and the pork were among the best he’s had.

Grilled Trout
Milk Braised Pork
     We had the Peanut Brittle ice cream with a butter cookie as one dessert.  The ice cream is home made and it’s powerful both in flavor and texture.  The Chocolate Espresso Pudding Cake with meringue, malt crumble, and cherry ice cream (referred to as ashed, but it was the meringue that was burnt) was rich, but dry around the edge.  It was served in a hot individual cast-iron skillet without a handle cover so Neil used his napkin to steady it.  Oversights like that just don’t make sense.  The Hot Chocolate was pretty great, spiced with cinnamon and thickly foamed.

Chocolate Espresso Pudding Cake
     What could really sink The Metropole if the management isn’t careful is the off-putting service style. Our waiter had good recommendations, but later deserted us.  This may have been because we didn’t order liquor. Yes, I know it’s the profit margin, but we usually have coffee or tea and always dessert and there’s profit there as well – any beverage is a profit except water.  There were a couple of servers who were attentive and knowledgeable (they assisted us a couple of times), but there were others that were wandering around, seemingly half out of it in their ill-fitting jeans and tablecloth-patterned shirts.  It was as if the cast of Girls was playing/working at a pop-up restaurant.  It may sound edgy, but it’s not professional.  Stylish uniforms would be a good first step, followed by training in how to greet and make guests feel like this special experience is worth it, and then a uniformity of team work in addressing all the guests.

Metropole on Urbanspoon

I feel bad about the experience as we were celebrating Neil's birthday.

No comments: