Everything is relative.
Compared to Foodbar, the restaurant that used to occupy the SouthBridge space next door to Digestif in Scottsdale, six-month-old Metro Brasserie is a welcome change. I thought Foodbar was a total dud, with an awkward atmosphere and unimpressive food. Honestly, anything would've been an improvement, so when Foodbar closed "for renovations" last summer, and then reopened in October as a rustic French restaurant with a New Orleans-style spin, it seemed like good news.
On the flip side, I think Metro Brasserie can do better all around. The service, the atmosphere, and the food all need to be kicked up a notch.
Metro Brasserie Thursday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Onion soup gratin: $8
Brasserie burger: $12
Braised pork cheeks: $19
Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 8 a.m. to midnight; Thursday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
I have high expectations for a couple of reasons. First of all, SouthBridge developer Fred Unger, who owns Metro as well as nearby Estate House and Canal, has established himself as an arbiter of Phoenix style. Consider that he restored the historic Hermosa Inn to its glory, and renovated The Royal Palms as well. And have you been inside Estate House? It is beautiful. If anyone should be able to create a great restaurant experience, it is Unger.
Metro doesn't feel all that different from Foodbar, though. It has the same exotic patterned tile floors, wood paneling, and exposed-ductwork ceiling. It's swapped out the old seating for upholstered chairs around a long communal table, added lots of French rattan bistro chairs, and filled in the space with tables draped in white linens and brown butcher paper.
What Metro didn't add was the je ne sais quoi. The '90s grunge soundtrack didn't put me in a Left Bank mood, nor did the bunch of T-shirt-clad dudes hooting at a basketball game on the TV by the bar one night. If my wanderlust starts getting out of hand, I'd rather go to Zinc Bistro at north Scottsdale's Kierland Commons for something Frenchy. The patio at Metro is a pleasant place to dine, however.
Another reason for my high hopes is executive chef Matt Taylor, who's worked at such high-profile restaurants as Mosaic, Mary Elaine's, and two of chef John Besh's New Orleans eateries, Restaurant August and Luke. With a résumé like that, I'd like to think that Taylor has the talent to lure customers from beyond the neighborhood — even for casual dining such as this — but for now, I don't see myself making a special trip to Metro. I'll go back when I'm in the vicinity and craving some frites or an icy-cold plate of raw oysters.
Don't get me wrong — I had some really tasty things at Metro. But the food wasn't consistently great, and neither was the service.
For the most part, over the course of several visits, the staff was friendly and down-to-earth, if not always attentive. One night, I was baffled at how scarce our waiter made himself, even when the restaurant was barely half-full, and I was further amazed when there was a good 45-minute lag time between apps and entrees. At least bring me some more mini-baguettes and butter, pretty please? It was so glaring that they comped our appetizers. Then, when entrees did show up, they were lukewarm. (Sigh.) Next time I'm at Metro, I hope I have the same sharp, sassy waitress I encountered on my last visit.
What will I be ordering? Very likely the Brasserie burger, which was truly memorable. Mine was cooked to a juicy medium rare, tucked into a glorious, golden brioche bun, and oozing with melted Gruyère and creamy, eggy sauce gribiche. Instead of run-of-the-mill lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle, this deluxe burger was dressed up with sweet, tender smoked Vidalia onion, tangy cured tomato, and Bibb lettuce, with a couple of cornichons toothpicked onto the bun. With a side order of crispy pommes frites, it was a decadent alternative to a traditional burger and fries.
I'd happily slurp down some more raw oysters here (you can pick and choose from a daily selection), and I'd certainly get my onion soup fix as well. Topped with brioche toast and melted Gruyère, it was a satisfying bowl. But I wasn't nuts about the Burgundy snails. Slivers of crispy garlic made them interesting, but the accompanying potato-parsley purée was disappointingly bland.
In the way of salads, my pick is the frisée aux lardons over the roasted beet salad, which was a meager, deconstructed portion of beets, blue cheese burrata, and a scattering of candied pecans. Most of the time, I'm not excited about frisée, but this was notably fresh and tender, tossed with bacon and a lip-smacking Creole mustard dressing. A perfect poached egg was nestled on top.
What I liked about the moules frites was the simplicity of fresh Prince Edward Island mussels steamed just so, along with great frites. I would've loved them, though, if the white wine and thyme broth hadn't been so weak. Uncharacteristically, I didn't want to slurp this up. Nor did I want to devour the slow-cooked rabbit — it should have been succulent, considering that the legs were braised and the loin was wrapped in bacon. Pistachio, orange, and green olive added intriguing flavors but didn't make up for the slightly dry meat. Also, the mashed potatoes that came with it were lumpy and not very appetizing.
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For some reason, the potato purée accompanying the tournedos of beef was a better texture, but arrived nearly cold. However, the meat was hot and juicy, teamed with tarragon-flecked sauce chasseur and some roasted Brussels sprouts. Shrimp and grits were overwhelmed by a heavy, surprisingly flavorless andouille sausage gravy. I'd hoped for a kick. On the other hand, braised pork cheeks were a wonderful surprise, cooked until fork-tender and served with a hint of maple syrup. Delicious. Creamy, ethereal parsnip purée was a bonus.
You almost have to order beignets at a place like this, where there's such a New Orleans influence. And if you've ever been to the Big Easy, you'll understand why anyone can make room for these fritters, even after such rich entrees. Fried until a deep golden color and sprinkled with powdered sugar, the beignets were hot and crisp, served with Nutella sauce, raspberry coulis, and vanilla cream for dipping. Needless to say, they disappeared pretty quickly. Simultaneously, my dining companions gobbled up a fine lemon thyme tart, baked in a buttery crust and topped with fresh berries and chantilly cream.
Every neighborhood should be so lucky as to have a reliable French spot where you can stop by anytime for a light bite or a comforting meal. And I think Metro Brasserie has the potential to be that place for Old Town Scottsdale.
It's a worthy goal. Bonne chance.