- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Is Metropolitan too metropolitan for Annapolis?There have been grumblings about price, but judging by food only, J.J. Minetola’s menu is, for the most part, urban renewal at its tastiest.

The newly opened restaurant is the latest addition to West Street Village, a group of once-derelict city buildings saved from demolition by preservationists. Owners Gavin and Julie Buckley and Jody and Kristin Danek also own West Street’s Lemongrass (next door) and Tsunami restaurants. Scott and Gabrielle Herbst joined the ownership team for the newest venture.

An ultramodern all-glass front leads to three floors of white stone bars, leather seating and a rooftop deck with great views.

New American offerings such as hazelnut roasted quail with chocolate sauce ($11) or crab claw avocado salad ($8) take starters to the big city.

The quail was wonderfully crisp yet very moist. Hazelnut and chocolate make a fabulous connection and add an unexpected layer to this first plate.

The crab salad was like nothing you would expect in Crabtown. Crab claw meat took the place of the usual jumbo lump, and lime oil and sweet-potato sauce replaced Old Bay. Fresh avocado and baby cilantro provided nice taste and texture contrasts.

Prosciutto-wrapped sea scallops, Kobe beef tartare and Kumamoto oysters on the half shell round out the first plates.

Interesting salads include the roasted beet and arugula salad with candied walnuts and brioche croutons, or a red-oak-leaf salad with white grapes, blue cheese and rhubarb.

There is only one soup on the menu, an heirloom tomato consomme served with jumbo lump crab, mozzarella and micro basil.

Eight main plates make up the menu’s entrees list, and most can be ordered as “small plates” for half the price.

One of the day’s specials was ono ($30), a fish also known as wahoo. The fish can grow to more than 100 pounds, but the usual size used and pared down for restaurant plates is 8 to 30 pounds.

Ono is a Hawaiian word meaning “good to eat,” and good to eat it was. After being seared lightly, the tenderloin-size steak was cut into half-inch slices, plated and served with heirloom tomatoes and a balsamic vinegar drizzle. Slices of Parmigiano Reggiano were shaved over the top. The lean fish had a sweet and delicate texture and was seared just right so the flesh did not dry out. The fresh tomatoes and greens along with the drizzle perfectly accompanied the fish. The sharp saltiness of the Parmigiano brought together all the flavors.

Organic Scottish salmon ($25) with baby artichokes, oyster mushrooms and homemade mustard was another different twist on an old favorite. The salmon was cooked neatly, and the mustard sauce added just the right kick of flavor without being overwhelmed. The artichokes and mushrooms were a fun twist on the standard vegetable accompaniment.

Braised beef short ribs with pickled green onion and roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a natural braising jus kick comfort food up a notch. If you love rich foods, this is the direction to go.

Metropolitan also has its own take on steak frites. It plates a grilled New York strip, cooked to your liking, with house fries and porcini ketchup.

A pasta offering was homemade asparagus tortelloni with chanterelle mushrooms and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Black truffle lobster risotto with lobster tail and parsnip chips sounded wickedly rich on the menu, and it didn’t disappoint. The risotto was creamy and married well with the black truffle and lobster. It was accompanied by a parsnip puree; no steamed broccoli or green beans here. The small-plate portion ($19) proved quite satisfying.

Other interesting small plates are the truffled poached country egg with asparagus and bacon ($6) and an artisanal cheese plate ($9).

Table plates (side dishes) are not necessary, but if your party is made up of big eaters, try the foie gras potato mash ($8). The simple comfort of mashed potatoes meshed well with the extravagance of the foie gras.

Wild mushroom risotto, rutabaga mash, lentil and citrus salad, and Swiss chard and caramelized shallots round out the sides.

Desserts are equally interesting and are all made in-house by pastry chef Lee Blackwood.

Chocolate Royale ($10), like many other things on the menu, is extremely rich. Chocolate truffle is accented by a hazelnut crunch and mellowed with homemade vanilla ice cream. For a tangy finish, “Pink & Green” ($9) is a lime mousse tart with just the right amount of sourness, accented with fresh strawberries and strawberry gelato.

Other mouthwatering choices are cappuccino cake featuring chocolate genoise, coffee cremeux, mocha mousse and chocolate Grand Marnier ice cream, and a buttermilk panna cotta ($8) with mango gelee and apricot confit.

A short wine list is eclectic and educated. Metropolitan is open only for dinner.

RESTAURANT: Metropolitan, 169 West St., Annapolis; 410/268-7733

HOURS: Daily 5 to 10:30 p.m.

PRICES: Soups/salads $7 to $8; appetizers $8 to $18; entrees $22 to $36; small plates $6 to $19; table plates (sides) $5 to $8; desserts $8 to $10

RESERVATIONS: Recommended for dining room

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street or garage

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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