Dining Out: Meat and Greet
You move to the suburbs, you want city lights without having to drive downtown. Just weeks after the Metropolitan Club opened in Chestnut Hill mall-land (in the former Figs space, now dramatically remodeled and expanded), people were telling me I had to go because it “felt like being in the city.” Apparently, this was sufficient to draw a crowd.
I went for the food, of course, and liked a lot about the Met Club, as its fans—including many of Boston's best-known chefs, who are pals with the Met Club's chef and owner—call it. Essentially a steakhouse with some New American touches, the restaurant feels clubby, with a tobacco color scheme, frosted glass, low lighting, and big, plush booths with leather-covered banquettes that feel at once intimate, roomy, and sexy. It's a place for a date with your spouse. At dinners there I saw older couples catching up after what I guessed to be weeks of hectic lack of communication, young women sitting in the comfortable, roomy bar with its glass-doored fireplace and showing off their evening's purchases, and families celebrating a teenager's birthday. They all looked like they'd found a place that knew what they wanted and would give it to them.
The Metropolitan Club has the substantial, luxe air of a restaurant that will last because it knows its customers. In feel and confidence it has much in common with Stephanie's on Newbury—a similarity I noticed even before realizing that the owners are sisters, both the daughters of Jack Sidell, the pioneering banker who gave many of Boston's chef-owners their starts. When Stephanie's first opened, I said it looked like Chestnut Hill had come to Newbury Street. Now the city has come to Chestnut Hill, courtesy of Kathy Sidell Trustman.
The food here doesn't aim for the stylishness you might expect down the road at the Atrium Mall. Or if it does, it's not funk or fusion, but clean Calvin Klein, where execution and materials are paramount. This is evident from the dark-grained, polished tabletops: Everything on them looks thought-out and cleanly designed, from the geometrically shaped white plates to the Danish-style flatware to the white napery. The simple salads show right away the care about ingredients, as in a house caprese ($10) with the sweetest Italian buffalo-milk mozzarella I've had since last visiting Via Matta. Another piece of Boston aptness: The chef, Jeffrey Fournier, worked at Pignoli, the restaurant that was in the space now occupied by Via Matta.
Fournier worked at Pignoli with Daniele Baliani, one of the first chefs in Boston to mix luxury with simplicity. From Baliani he learned how to make an exceptionally elegant tomato sauce for pasta, a non-beef steakhouse staple. The sauce at the Metropolitan Club is made to order—it will take 17 minutes, the waiter says solemnly—with high-quality canned tomato fillets thickened, Fournier told me, with cornstarch and not cream, as the sauce looks to have been. It should help make the restaurant's reputation, though I wish the dried fettuccine had been a bit less al dente. (The sauce showed a more impressive understanding of tomatoes than the fried yellow tomatoes with the mozzarella—they were mushy and bland.)
The draw, of course, is the beef, and it rightly dominates the menu. I tried most of the big-ticket, flagship items (with the exception of the bone-in rib-eye for two, 38 ounces for $49) and was most impressed with two of the less-central ones: the roast veal chop and the charred skirt steak. The dry-aged sirloin (14 ounces, $39)—which, with the grilled porterhouse (24 ounces, $35), should be the must-have steak—struck me as underflavored and unmemorable. Neither the sirloin nor the porterhouse made me want to keep eating, hypnotized by a sensual creaminess and dopamine-induced ecstasy until I eventually slipped off my chair, dragged down by the sheer quantity of beef I'd just consumed—the steakhouse dream. This could be because my guests all wanted everything medium-rare, and the sirloin came medium, with tediously gray (though not chewy) meat and insufficient char to make the outside a compensatory delight. The chef sensibly lets the meat rest for a few minutes after it comes off the grill, a rest that usually allows meat to collect itself (as the juices are better absorbed). But in this case, the meat also arrived overdone.
Fournier told me that the sirloin is prime, at Trustman's insistence that there be one prime cut on the menu, and that he tried out six or seven vendors before choosing who would supply each cut. (The sirloin source, he said firmly, would remain his secret.) Perfectly tender it was, too. But not memorable.
By far the best-flavored was the skirt steak (14 ounces, $22), with a thick black char that tasted as good as it looked and pink meat tantalizingly flavored with a not-too-spicy pepper jam. Other diners watched faintly amused and faintly aghast as I and the person who ordered it dueled with forks and knives until the very long piece of meat had disappeared.
The veal chop (14 ounces, $36) was perfect, though also cooked medium when we had asked for medium-rare. A huge cut placed right in the middle of the Calvin-clean plate, the meat was soft but not mealy and the flavor lightly milky and pure—enough to cause that steakhouse fugue state. Though the chef put a pool of truffle butter containing my least-favorite flavoring component, synthetic truffle oil, on top, it didn't dominate or even detract from the simple lusciousness of the veal. Along with Restaurant L's similarly fat-basted market beef, this is my choice as Boston's road to meat nirvana.
Side dishes aim to be clever little tweaks on the classics (brûléed butternut squash, $7), but are mostly unremarkable: The best is the “classic creamed mash” ($6), slightly chunky and just salty enough and worth every drop of cream and butter. The Met fries with truffle and Parmesan ($7) were especially disappointing—limp and bland. And there is no classic baked potato, a serious omission.
Desserts, by longtime Todd English collaborator Paige Retus, make you forget any spotty execution or a-bit-too-done meat. You'll have to look hard downtown to find any better homemade ice creams, or especially caramel and chocolate sauce, or for a fresher, flakier galette—a freeform tart (pear, the night we were there) with a buttery crust and ideal balance of baked fruit and almond cream. That tart, and the skirt steak, will bring me back to the suburbs—and I won't give a thought to city lights.