Where there's smoke, there's flavor

February 06, 1997|By Laura Rottenberg | Laura Rottenberg,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Eating a meal at Metropol reminds me of Jim Carrey's character in "The Mask." For those who haven't seen that movie, Carrey turned into a green creature every time he put on a mask he had found. At any particularly pleasant turn of events, the green creature would exclaim "Smokin'!" At Metropol, the specialty of the house is smoked fish and poultry, and it's all, well, "Smokin'!" in Carrey's sense.

Owners Odessa Dunson and Barbara Lahnstein began by selling their smoked fish, game birds and goat cheese pies at the farmers' markets in Waverly and downtown.

They are still fixtures at both markets, but since 1993 they've presided over a small cafe/art gallery next door to the Charles Theater. It's a natural choice for a before- or after-movie nosh, but the smoked delicacies are worth the drive downtown regardless of what's playing on the big screen.

The cafe is small, with fewer than a dozen tables. Zany renderings of the owners striking poses festoon the walls. The rest of the decor is all charming mismatched teapots and crockery and a few potted plants. The gallery space is in back of the dining room, so between courses you may wander through and see displays of photography, sculpture, collage and paintings.

While the art changes often, the menu stays the same. My only complaint about the menu is that many of the appetizers and entrees are just the same smoked fishes, chicken, goat cheeses and greens reconfigured in different presentations. On the other hand, they are all delicious, so why quibble?

One evening's "small seafood sampler" contained the exact same items as the next weekend's "brunch platter." Delicately smoked shrimp, paper-thin shavings of plush gravlax (salt-and-sugar cured salmon) and a big plank of smoked trout were topped with mixed greens and rounds of cucumber. A drizzle of Swedish mustard dill sauce and a plop of horseradish cream completed the dish, which was accompanied by buttery toasted cracked-wheat bread.

Served with the same delicious bread, a platter of Just So Dairy's goat cheeses made a lovely starter at our evening meal. We scooped the little pat of plain cheese, another of herbed and still another of cheese mixed with smoked salmon onto slices of crisp apple and warm bread.

Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches employ the same goat cheeses and smoked fish, as well as delicately smoked chicken. The chicken appeared again -- spectacularly -- in a bow-tie pasta dish, a special. The dish's creamy sauce was infused with the flavorful smokiness of the tender slices of chicken.

Despite all the smoked meat and fish, vegetarians have not been ignored: Note the hearty goat cheese pie and the incredibly spicy curried basmati rice studded with candied nuts and pale rounds of zucchini and eggplant.

Desserts are worth saving room for. A chocolate "sea urchin" sported jagged points of chocolate ganache that bore some resemblance to the creepy marine creature. Inside, layers of sponge cake, crisp meringue, light buttercream filling and more ganache icing played off of each other nicely.

An individual chocolate cherry cake had whipped cream and sour cherries between its layers of dark chocolate sponge cake, a topping of chocolate buttercream icing and a thin layer of decorative sponge cake ringing the main cake.

Metropol has a wine list. Sort of. There's an assortment of bottles sitting atop the counter and you can pick out what you like. You may encounter a hearty table wine from Italy, a burly red from Chile or something inexpensive from Argentina.

Our favorite beverage was a hot, spiced Calvados and apple cider special, but we also found the individually brewed golden Sumatra coffees satisfying.

Metropol Cafe and Art Gallery

1713 N. Charles St.

(410) 385-3018

Hours: Dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays, brunch on Sundays

Credit Cards: All major cards

Prices: appetizers, $3.50-$12; entrees, $6-$10

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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