Some Richmonders claim there is little variety in the restaurants in the Fan. I find this viewpoint completely accurate.
Perhaps it is because of the hermetic nature of the local restaurant business, where cooks often work from one Fan restaurant to the next, mixing flavors and styles from previous kitchens as they go. Or maybe it is because we are not very adventurous eaters.
There are some exceptions, of course. Metro Grill is not one of them.
This is not to say the dining experience at Metro Grill is less than average; it simply doesn't stand out. For many of us, normality is just fine. It's even anticipated by those who are either baffled by, or fear their kitchens.
Open now for about three years, Metro Grill is a noisy place on weekends. It is typically chockfull of the Capital One types who are also indigenous to Buddy's and Easy Street. The patient observer may even spy a daddiepayd a species from the Virginia yuppie genus known for bending down the sides of their ragged U.Va. baseball caps so severely that all peripheral vision is lost. The atmosphere changes during the week, when the hip music is turned down and the clientele is a little more mixed. The comfortable high booths create an intimate atmosphere. And the accommodating and professional wait-staff doesn't have to fight the weekend crowds.
The menu at Metro Grill, like many places up and down Robinson and Main streets, espouses at least four different themes, none of which is true to its respective tradition.
First there is the Tex-Mex theme found in dishes such as the panhandle quesadilla appetizer ($7.25). This hastily put-together dish gains character from brie and undercooked Anaheim peppers. It is served with papaya, basil and mango salsa. If you are looking for more of a Caribbean theme, there is the pork loin Caribe ($12.95). It is served with papaya, basil and mango salsa.
The ever-popular down-home food with an uptown price can be found here as well, including shrimp 'n' grits Randolph ($13.95) and Smitty's mac 'n' cheese ($14.95). Ultimately, though, no matter what tradition is called forth, the lasting impression in many of these dishes comes from four ingredients: cream, wine, cheese and garlic. And whenever these ingredients hook up, it's hard to make any dish unappealing. Unless, of course, you drizzle barbeque sauce on it, which is exactly what the sauce ranchero tasted like over the crepes Margaret (a sort of French-Texan dish?). Nonetheless, the immensely rich crepes stuffed with lots of shrimp, salmon and Monterey Jack cheese in a chardonnay-tomato-sour-cream sauce were enjoyable in their own quirky way. The chicken roulade ($12.95) stuffed with feta, spinach and tasso ham is also worth giving a try. Finished in a sweet Marsala glaze, it offers an alternative to the entree list's other, richer selections.
Many of the entrees are served with a choice of sides. The collard greens, with chunks of ham and cooked in vinegar, are the real deal. The sauteed vegetables are varied and excellently prepared on one visit they consisted of red pepper, shitake and domestic mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, squash, green beans and corn.
During the same visit the dessert selection was limited to a chocolate rum flan served with ice cream, powdered sugar and drizzled with, seemingly, Hershey's chocolate. The flan's dense texture and mild flavor were reminiscent of cheesecake, yet it didn't leave the table without some damage.
For a three-course meal for two with no wine or beer and a decent tip ($10), you will pay around $55. It's hard not to judge Metro Grill alongside more upscale restaurants close to the same price range. Based on the service and casual atmosphere during the week, I may return for a beer and small meal, but I am more tempted to search elsewhere for an above-average dinner.
Metro Grill 301 N. Robinson St. (804) 353-4453 Dinner served Tuesday-Sunday from 5-11 p.m. Sunday Brunch 11a.m.-3 p.m.
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