It’s been a long time since a buzz hummed around Hotel Metro’s restaurant. Maybe not since 1998 when the art deco hotel – bolstering the corner of what would become “Restaurant Row” (Milwaukee Street) – opened its doors. But with Pastiche now running the dining operations, this corner of Mason and Milwaukee might well be on the path to rebirth.
Even with service snafus and bumps on the culinary road since its late summer 2016 opening, Pastiche at the Metro is a big improvement over the hotel’s previous kitchen management. Owner Mike Engel – whose connection to the hotel goes back to its very early years, when he was the restaurant’s head chef – handed the executive chef reins to Rachael Karr, a pastiche staffer since its Bay View opening in 2010. Meanwhile, Engel is keeping the sister Brown Deer operation running smoothly.
The most challenging part of transitioning from a small kitchen serving dinner to the frenetic pace of a large kitchen is keeping the operation optimally staffed and “figuring out I’m not Superman,” Karr says.
Service and food gaffes on my dining visits may be alleviated by time and practice. The good news is that the French specialties on the dinner menu – overall, the restaurant is still calibrated to Francophiles – are still quite good. The croque madame and quiche Lorraine were breakfast standouts: the bread on the former well-toasted and the broiled ham-and-cheese veiled in a creamy, well-executed Mornay sauce before being topped with a fried egg; the latter, a rich bacon-cheese-egg filling over a flaky crust. (Never mind that my order was mixed up and we’d finished the madame before the quiche arrived.) The lunch menu combines casual – Reuben, burger – with fancier entrées like confit duck leg with French olives and sautéed skate wing, an underrated, delectable fish.
Transitioning to dinner, the appetizer menu’s frog’s legs are a nicely done Pastiche trademark and yes, they do kind of taste like chicken: mild and flaky. They come four to a battered, deep-fried appetizer order, each leg enhanced by the tangy remoulade. Also good: pan-seared scallops with orange Pernod gastrique, orange sections and pomegranate seeds.
To follow, there’s a respectable coq au vin (chicken in wine sauce) served, surprisingly and deliciously, with good crisp spaetzli; beef filet rossini topped with seared foie gras; double-cut lamb chops in a fig-sherry demi-glace that allows the sweet, pulpy fruit to shine through, and cassoulet, a thick, rich stew of pork shoulder and belly, duck confit, smoked pork shank, lamb, sausage and the classic white beans.
As it has continued to settle into its hotel digs, Pastiche has added some things that will ring familiar to its Bay View fans, such as Mussels Monday and happy hour drinks and tapas specials. And the dining room is slowly undergoing its own cosmetic transformation. A slow and steady transition may just be the best way for this landmark. ◆
Pastiche at the Metro
411 E. Mason St., 414-225-3270
Daily breakfast, lunch and dinner.
D entrées $14-$32.