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Metro Lafayette

A modern, chic restaurant has food lovers buzzing


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Food
Photography by Mitch Tobias
The High priestesses of the Gourmet Ghetto food cult would call going east to Contra Costa to eat completely ridiculous. After all, they’d sniff, if you live in Bali, why travel to Santa Cruz for a beach vacation? Well, maybe they haven’t visited lately. One thing’s for sure: They should throw on their hemp-fiber muumuus and check out Metro Lafayette.

What restaurateur Jack Moore did in creating Metro Lafayette was convert an oddly shaped space—which looked like a tchotchke yard sale in its previous incarnation as Aladdini’s—into a sleek showplace. The large courtyard patio is unadorned except for some lush, young fruitless mulberry trees. Inside, bits of color flash from a few contemporary paintings. The floor and walls are largely blank, the better to see the simply but beautifully composed plates of food.

Like at Pearl, the Rockridge restaurant where Metro chef Mark Lusardi last caused a sensation, the menu at Metro Lafayette is short yet wide ranging. It includes everything from a fish tartare appetizer dressed in platinum-quality olive oil and fresh herbs to a seasonal bruschetta of goat cheese, red onions, hazelnuts, and plump grilled peaches, to a knockout Caesar salad. Also great was a silken white bean soup topped with parsley-lemon pesto and preserved tomatoes, and a decidedly Asian miso-marinated black cod entrée.

Normally, Diablo waits for a restaurant to be open for a month before we review it, but in the case of Metro, that didn’t seem necessary. When we tried the restaurant just after it opened in early June, the experience was already pretty fantastic, and it only improved.

On several visits, there was barely a glitch.One evening, the wild Atlantic peel-and-eat shrimp had great flavor but were not as plump as we would have liked, and two things—the Niman Ranch New York steak and the peach, apricot, and almond crisp—were overcooked. On another visit, the service was slow, but it was excellent every other time.

Food

For us, the only ongoing issue was excessive noise, and Moore, who is an old hand in the restaurant biz after working for years with Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller, says he’s on it. In a phone interview, Moore first mentioned that restaurant architect Adam Tihany, who designed La Coupole in Paris and Per Se in New York, says, “Noise is energy.” Luckily, though, Moore agreed that he’s got too much of a good thing. “I don’t want to yell,” he said. “I don’t want anyone else to have to yell.” Moore said he is installing a special ceiling at the recommendation of an acoustics consultant. The upgrade should be completed by Labor Day. In the meantime, the large patio is perfect, and even the part of the restaurant to the right of the host stand is manageable.

Wherever you sit, check out the wines and aperitifs. Like the menu, the drinks list is a first-string lineup. The wines are somewhat esoteric, all are available by the glass, and the bottles are so cheap—nearly half are under $30—you’ll feel like you’re shopping in a high-end wine store, not eating at a restaurant. A delicately balanced Cava, or Spanish sparkling wine, is a great way to get going on the raw bar, maybe with a selection of oysters. Two rosés, one from the great rosé appellation of Tavel and the other a Mourvèdre from Bandol, were perfect with the grilled chicken, potato-goat cheese galette, summer beans, and warm olive vinaigrette. The selection of aperitifs is another barrel of monkeys, including Lillet, which is a smooth wine, fruit liqueur, and citrus concoction from Bordeaux; the almost-impossible-to-find Punt e Mes, an herbaceous red vermouth; and three different kinds Foodof the anise-infused aperitif pastis—Pernod, Ricard, ,and Prado Marseilles.

Asked how he would describe what he wants his restaurant to be, Moore calls Metro Lafayette “a kind of meeting place,” adding that he wants people to feel comfortable coming in for a burger and a beer, champagne and oysters, hot tea and a book, or a high-end dining experience with special friends.

Absolutely. Meet you at Metro.

At a glance

What makes it special: Sleek, minimal decor, professional service, and a sophisticated, seafood-rich menu.
Don't miss: The excellent selection of wines and aperitifs.
What to order: Seafood. Something from the raw bar, the fish tartare, the black code, or a seasonal fish entrée.
The space: Large patio for warm weather. Fireplace for cool days and nights. Long, spacious bar.
When to go: Anytime. Metro is open between lunch and dinner hours so you can have an afternoon snack. Also, it's a great spot for a late-night drink because the bar stays open until midnight.
Bonus: Chef Mark Lusardi brought his wonderful recipe for cool yet spicy tuna poke with him from Pearl.

Contact: 3524 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette,
(925) 284-4422, www.metrolafayette.com
Hours: Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun.
Price: Appetizers $7–$15, entrées $17–$27
Alcohol: Full bar

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