Hot Spot

Brought To You By The Buddy's Crowd, The Metropolitan Grill Is Another Big Hit.
By Rebecca Cook 

A VERY CURIOUS phenomenon took place about three months ago in the shopping center at North Oracle and Magee roads.

Chow One week the only marquee to catch my eye in this location belonged to the ever-popular Trader Joe's, and the next week one of the hottest new dining spots in town materialized, seemingly out of nowhere.

The Metropolitan Grill, brought to you by the same folks who run Buddy's Grill and the soon-to-open Firecracker Café, has taken the north end of this city by storm. Forget the outdated notion that you build a steady clientele gradually--this bustling bistro has been packed to the brim ever since it opened and, as far as I can tell, business shows no sign of slowing down.

Whenever I encounter something so instantaneously popular, I can't help but become a little suspicious. Is the restaurant flooding the market with lots of cost-saving coupons? Or has the spot become part of a trendy local "scene." You know, the kind of place where people are more concerned about drinking, dining and being seen than they are with the quality of the food and service in the joint.

I mean, really. How did the Metropolitan Grill became an unmitigated overnight sensation?

A little investigation reveals the three-pronged secret of their success: a classy-but-casual urban ambiance, incredibly modest prices, and marvelous food. It's tough to argue with a winning combination like that.

The place completely won me over--even though my initial encounter was way shy of promising.

Arriving five minutes early for an 8 p.m. dinner reservation, we were told it would be "just a few minutes" and invited to take a seat in the lobby, an impossible task given the crowds. The only thing I can compare this to is the experience of trying to get a table at the local family pancake house right after church lets out on Sunday morning. It's not a happy circumstance, and as a "few minutes" stretched into a long 15, I felt my Who-concert-crush phobia reaching panicky proportions.

Once seated, however, everything went smoothly.

The Metropolitan Grill is relatively immense; no fewer than three dining areas divide the space. There's a moderately spacious bar, and the open kitchen nearly encompasses the entire back end of the restaurant.

Whether it's the sight of that bustling kitchen, complete with a blazing, wood-stoked brick oven, or the volume of diners, the atmosphere crackles with an exuberant energy. The chic, art deco interior, complete with columns, dark wood accents and decorative copper-colored wall sconces, contributes to an overall sense of being in the midst of something quite extraordinary.

Any fears that either food or service might detract from this otherwise delightful scene were immediately dismissed--both are excellent.

A seductive starter of firecracker shrimp ($7.50), butterflied and barely breaded crustaceans imbued with the heat of red chile and a fiery cocktail sauce, hit just the right spot, perfectly whetting our appetites for bigger and better things.

Entrees are served with fresh vegetables and a choice of garlic-mashed or baked potato, hand-cut french fries or rice pilaf. Conspicuously missing is the usual soup or salad, which must be ordered separately.

The Metropolitan's menu is diverse at dinner but not overly extensive. Still, the offerings cover a multitude of tastes.

One evening I opted for a pasta dish of pecan-crusted chicken breast served with fresh spinach, sliced mushrooms and romano cream sauce spooned generously over a deep bed of fettuccine ($9.95). Truly delicious, with every ingredient absolutely fresh and full of flavor, this dish wholly satisfied from the first to the last bite.

A blackened fresh ahi tuna steak served with a spirited melon-and-jalapeño inflected salsa ($12.95) was also tasty, although more timid souls might not be impressed with the salty coating and the fiery intensity of the dish.

Lunch was slightly less raucous than the evening meal, but still enormously popular with the masses.

This time we couldn't resist ordering one of the Metropolitan's tempting wood-fired pizzas, with our particular choice coming down to the spinach and roasted red pepper variety, which was served with asiago, smoked gouda and fontina cheeses, sliced roma tomatoes and toasted pine nuts ($7.25). About 12 inches in diameter and heavily topped with the various ingredients, this pizza was a delectable wonder best consumed with the aid of a fork, as opposed to the fingers.

Mouthwatering prime rib from the diner menu is converted at lunch time into the prime rib-dip sandwich ($7.95), a copious amount of shaved beef, sautéed mushrooms and melted Swiss cheese served on a french roll and accompanied by a rich au jus. Strikingly simple in its composition, every bite of this sandwich was a pleasure, and the optional side of fresh seasonal fruit was an ideal counterpart.

Dessert is certainly not the highlight at the Metropolitan Grill. Focusing mostly on ice cream, along with an elective baked accompaniment of chocolate-chip cookie or brownie, the special menu's only other tempter is a daily special. The night we visited I sampled the chocolate Grand Marnier cheesecake ($2.95), which provided a satisfying ending to the meal but failed to impress.

Still, there's no doubt about it, the Metropolitan is--deservedly--one of the hottest new spots in town.

Metropolitan Grill. 7892 N. Oracle Road. 531-1212. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m daily, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Full bar. V, MC, AMEX, DC, checks. Menu items for lunch: $2.95-$8.95, for dinner $3.95-$15.95.

Chow Scan is The Weekly's selective guide to Tucson restaurants. Send comments and updates to Chow, P.O. Box 2429, Tucson, AZ 85702; or use our e-mail address, These listings have no connection with Weekly advertisers. TW

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