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Triumphs tend to be loud, and the $57.8 million upgrade of the century-old Metropole Hotel could certainly qualify. But a restaurant need not be loud to be triumphant, and Chef Michael Paley’s cuisine quietly focuses its energy on finely tuned flavors with both skill and restraint. A prime example is the seared octopus appetizer. Tender yet chewy, the charred bites of smoky cephalopod are anchored by the earthiness of fresh green garbanzo beans, then gain brightness from oranges, deep sweetness from the currants, and finally, a hint of heat from the Fresno pepper. Each ingredient benefits from conscientious preparation; together the flavors sing with spectacular results.
Metropole’s cuisine is nothing less than a paean to the highest quality ingredients. Paley’s locally sourced Woodland Farm pork chop holds its own against some of the most creative carnivore entrées in the city, a remarkable feat given its simplicity. Bathed in a brine with hints of lemon and juniper, the tenderness is infused into the chop long before the meat hits the heat. A heavy sear over the wood-burning fireplace’s hot embers locks in the juices and establishes a flavorful crust quickly, keeping the pork from cooking beyond medium-rare. Chunks of sweet turnips garnish the plate, along with a whisper of savory-sweet moustarda.
Drawn-out dinners aren’t necessary to appreciate Metropole’s considerable charm. Stop in with friends and snack on a selection of local cheeses or a plate of homemade charcuterie. Or head up to the roof garden bar atop the 21c Hotel, order a “shrub” cocktail, and let the herb-infused vinegars gently coax nuances out of macerated fruit. (One standout: the Jimmy Piper, which balances raspberry and cilantro against rye whiskey.) Or forgo the roof and the fruit altogether, take a seat at the Metropole bar, and liberally sample from the ample bourbon selection, a nod to the owner’s Louisville roots. It’s hard to be humble, but it’s easy to be humbled by the skill Michael Paley and his crew put on display.
609 Walnut St., downtown, (513) 578-6660, metropoleonwalnut.com
Originally published in the March 2014 issue.