Metro (Sichuan) 8th and 51st - Sunset Park - Needs Some Attention
Based on the thread about a new dumpling house on 53rd near 8th (I never got there because I must just be a tiny bit deficient on the GPS/direction capability), I stopped at Metro. I had seen posts from missmasala and noisejoke in that thread that had mentioned Metro, so I stopped in before going to Yunnan Flavor Snacks (which had been my very solid back-up plan). I never got to YFS, I liked what I saw at Metro.
I ordered gong jing chicken . and (pardon my translation from an english menu), as an appetizer, "grilled lamb".
i have only had gong jing chicken one other time - at Grand Sichuan in Bay Ridge (there are many posts, some positive, some negative about this dish at that place - which, generally, I think is almost as good as Spicy and Tasty and Little Pepper in Flushing, but not quite). Bob Martinez where are you?
This version, which the owner explained had been toned down just a little bit over time for American taste, was in my view (limited as it is) perfect. Adequate and deep, balanced spice (enhanced but not drowned out by a heaping plate of dried peppers, as I found it to be at GS) with a nice kick of abundant sichuan peppercorn. Excellent kick from the fried fresh hot green peppers. The dried-fried chicken seemed superbly done - crisp on the outside but not dry inside. Good balance and contrast provided by the browned garlic. One word came to my mind as I ate this: addictive.
The grilled lamb appetizer was very interesting but its nuance was probably lost on my uneducated palate. The piece of lamb was nicely grilled with some herb flavoring (but not, which I had hoped for, the more more fiery and complex grilled cumin-laden lamb like you find on the streets of flushing with the guys grilling on Royal Oak briquets by the side of the road). But the sauce was very interesting and unfamiliar - kind of like a toned-down bolognese under the grilled lamb (I know I got this wrong, but it was so unusual I am not sure how exactly to describe it). It was excellent, as well. After I saw what was going on, however, it seemed like the kebabs they were grilling might have been an even better option.
The owner was exceptionally nice and said that her husband - who had grown up in Sichuan Province- was adamant about cooking in an authentic style. She said that they had been open for about two months and that when they opened the people who first visited said that their food was too spicy and hot and, as a result, they have toned it down slightly. Unfortunately, on their menu they have decided to describe their dishes in relatively generic english - gong jing chicken is not named as such, it is called "spicy chicken", and so forth. The grilled lamb might have some more interesting name - its nuance and delicate nature would suggest that it deserves it - but, alas, it is described just as grilled lamb.
I have had so many "bastardized" and bad - if not ugly - interpretations of what an american palate might want to experience from some unfamiliar and exotic cuisine that this tiny shred of authenticity (maybe even in the same league as S&T and Little Pepper) warmed my soul. It seems to me that Sunset park has a number of these kinds of places (YSF is one) where good people are trying to re-create the food of their childhood - I hope they succeed. The world does not need another YF Changs or Chipotle Grill.
"i have only had gong jing chicken one other time - at Grand Sichuan in Bay Ridge (there are many posts, some positive, some negative about this dish at that place - which, generally, I think is almost as good as Spicy and Tasty and Little Pepper in Flushing, but not quite). Bob Martinez where are you?"
At your service. :-)
I've not yet gotten over to Metro Cafe although I look forward to it. Part of the problem is that suddenly we have an abundance of very good Szechuan restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens so I tend to go to the ones that are the most convenient at any given time. (I know, I know, that's heresy. We're supposed to drive for 4 hours to go to a place that's 2% better than a place 10 minutes from our house.)
When there were only 1 or 2 great Szechuan restaurants in the city those were the places I visited. Now that we've got about 10 there are a lot more options.
What I've found is that individual restaurants, while very good across the board, have certain "star" dishes. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Metro cafe and finding out what those are.
I went earlier this year, shortly after they opened, for lunch. I had some kind of spicy chicken dish over rice that did nothing for me. I thought I'd give it another try. I had 5 different skewers, none of which impressed me, and ox tongue & tripe which is much better at the Flushing places as well as Szechuan Gourmet and Wu Liang Ye. I don't think you're missing anything, Bob M.--unless the star dishes are waiting to be discovered.
re: Peter Cherches
Thanks for the info Peter.
I was in the neighborhood yesterday and I thought I'd check the place out in preparation for a visit later. Contrary to the title of this thread, Metro Cafe is *NOT* on 8th Ave. and 51st St. It's actually on 49th St. - 4924 8th Ave. to be exact.
I spent 15 minutes looking for the place and finally gave up. I had to use Google to finally get the correct location.
re: Bob Martinez
Hi Guys - I think with the skewers and other Japanese style stuff, and most of the rice plates, Metro is creating and satisfying the polyglot needs of the young people I see in there often. As I've written before, the place is on the informal side, and stays open later than many in the neighborhood. That being said, yeah, most of the stuff, perhaps with a few exceptions on those menus, is on the mediocre side. However, the Sichuan menu, which has more than doubled since they've opened to include up to,perhaps twenty dishes, is certainly worth a second look for Peter, and a first for you, Bob.
I think the place is worth at least that fair shot. Again, I'd be very curious what you guys think. I'm not saying it compares at all to S&T or LP. But, my wife and I can rarely get to Queens these days, and I'm thankful for another, and very quick and easy, Sichuan option in Brooklyn. (BTW we went to Bamboo Pavilion again Friday with my daughter and had a heck of a meal.)
I agree - this is creditable sichuan food in my book based on a single visit.
We didnt try the skewers etc and I am not going to reprise my report but the tastes of the food (we had the chicken, I think a dbl cooked pork dish and a rather simple dried bean curd and celery which was not so spicy) but of which I at the whole thing) are correct. I thought the 3-pepper chicken was better than that at the place in Bay Ridge. This is a tiny family place without a major chef or a large kitchen staff and worth support of those for whom it is a convenient option. Glad to have three distinct choices in Brooklyn for this cuisine. On balance I think Bamboo Pav might be the best but none of the three have anything to be ashamed of and all are very good.