The Eats: The Metropolitan Grill, 820 Second Ave., 624-3287. Classic American steakhouse.
Beef. It's what's for dinner. It's the only thing for dinner. And lunch. And, well, any other meal you can make entirely out of meat.
The Deets: Before you assume my lackluster lunch at Seattle's famous house of meat was simply because I'm vegetarian, think again. Seattle has a good many meat-centric, upscale restaurants--like Tavolata, Tulio, La Romanza, La Medusa, and Tilth, to name but a few--that offer exceptional vegetarian fare alongside their esteemed dishes of carnivory. The bar is set high in Seattle, and for good reason. We eat well here, and many long-established restaurants are finally factoring vegetarians into the equation.
The Beets: But oh, Metropolitan Grill! I thought things would have changed by now, especially after my last visit years ago when I was dragged in for dinner and the only entree available was a grilled vegetable platter I had to special order like some back alley hobo, begging for scraps!
Eric Hellner, did you know even Seattle's heir to fine charcuterie Mario Batali goes meatless on Mondays? That Maria Hines offers five and eight course vegetarian dinners--nightly--at Tilth? That countless area chefs--like Walter Pisano at Tulio and Kyle Wnuk at Tacoma's Marrow--offer specific vegetarian menus alongside their conventional ones? That restaurateurs are actually recognizing--and catering to--vegetarian diners?
If us grass-eaters only cavorted with other herbivores, the thought of dining at a place like The Met would be like Tony Soprano desiring lunch at Chaco Canyon--out of the question. But we don't--many of our family members, friends, and co-workers love the shit out of animal flesh. So when I asked our departing editorial intern Kyle Houk where he'd like to go for his "exit lunch," he requested The Met. After my shame-inducing grilled veggie platter of yore, I was reluctant to agree until I viewed the menu online and found the one lunch entree I could eat: a portobello and brie sandwich. We went.
It was the busy afternoon lunch rush. Our server was harried but kind, and we were able to secure our drink order just before lunch arrived. When it did, things were not exactly as described. The brie was hardly melted as purported on the menu--it had the texture of sliced soft cheese at room temperature. The accompanying mushroom was tough and flavorless, and the side of machine cut fries seemed like something out of Jillian's, with just plain ol' Heinz 57 for dipping, nary a swizzle of aioli for miles.
It was no pleasure to eat. Vegetarian food--even accoutrements--are an afterthought at a steakhouse like The Met. Yes, guests want their meat, and that's what they get--that's all they get. And it's a damn shame.
The scant vegetarian dishes there are unlovingly conceived and half-assedly assembled; in a region like the Pacific Northwest, with an obscene abundance of fresh, regional produce, it indicates a gross lack of creativity in the kitchen. Even omnivorous cooks like Kim Sturts at vegetarian restaurants like Carmelita and Aaron Woo--who apprenticed at French Laundry--of Portland restaurant Natural Selection, find everyday joy and pride in their vegetable based cooking. Writer Sara Dickerman comments on this in her recent Sunset Magazine piece about Woo: "Particularly in the West...chefs like Woo are embracing a new vegetarian wave, one that brings the intensive techniques of modernist cooking to the service of produce."
As Kyle and I wrapped up our lunch, I had half a sandwich left on my plate. I asked for a box, to glean my ubiquitous Beet Street companion's (Toby) opinion of it later. We paid the bill, put on our coats, and left. As we stepped out of the restaurant, I realized our waiter had forgotten my doggy bag. Afterthought, indeed.
The Tweet: Get hip and shape up, Met! There's a new vegetarian wave in town, and you're sitting right in its path.