Ottawa Citizen

Comme ci, comme ça

Métropolit­ain Brasserie delivers on atmosphere, though the food and service are uneven MÉTROPOLIT­AIN BRASSERIE 700 Sussex Drive, 613-562-1160 www.métropolit­ainbrasser­ie.com Access: fully wheelchair accessible Price: starters, $6 to $17; main dishes, $19 t

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Here they congregate seamlessly, people from all walks. A hightech retirement party hangs out at the oyster bar. An elderly couple shares a seafood platter at a Sangria-red banquette. A trio of young women drinks kir royals at a corner table, and at the bar, a gathering of keen francophon­e parliament­arians covers hockey and Hill gossip and other riveting topics. There is a loud and lively buzz about the Métropolit­ain. It is exactly what you want in a brasserie.

So other than wishing you were in Paris, what else would you want in an Ottawa brasserie? How about an evocative look that takes you there?

Check! The room, or rooms (as Métropolit­ain is a long-limbed monster of a place, seating 250 inside and a bunch more on the patio) are a handsome assemblage of brass and mirrors, wood and tile. On the cafécrème walls are Parisian prints and belle époque busts garnish the handsome and leggy zinc-topped bar. The ceiling is stamped-tin and from it hangs diner-style globe lights and black fans. Jazz filters through the rooms and out over the streetscap­e patio. The servers are young and uniformed in black and white, with jaunty red neckerchie­fs and starched bistro-chef aprons. They’ve nailed the look.

What else do you want? How about sustenance at any hour of the day?

Check again. Métropolit­ain is open daily for breakfast, lunch, “Hill hour,” dinner and late dinner. The menu was designed by its opening chef John Taylor, (now returned to Domus Café) and it includes such must-have French-comfort foods as escargot in garlic butter, steak-frites, coq au vin, coquilles St-Jacques, bouillabai­sse, trout with brown butter sauce, profiterol­es au chocolat. And oysters, of course, in abundance.

What about value for money? Another check? Not so fast.

A steak-frites at a brasserie should not cost $35. It’s against the spirit of such a place. And the $3 charge for a side of Bearnaise may fly at Hy’s (people have been over-paying there for years) but it doesn’t sit right at a friendly brasserie.

Besides which, the food is uneven, as is the service. I’ve had a delicious dinner marred with an hour-long wait between courses and little explanatio­n from my server. I’ve had disappoint­ing food elevated by charm and courtesy. At a third visit, highs and lows all over the place.

On the hit list are the steaks: grilled to the desired rare, served with addictive frites. A lamb cassoulet is richly flavoured, with beans, bacon and tender meat in a dark and brooding sauce. Though the coq au vin is not a coq au vin (no old bird was united with a bottle of red wine and some aromatics to make a rich stew) it is neverthele­ss a tasty bird, surrounded with the right stuff: lardons, pearl onions, mushrooms and perched on a mound of yummy mashed potatoes. And the profiterol­es are splendid — very fresh choux puffs, stuffed with good ice cream and slathered with a devilishly good chocolate sauce.

On the miss list: The sharing platter of cheese and meats is a pretty but paltry display of three bits of cheese, two triangles of pâté, a few morsels of cured meats, a sprinkling of nuts and a berry or two. For $22 it seems a bit mean. The French onion soup speaks strongly of homemade broth, but it’s missing a richness of flavour and there’s no evidence of booze in the mix. A lobster salad ($16) features soggy artichokes that taste straight from the can, near-raw asparagus, and one flaccid claw of lobster on a bed of greens dressed with a bland tomato vinaigrett­e. The duck is tough and stringy, though I like the figs that come with it and the mix of wild rice and brown lentils. Vegetables are all undercooke­d or undergrill­ed. And when servers deliver four plates of food worth a total of $212, it would be nice if they knew where to plunk them down.

There is much to like about Métropolit­ain: the look, the feel, the energy, the patio, the drinks and wine lists. But when I can only sometimes cheer the service and food I can’t help but feel like I’m paying for the zinc on the bar. If the prices were more humane, and the food more consistent, I’d be a regular.

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