Metropol's historic structure — the old Lexington post office, circa 1825 — has stood almost two centuries. Since opening as a restaurant in 2003, however, its interior and menu have been in constant, if gradual, evolution. Just this year, a fabulous expansion gained it at least twice, maybe three times the dining space, showing off more of the tin ceiling and extending the inviting bar.
Also not long ago, the kitchen played yet another rotation of "musical chefs," apparently one of Lexington's favorite hospitality-industry games. Aaron Tolson is now overseeing everything from operations (he is also general manager) to the menu, which has kept some longtime Continental-style favorites while adding more contemporary dishes.
Among the familiar items, the escargots (six for $10.50) remain. Each shelled snail sits in herb and garlic butter with a bit of bacon underneath. Their mushroomlike texture was impeccable, but the butter needed salt, something perhaps the bacon was intended to deliver but did not.
Another enduring favorite is the crab and avocado salad ($10.50), a colorful circular stack in shades of pink and pale green. Sweet crustacean meat and rich avocado play well together, although the ratio of crab to avocado could be greater. The base of red pepper oil added a subtle layer of flavor.
Few salads are more gorgeous than beet, especially when colored ruby red and orange gold ($10.50). These were roasted just to al dente and paired with pears, a handful of mixed salad greens and sparse soft feta cheese — all drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette, which I lightly salted.
Not as beautiful but perfectly seasoned was the endive salad ($8.50). Several graceful boat-shaped leaves were the ideal vehicle for creamy dressing with chunks of blue cheese and candied walnuts. Apple slices, among blue cheese's best friends, were served on the side.
The Chilean sea bass ($32) was my favorite entrée: a splendidly pan-seared fillet with a paper-thin buttery crust. Its flesh flaked with the barest prod from a fork. And the presentation was magnificent: an architecture that began with a foundation of mashed potatoes (that I requested in lieu of new potatoes), rose with haricot verts, thinly sliced squash and carrot, then was crowned with the delicious fish.
Everything rested in a shallow moat of Périgueux sauce, a rich concoction traditionally made with truffles and Madeira wine. Here, there was the barest hint of truffle, and any wine was undetectable. A garnish of roasted cherry tomato halves and baby pattypan squash completed this exciting dish.
Eight ounces of filet mignon ($32), ordered medium-rare, came closer to rare. It was supposed to be served with a creamy "potatoes gratin," but what arrived was a stack of buttery potato slices that more resembled potatoes Anna. No complaints here. The bourbon sauce needed further reduction, but sautéed mushrooms, with their weight and depth of flavor, compensated for that.
The Godiva chocolate cheesecake ($6.50) was the evening's only disappointment. While ostensibly made in-house, it tasted mass-produced: Neither the dark chocolate wafer crust nor the creamy filling had particularly interesting textures or even dense chocolate taste.
All that said, Metropol is the quintessential bistro. Some of the best conversation anywhere in Lexington can be had at the bar, and the menu has imagination and variety. If history suggests the future, the place will go on balancing continuity and change with flair, and I expect that certain important details — like judicious salting, higher-quality desserts, and the calming of sometimes overzealous service — will fall into place.
A four-course dinner for two, including three glasses of wine and tax but not tip, cost about $118.