Restaurant Review: Metro Bis, Simsbury
Metro Asian Tuna and Salmon Tartare, one of chef Christopher Prosperi’s signature dishes at Metro Bis.
Simsbury’s popular Metro Bis restaurant was 15 years old and the historic 1820 House Inn down the road was pushing 200 when they joined forces last year. It was a match made in culinary heaven. Metro Bis had outgrown its narrow, railroad-car shaped space and was looking for a new home. The 1820 House was looking for the fountain of youth. Both got their wish. It took a prodigious amount of imagination, cooperation and hard work, but Christopher Prosperi, chef-owner of Metro Bis, and everyone involved was determined to make it happen. A new dining room was created on the main floor, the old one downstairs was remodeled for banquets and meetings, and a cozy bar (made from local sycamore wood) was fitted out with shelves to display the chef’s cookbook collection.
This much I knew before I arrived to take a look and taste the food, but nothing I had heard or read had prepared me for the architectural beauty of the building and the caring preservation of every detail—fanlights, mantels, leaded windows with wavy glass panes, carved finials—all shown to best advantage in bright, freshly painted rooms with sun-splashed color schemes.
The dining room, with its lime-green walls and sparkling white trim, was the essence of springtime, although it was a cold, blustery night. We settled in and ordered lobster bisque to warm up, nibbling on triangles of pita bread spread with chef Prosperi’s legendary red-pepper hummus until the soup was served. Then we sipped, we savored and, digging down, came up with a generous supply of tender sweet lobster meat. The bisque was deeply satisfying, bold but not spicy—just robustly, unmistakably lobster.
Prosperi embraces the local-farm-to-table concept with enthusiasm and creativity, visiting local farms and naming them on the menu so we know that we have Holcomb Farm in Granby to thank for an arugula salad tossed with roasted beets, and Beech Tree Ranch in Bloomfield for the goat cheese that gives the salad its smooth, creamy tang. Great salad—good for you and good for the land. (Incidental intelligence: Holcomb Farm dates back to 1756, predating the historic room we were dining in. )
For all his homegrown activity, chef Prosperi draws from his global experience, especially in Thailand where he cooked with a famous Bangkok chef. So it didn't surprise us to find Asian influences on his menu. One of his signature dishes, Metro Asian Tuna and Salmon Tartare, garnished with wakame seaweed salad, pickled ginger and wasabi cream, was a tasty example. Both fish sparkled with freshness and the combination was inspired.
Metro Bis has never been a “gee-whiz-look-at-this” kind of place, and moving into halls hallowed by history has not changed its focus: classically grounded innovation, seasonally oriented and ever open to a playful riff or two. When a popular restaurant relocates, innovation often takes a backseat for a while. But this one has actually gotten more daring, especially when it comes to presentation. Maryland lump crab cake, for instance, robed in a tomato-horseradish vinaigrette, with pickled red onions and a splash of Grey Goose, arrived in an oversize martini glass. So far, so familiar, but on top were crispy threads that crunched and crackled in the mouth. I was hard put to identify them but I was keeping a low profile—and I also love a mystery—so I didn’t ask.
Swordfish, too often frozen, overcooked or less than fresh, can be awful or sublime. Metro Bis approached perfection with a noble slice of swordfish fresh as Block Island waters and looking like an island itself in the center of a dinner plate filmed with corn and clam chowder. Marinated freshwater prawns went south to Lousiana bayou country for inspiration, with creamy grits, braised greens, smoked bacon and tomatillo gravy—a taste of Mardi Gras on a plate. There were so many alluring seafood items on the menu we went a bit overboard, but I’d hate to have missed the delicate pan-seared rainbow trout served with sweet-potato apple hash and pecan pesto.
To cover the bases, we ordered roast chicken, which we liked a lot. All-natural, slow-roasted and flavorful, it came with creamy polenta, Parmesan cheese and a balsamic-pepper demiglaze.
Pork with kale and black beans was trendy although the meat was rather bland, no match for the strong-tasting braised kale and overly sweet beans with bacon and maple syrup served with it.
But never underestimate the appeal of the tried-and-true. The Gorgonzola-crusted flat iron steak was glorious. Perfectly grilled with rosemary-scented demiglaze and a red wine reduction, tender and juicy, served with garlic-whipped potatoes and roasted vegetables, it was also pleasingly priced at $24.95.
Desserts took us back to the golden olden days of home baking and pudding making. In fact, the dessert I liked best, lemon posset, took us back even farther, a posset being a Medieval drink that’s making a comeback as a modern dessert. At Metro Bis, it’s served in a wine glass for old times’ sake. Made with heavy cream spiked with lemon and topped with raspberry coulis, it’s too thick to drink and far too good not to spoon up every mouthful. We liked the maple white chocolate bread pudding, too, and the warm apple-cinnamon tart with vanilla ice cream that might have been served back when this old house was in its prime.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Simsbury 1820 House is not just old and beautiful. Illustrious men—including a U.S. Senator, a member of Congress, and two governors—interesting women and lots of children lived here. Over the years the house was enlarged again and again to accommodate family, friends and overnight guests who were entertained at dinner parties, lawn parties and the ritual Fourth of July ice cream social when the whole town, especially the children, were invited for band music, games, dancing and unlimited ice cream.
How sweet it is to know that this spirit of hospitality has been reawakened in the 1820 House circa 2014.
Simsbury 1820 House
731 Hopmeadow St., Simsbury, 860/651-1908, metrobis.com
Lunch 11:30 to 2:30, dinner 5:30 to 9 Monday through Saturday. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: appetizers $6.95 to $12.95, entrées $20.95 to $28.95, desserts $5.95 to $6.95.
Restaurant Review: Metro Bis, Simsbury