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Mediterranean Cuisine, as Interpreted by Japanese Chefs in L.A.'s Metropolis

December 11, 1986|ROSE DOSTI | Times Staff Writer

Anyone who has never experienced Mediterranean cooking as interpreted by Japanese chefs should, just for enlightenment, try Metropolis, a restaurant from Japan on La Cienega Boulevard.

Satisfaction not guaranteed, but you will have added another dimension to your dining out experience, and who knows, maybe pleasure, too.

I like Metropolis, first of all because of the ambiance. I like all that professional, architectural stuff going on in a restaurant. I like the order and cerebral nature of it. I like the balance and harmony that good interior design brings. This place is a showplace of modern design with materials--woods, concrete, lacquer--that make you think you are in Tokyo. Indeed, there are clones of the place in Japan.

Personally, I appreciate the food, too, because, for one thing, it is of excellent quality and very fresh. I also appreciate the chef's interpretation of Mediterranean cooking, just as I would a good American chef's interpretation of Japanese food. Some additional living and looking at California taste by the kitchen staff may be required, but the talent is there. There is, after all, more interpretive cooking being done in California than anywhere in the nation.

When you order squid braised in its ink, for instance, you get a bowl filled with the blackest of black ink you've ever seen outside of that used to fill our inkwells in school a hundred years ago. A bowl filled with inky stuff may be a turnoff, but wait till you taste it.

Then you order pasta (there is a Japanese pasta chef in the kitchen doing his interpretation of Italian pasta) and you get a big, beautifully designed white bowl filled with spaghetti with strips of white veal and porcini mushrooms that is completely covered with sauce. That's the way Japanese like and prepare noodles. It, too, could be a turnoff, but wait till you taste. We asked for chopsticks, and the chef was shocked, we think, because the waiter returned without them, explaining that the chef won't provide them with that particular dish. The chef's idea, we surmise, may have to do with interpretation. In his interpretation of pasta, it comes, as it does in Italy, with a spoon and fork, not chopsticks.

So these are games you play, and they can amuse you ad infinitum because the menu is yea long and every bit of it is a genuine surprise. Most of it good, some not. One thing you can count on--taste. It's superb, almost always. The help, by the way, is American--wholesome-looking young men and women who are extremely decorative and courteous, too. Here's a rundown of what we had and how we felt about it:

In the appetizer department, sauteed sausages and mushrooms served in chunks were not beautiful to look at but very tasty and moderately priced ($4.50). Asparagus vinaigrette wrapped in prosciutto was beautiful to look at but the prosciutto was sliced a bit too thickly for practical purposes. Again, another Japanese touch.

The shredded chicken salad was probably the best I've ever had. Better than Madame W's or Mr. C's. This would be a fantastic dish for lunch or light supper with some wine and bread. It's a huge serving for either.

The little bowl of green salad was typical of the Japanese green salad you get with tempura in Japanese restaurants. Very crisp, fresh lettuce with some carrot, and a couple of tomato wedges and good vinaigrette. No big deal, but if you want a small, light companion salad, this is it.

Vichyssoise was very smooth and velvety, the cream of tomato and crab quite lovely and the minestrone just OK, although chock-full of goodies. Somehow the tomato flavor did not appeal.

The section on the menu called Pasta Plus has nine dishes, including veal spaghetti with porcini mushrooms that was, as already mentioned, delicious but presented in a way Japanese would find acceptable. There is a lasagna also served in a relatively small bowl (baked in it, too), containing the classic layers of meat, bechamel and lasagna noodles. Tomato sauce dishes were not to my taste, but there is no doubt of their freshness and fine ingredients. There were other dishes I've not yet had time to try; the rigatoni with tuna and shimeji mushrooms among them. They will have to wait for still another visit--and I will go back.

The grilled salmon was terrific and very fresh, and it came with colorful green beans and carrots cooked only until tender-crisp, the way Japanese and French like them. Americans, I think, still enjoy very tender vegetables no matter what the fashion. There are cioppino, bouillabaisse and paella dishes that should be interesting, too.

The osso buco a la Milanaise was so impressive and so abundant I gazed at it for several minutes before touching it. What a dish. Beautiful meat, a great, rich sauce. Unfinished, the remainder came home with me for another dinner the next night.

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