Au revoir: Metro goes out in style


On Saturday, June 26, patrons arrived at Water Street eatery Metro, formerly Metropolitain, for the last night of what has been a historic restaurant run.

And while not every table was full, those on hand say the last supper, as it were, lived up to expectations.

"Everything was good there," says downtown jeweler Lee Maraccini, whose final dinner include an asparagus ravioli with rabbit ragout, roasted beet salad, and mushroom risotto.

The closing, which was reported last week in the Hook, he says, is "kind of sad, kind of like losing a friend."

A longtime friend.

Opened in 1991, in the Downtown Mall space that now houses Bizou, Metropolitain was an immediate– and lasting– success. In 1995, when owners Vincent Derquenne and Tim Burgess took their business a block south, well-heeled patrons pitter-pattered in their wake.

The sleek new space, designed by architect Jeff Bushman, featured the chic ambiance of an airport-runway-style entrance and an open-air kitchen that allowed diners to watch the celebrity chefs in action.

"The first Metropolitain was just so extremely well-designed," says Maraccini. "It was sort of over-the-top compared to what Charlottesville had had before."

Burgess says the changing economy following 9/11 proved difficult for restaurants. In an effort to stay afloat, he and Derquenne completely renovated the space and changed the menu– renaming the restaurant, simply, Metro.

"I liked the reinvention," says Maraccini, "because it was cozier. I liked that you could get a half-portion, and I liked the Mediterranean style."

Burgess says closing their flagship "hurts," but he and Derquenne will continue to have their hands full running their two other downtown restaurants, Bizou and Bang!

In the fickle world of restaurant popularity, they can perhaps take solace in warm regards.

"I think those guys did an awesome job in Charlottesville," says Maraccini, "to have it go as long as it did."


Al fresco next door

 Metro's farewell is not the only excitement in the 200 block of Water street. Patrons of La Cucina have been wondering what's with the big backhoe and jackhammers pulverizing the cement entrance area in front of the Italian eatery that opened between Metro and Club 216 just a little over a year ago.

Following the old adage that to make an omelet you have to break some eggs, owners Ugo and Francesco "Frankie" Benincasa decided to take advantage of Frankie's wedding to Meredith Hays on June 19 (and week-long honeymoon in Mexico) to close the restaurant and get busy on a new entrance.

Designed by RBGC architects, the new patio enclosure will feature high brick walls, an inviting entrance canopy, and retractable glass windows/doors similar to those at Escafé, providing outdoor dining in summer and a light and open dining room when the weather turns cooler.

General contractor Tom Wilfong expected to be finished with the demolition shortly – and the Benincasas hoped the City would soon have an unsightly huge gas meter moved away from the front door. Plans are to have the new space in use by July 19 or so. (The restaurant has already reopened for business as usual.)

In addition to providing a much-sought-after outdoor dining space, the new enclosed patio will significantly increase the serving capacity of the restaurant, which they say has prospered despite its tiny dining room. And Gina Benincasa, Frankie's mom, says she looks forward to protecting Frankie's potted plants and flowers, often ravaged by vandals on weekend nights.

So by mid-July, fans of the Benincasas' authentic Italian specialties will have another reason to amble down Water street– an inviting new spot from which to sip some vino and watch the world go by.

La Cucina<