Monday, August 15, 2011


Metropolitan was sent off into the sunset Saturday night, ending a 16-year run. The private farewell party gave friends and well-wishers a chance to record their memories in an album and CD for owner Karen Olson. 
Karen Olson at Metropolitan farewell party.

Known for its chic, sleek ambience and sophisticated New American cuisine, the restaurant won numerous local and national honors. But managing partner Karen Olson decided it was time to sell, so he can pursue a new career as a life coach. 
 “This has been the most incredible journey of my life,” Olson told me Saturday night at the restaurant’s farewell party.  “But it’s all-consuming. I have other things I’d like to do, but it’s very hard to do anything else when you are running a restaurant.”
The economy has been hard on the restaurant industry in general, and Olson was thinking of changing Metropolitan’s concept. “But then I realized that instead of the restaurant needing a change, it was me who needed a change,” she said. 
She holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology and worked as a therapist before taking over the restaurant from her brother, Christophe. “I want to become a life coach, and with my degree and with the life experience I’ve gained from 15 years of running a restaurant, I’m primed for it,” she said.
When I became the Deseret News food editor in 2000, The Metropolitan already had a reputation for cutting-edge cuisine.  The restaurant won “Best Restaurant” in Salt Lake Magazine’s Dining Awards in 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2005. It was listed in Zagat Survey of America’s Top Restaurants from 1997-2009. It also won the Distinguished Restaurants of North America Award of Excellence from 1998 - 2010. 
When it opened in 1995, there were Italian Frette table linens, German-made WMF silverware, Limoges dinnerware, and Riedel and Schott-Zweisel crystal. The beautiful showpiece cookware hanging in the exhibition kitchen was heavy gauge copper from France.
City Weekly's restaurant critic Ted Scheffler had the distinction of attending both the restaurant's opening and closing nights.   "I'll never forget that opening night," he told me at the farewell party. "They were serving the food in these little copper pots, and some people were taking those little pots home with them."

In a 2007 review, Deseret News restaurant critic Stacey Kratz, wrote, “The food is astonishing. Engaging. Creative, even witty, with a sly sense of whimsy. The artfully presented portions aren't the stomach-bursters you'll find at TGI Friday's, but I'd call them reasonable. And best of all, there will be service to match all the wonderfulness going on inside your mouth.”
Kratz praised dishes such as Kobe beef sliders, “Tuna Hot and Cold” of seared tuna over wasabi potatoes on one side of the plate, and raw diced fish on white daikon on the other side. 
The Metropolitan had an "elitist" image, but I recall having a very down-to-earth lunch there a couple of years ago during Downtown Dine O'Round:  broccoli soup and a bison burger with lots of crispy fries. It was just $10, and I was still able to enjoy all the luxurious details that a Metropolitan meal entails: the urban ambience, cloth hand towels in the ladies' room; wooden salt cellars on the table; a complimentary plate of breadsticks and crisp flatbread drizzled with olive oil and herbs; and the slice of golden tomato (instead of the usual red) topping my bison burger. The soup was bright green and garnished with shards of radish that packed a little heat. The bison burger was so plump and juicy that my first bite ended with lots of oozy drips. I ended up deconstructing it with knife and fork -- after all, this wasn't a Carl's Jr.
And speaking of the city's Downtown Dine O'Round, Olson spearheaded that  in fall 2003. It became an annual event, where downtown Salt Lake restaurants offer lower-priced specials. After she heard about the enthusiasm and solidarity that "restaurant week" brought to big cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., she made some phone calls and got things rolling here in Salt Lake City.
Because Karen was so community-minded, it was surprising in 2007 when her restaurant was targeted by animal-rights activists for serving foie gras (the fatty liver of ducks or geese).  For several months, activists stood outside the restaurant with signs and banners, heckled patrons, and threw red paint on the building. The final straw was near midnight on Christmas Eve, when the large front picture window was shattered. That's when Olson capitulated and took the controversial French delicacy was off the menu.
"I was afraid someone would get hurt," she told me at the time. "At some point, when my building is getting destroyed, I have to make the call."
However, on Saturday night, seared foie gras was proudly served as one of the hors d’oeurves. When I noted that, Karen told me,  “Well, they can’t do much about it now.”
Mary Malouf of Salt Lake mag, me, Glen Warchol of the Salt Lake Tribune, and owner Karen Olson.

Most interesting footwear of the night was worn by Lisa Barlow,  owner of  Silver restaurant in Park City.  Pretty wild!

1 comment:

Christophe said...

When I began the Metropolitan project in 1993, my path was lined with myriad questions and apprehensions…strategic plan in a city like SLC, operational and logistical issues as well as a gamble on the location I chose. I knew we were going to be surfing on the break of a culinary tsunami and that always poses unique risks for the few who seek such adventure. When I hired our opening chef Mattias Merges I knew we were going to ‘kick some serious ass’ and that people would be either confused and intimidated or inspired and energized by our efforts. Fortunately, more were the latter than the former and the culinary environment of Utah evolved in response. Thanks to a supportive group of local and destination guests we flourished while at times raising the hackles of certain other folks and local colleagues. Lest one forget, we brought the first James Beard Foundation dinner to Utah and were early adopters and supporters of ‘locovorism’ when the word did not yet exist in common vernacular. When I passed the business to my sister Karen its future seemed uncertain. However, during the following decade plus, she and her ever changing team have tirelessly strived toward and usually succeeded at their mission. Thanks to Karen, the Chefs and staff, and our enthusiastic patrons for supporting the adventure and providing a remarkable template for the future of the culinary arts in Utah. Good job and mission accomplished!