Switching gears: Venerable Metropolitain closes for new look


 Uku (Hawaiian sea bass) with risotto and coq au vin (chicken cooked in red wine) with sautéed arugula are just a few of the esoteric edibles listed on Métropolitain restaurant's online menu at www.metropolitain.com.

But would-be diners salivating in front of their computer screens will have to go hungry: An unappetizing sign posted on Métropolitain's locked front door states that the restaurant is closed for renovation.

"It needs a makeover– a new life," Tim Burgess, co-owner and co-chef tells Dish.

So for the next two months, Burgess, a former computer specialist from West Virginia and Vincent Derquenne, a Paris-trained chef and Burgess's business partner, will be cooking up nothing at Métropolitain but change.

The overhaul comes after more than a decade. In 1991, Burgess and Derquenne launched their culinary careers with the upscale Métropolitain on the Downtown Mall. In July 1995, the restaurant moved a block south to Water Street, and the duo opened the now-bustling Bizou, "The Downtown Diner," in their old Mall space. In March, Burgess and Derquenne rounded out their downtown dining dynasty with Bang, an Asian tapas-style restaurant on Second Street.

Métropolitain has long been the team's high-profile venture. "If one were contemplating moving to Charlottesville," gushed The New York Times, "Métropolitain just might be the deciding factor."

But in recent months, Métropolitain's attempts to serve up a fine dining experience had begun eating away at its profits. Burgess says that between coordinating reservations, answering four phone lines, and maintaining the restaurant's web page, he and Derquenne "forgot about cooking."

Patrons complained that the restaurant's massive industrial-styled dining room offered little privacy or acoustics for intimate conversation. As white-tablecloth rivals sprung up nearby, including Oxo and Hamilton's, business dropped.

Burgess additionally attributes the restaurant's popularity plummet to a change in the financial climate.

"I don't think people feel as rich," says Burgess, citing a stale stock market and post-September 11 sobriety. With several restaurants targeting the same clientele, "We were carving up a piece of pie that was shrinking," Burgess says.

The recipe for rebirth? Métropolitain will preserve its heavily Mediterranean menu, and the core of the building's structure and facilities will remain unchanged. But when the restaurant reopens, it will have a fresh flavor. Seating will be reduced by a third to allow more privacy for events like rehearsal dinners. And a new patio and bar will "lighten up the atmosphere."

"The place will be more casual, less intimidating," he says.

Métropolitain may have a new name as well. Burgess anticipates that the restaurant will slice off three syllables of its name, and go by "Metro"– a modification that Dish notes would beef up the town's platter of transportation-referencing eating establishments, which currently includes Station, C&O, and perhaps even Buddhist Biker Bar, among others.

Burgess is looking forward to changing tracks. "It's time," he says. "It's run its course."


Starry eyed

 Okay, so last week we said coffee is passé. Well, that might be jumping the gun a little here in Virginia. At least superchain Starbucks is betting on it with the opening of their latest store (the third in Charlottesville, joining Barnes & Noble and the Corner) in the annex to the Shoppers World Shopping Center just down from Mattress King. The coffee spot is due to open July 6, and will soon be joined by Radio Shack and Music & Arts.