a popular Freehold hotspot takes its business model to the South Shore

by Jessica Jones-Gorman Photos By Amessé Photography

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For almost two decades, the Metropolitan Café—the brainchild of restaurateurs Rob Kash, Joe Mosco, and Dennis Tafuri—has been serving sushi and good, strong martinis on a busy strip of East Main Street in Freehold. Feeding scores of Jersey locals and a steady influx of regulars from Staten Island, the partners and creators of the Great Restaurants NJ brand were continually being asked when they would be opening an establishment on the other side of the Outerbridge Crossing. So in May, after months of preparation, they introduced their successful concept to the South Shore.

“In a borough that is already saturated with Italian cuisine, we are happy to bring something new, innovative, and fresh,” noted Jason Reiff, the restaurant’s managing partner.

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Situated in a busy strip mall on Arthur Kill Road—a site occupied first by the Arena Steakhouse and then the familystyle Italian restaurant Nic Angelo’s—the space underwent a full renovation before the Metropolitan Restaurant & Lounge had its grand opening this past Memorial Day weekend.

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The William Vale Spread

“This space used to house a restaurant, so there were many benefits already in place,” Reiff said. “But we worked diligently to create a layout and an ambience that were unique to the market we were addressing.”

Filled with orbital chandeliers and plush booth seating, the upscale eatery’s décor places a strong emphasis on a loungelike vibe.

“We wanted to create a space where customers could enjoy drinks and small plates, a comfortable atmosphere where the ambience and energy almost eclipse the food,” Reiff said.

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The menu, an eclectic mix of crispy calamari, short-rib tacos, and spicy lobster rolls, is billed as “New American cuisine with a Pacific Rim flare.” Small plates are something of a specialty. Starters include a Baked Brie Cobbler crafted from puff pastry, apples, cranberries, toasted almonds, and apricot jam; a Tuna Poke with fresh tuna, avocado, cucumber, scallions, sriracha sauce, and crisp wontons; and Crab & Avocado Chop Sticks with jumbo lump crab, avocado, and micro greens, served in a crispy wonton wrap with cusabi aioli.

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There’s plenty of dim sum, dumplings, and satays, along with Pad Thai, Pho, and Lo Mein and an assortment of entrees, including Asian Skirt Steak, Orange-Glazed Chicken, and Seared Ahi Tuna served with grilled pineapple, vegetable Lo Mein, and kabayaki sauce.

“We pride ourselves on being a restaurant first and a bar second,” explained Reiff. “We understand the desire for people to come out and have a great time over libations, but at the end of the day, we are a solid culinary enterprise, and attract clients through dishes made fresh from scratch.”

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While the focus at the Metropolitan is Asian fusion, Reiff said there is something for everyone on the diverse menu.

“We are able to work around any flavor profile,” he said. “Yes, the food here has a Pacific Rim flare, but I think it can be more accurately described as world cuisine, because we feature a little bit of everything and will cook any dish to accommodate various palates.”

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Still, it’s the restaurant’s edgy appetizers with an already proven track record that are really taking off at the Staten Island location.

“Our sweet and spicy Calamari & Shrimp and our Filet Mignon Spring Rolls are already customer favorites,” Reiff said. “But that’s what makes this restaurant so special. We take an ingredient like filet mignon and insert it into the menu in an Asian-centric fashion. It’s a time-tested formula approved by customers at our Freehold location for 18 years.”

The Metropolitan has an extensive wine list, too, along with a menu of inventive cocktails featuring a variety of fresh juices and muddled fruit.

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“We develop new concepts for drinks every day,” Reiff said, detailing options like a Ginger- Cucumber Saketini (made with Stoli vodka), Jumai Saki, Canton Ginger Liquor, and the GreatKills, which is a mix of Jack Daniels, muddled orange, mint, simple syrup, bitters, and club soda. “There are also 12 beers on tap and a variety of filtered and unfiltered sake served both hot and cold. There is pretty much nothing someone thirsty would need that we don’t have.”

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Reiff and the restaurant’s general manager, Melissa Rago, are working to develop midweek promotions, like Tapas Tuesday, Wine Wednesday, and a Ladies Night on Thursday. There will also be a DJ on weekend nights, and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We built this restaurant specifically for the borough,” Reiff said. “Dennis Tafuri, one of our group’s partners, is a native Staten Islander, and Rob Kash is also from New York, so this is a homecoming for them. For years they’ve had their finger on the pulse of the restaurant business in New Jersey, and now we’re bringing that expertise to a fresh market. It’s very exciting.”

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The Metropolitan Restaurant & Lounge
4916 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island / 347.352.1877 / themetropolitannyc.com