May 10, 2004 | Ask Gael

Give my wallet a break

        Daniel Ko knew he wanted a wine bar like the one he once ran at Soho Kitchen. He knew he wanted diner food, dim sum, and low prices. But the launch of MetroCafé & Wine Bar was stuck in the mud when Frank Valenza passed by and offered to help. With the swagger and grandiosity Valenza cultivated at the Palace, once one of New York’s great restaurants (and where we became friends), a $14.95 Kobe burger got added to the comfort-food mix. There’s an Atkins burger, too, and a turkey burger with dried-cranberry-and avocado dressing on the side. At first, no one came, but then curious neighbors began to linger at the bar, nibbling barbecue chicken wings, steamed shrimp dumplings, and crackly thin pizzas like the white three-cheese combo with almonds and green apple. I’m here sniffing and sipping the $17 Syrah-Shiraz tasting, sharing splendid penne puttanesca and a respectable $23.50 sirloin with sensational haricots verts and baked potato, marveling at the sweetness of our waitress and thinking I’d give anything to have a classy joint like this in my neighborhood.
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