On the bartender's recommendation, we ended the meal with a steaming bowl of bread pudding ($6). The pudding itself was very good — warm and sweet — but the kitchen hid its light under a barrel, topping the dessert with a pile of whipped cream, chocolate sauce and colored sprinkles. It looked like a kid's sundae, though the taste was more grown-up.

After dinner, we resisted the urge to have just one more glass of wine.

But with bartenders at the ready and intriguing conversations all around us, it would've been easy to give in to temptation.

Metropolitan Coffeehouse and Wine Bar

Back story: Opened in 2004, Federal Hill's Metropolitan Coffeehouse and Wine Bar fills numerous roles. It is open early for coffee and breakfast, serves lunch during the day, and offers good dinners — along with sophisticated drinks — in the evenings.

Parking: Street parking

Signature dish: The spicy beef salad — a bright mix of cucumber, tomato, red onion, cilantro, mint and greens tossed with ginger dressing and topped with thinly sliced strips of steak — is a surprising find on a wine bar menu, but its freshness and zesty flavor make it a winner.

Where: 902 Charles St.

Contact: 410-234-0235; http://www.metrobalto.com

Open: Monday-Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Accepted for dinner for parties of 6 or more

Rating: **1/2

[Key: Superlative: *****; Excellent: ****; Very Good: ***; Good: **; Promising: *]