The first time my husband and I ate at Monarch
was for my 29th birthday. This was not so long ago, when our visits to nicer restaurants were reserved for a birthday or our anniversary. I'd chosen Monarch because we'd never been there and also because I'd loved chef Josh Galliano's food
when he was at An American Place
. To say I was looking forward to our Saturday reservations would be an understatement.
The night before, my husband and I had thrown our annual backyard trivia party. It was a rough night. So rough, in fact, that my husband was still feeling less than stellar when we were seated in Monarch's main dining room. He was downright queasy, in fact.
OK, OK, so he puked three times while we were there and ate only about three bites of food.
This is why we can't have nice things.
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This could have been a disaster. I could have been so embarrassed. But the staff at Monarch acted as if an aggressively monumental hangover were a daily occurrence there. After my husband's second trip to the restroom, our server discreetly asked if something was wrong. I told her the truth: He was hungover, it was my birthday, and I didn't want to cancel our reservations. I hoped he wasn't bothering other patrons.
Instead of shame or snobbery, the bar sent over ginger mocktails. "To sooth your stomachs," our server said as she set them down.
The food was everything I'd anticipated: creative, packed with seasonal ingredients and incredibly tasty. I ate every dish that came to our table. Chris couldn't eat anything -- until he took a few bites of the banana pudding delivered to our table by Galliano himself. Suspect.
I knew I'd come back.
I did so most recently last weekend, when my friends and I had the privilege of dining at the Chef's Table at Monarch for the birthday of my friend Kelly
. The private table overlooks the kitchen so you can watch the workings of the back of the house while you dine. This was easily one of the best meals of my life. Chef Galliano was cooking at the Farm Aid dinner that night, but he sent his regards in the form of an amuse created specifically for Kelly: three tiny spoonfuls of "Jell-O shots" in apple, cranberry and grape -- a reference to a joking inquiry we made about Monarch charging corkage on Jell-O shots.
The Jell-O shots were followed the confit chicken nugget, which is like a McNugget -- if a McNugget was made of an actual chicken and full of awesome. I could eat these every day for the rest of my life. Between courses, we peered out at the kitchen, looking for seven plates together so we could try to decipher what our next dish would be. Monkfish came with greens in a broth so perfect I almost tilted the plate and slurped it up. (I decided to sop it up with a bit of bread.) Course after course arrived until we could eat no more except what would fit in our dessert stomachs.
Of course, it was the banana pudding.
I tell you this to demonstrate how consistently welcoming the environment at Monarch is. I got the same above-and-beyond service and delicious food when it was my first time dining there and my husband was puking in the bathroom as when we were at the Chef's Table. Both times, I left stuffed and happily reliving each course long after the meal was over. This is why, when friends looking to try new restaurants ask me where they should go for a special occasion, I almost always tell them Monarch -- and I tell them they can't go wrong with the confit chicken nugget and banana pudding. Everything else is just an added bonus.Kelli Best-Oliver is on a quest to become a full-fledged foodie. She chronicles her adventures for Gut Check every Tuesday.
She writes about any damn thing she pleases at South City Confidential.