The Monday Room
210 Elizabeth St (Prince & Spring Sts)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 343-7011
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Cuisine: Wine Bars
The folks at AvroKo—the cutting edge design and architecture firm made up of Kristina O’Neal, Greg Bradshaw, Adam Farmerie and William Harris—have designed some of the most visually arresting and exquisitely textured restaurants in New York City. They debuted with their own restaurant, Public—a stunning ode to libraries, government offices, and schools—and then went on to design places like Stanton Social (a small plate hot spot evoking the far away land of the Lower East Side’s tailors and haberdasheries), Sapa (a French-Vietnamese restaurant that captures the serenity of the hill towns of French Vietnam), and most recently, the European Union (a sexy rough around the edges gastro pub). Their latest project—The Monday Room—is annexed to Public, built in a space they once used for exhibits and retail sales of housemade compotes and jams. The Monday Room is not really so much a restaurant as it is a supremely intimate den, a salon built as a place to unwind and chill out, as a respite from the fray. It is a cocoon of civility that will remove stress from you like layers of paint peeled away that you never even knew existed. It feels like a room you might find at some very old rich uncle’s manor house in England, but there’s an edge to the design that brings it all back to New York. Walls are covered in subway tiles, deep tufted leather banquettes can host as few as two or as many as eight, winged armchairs frame smaller tables for intimate dining, and soft lighting from cracked glass globes makes sure there’s not a furrow in anyone’s brow. There’s something about the room’s energy that encourages blood pressures to descend and all of life’s petty annoyances to vanish. But more than just a reprieve, The Monday Room has a purpose—and that, friends, is wine. Indeed, The Monday Room is sort of a wine lover’s bunker, with a list thoughtfully designed by wine steward Rubén Sanz Ramiro to include 60 wines offered by the flight, 1/2 glass, glass, half bottle, and bottle. When Craig and I met our friends Deepa and Sanjit (actor and playwright friends of Craig’s from school) for dinner there last weekend, I explained the origin of the name. “The Monday Room was named for this guy in New Zealand who actually built a "Monday Room" in his offices where he would go on Monday evenings to drink a glass of wine and transition into the week.” Sanjit and Craig laughed. “Wait, he transitions into his week Monday night? So his week really started on Tuesday?” Craig asked. “Well, maybe he’s doesn’t really need a Monday Room,” Sanjit added. Well, they do have a point. Maybe a Sunday Room would have made more sense. Nonetheless, the folks at AvroKO were keen to the fact that unwinding might be something that New Yorkers would be apt to do more than one night a week so their Monday Room is open seven nights a week. And after your first visit, you might want to extend your stay. You see, there’s more to The Monday Room than wine and sexy serenity. There’s the food. And this ain’t just any ole grub. This is chef Brad Farmerie’s cuisine, and he’s one of those chefs whose talents, in my humble estimation, have not really yet been fully acknowledged. Here’s a guy who makes food that’s fearless and inspired, that brings together contrasting flavors, temperatures, and textures and far flung ingredients from New Zealand, Australia, Asia, and our own USA. This is food that makes you say WOW. I’ll be honest. I love it. And I hope you will too. Have a few glasses and a few small plates to take the edge off your day, or if you’re up for it, as we were last week, I recommend you do a five-course tasting menu with wines for $75 per person. It’s a great way to learn about the wines and really relax and unwind with friends. Ruben, a charming gentleman from Ribero del Duero, has an incredible amount of wine knowledge and a blessed amount of genuine enthusiasm for sharing said knowledge. He’s also quite an individual, cut from his own cloth. The night we were in, he was wearing a slim cut dark velvet suit (I want to say it was purple, but I cannot be sure), with wide heavy black eyeglasses framing his face, and atop his head, an impressive swooping wave of thick dark hair that you would bet would be a wig, but in fact is real. His hair alone is something to behold. I don’t know why but in some way, he sort of reminded me of the Pink Panther. In any event, Ruben is not someone whom you will soon forget. And aside from looking like he should appear on the pages of Men’s Vogue, he was also a most gracious guide to our night of food and wine. To jump-start our palates, he started us out not with sparkling wine but with a sherry, a Manzanilla Pasada from Bodegas Hidalgo in Jerez. It was really the perfect way to begin. Once we were sherried up, we moved onto a great starter wine, a fresh Vin de Savoie, Chinin Veilles Vignes, from Raymond Quenard (2005) which was served with several sheer slices of pink Tasmanian sea trout topped with piccalilli, a cool condiment originally used to top a Ploughman’s lunch of English cheddar on rustic white. Brad’s version, made from a tiny dice of cauliflower, cucumber, and onion with a few types of vinegar, Aleppo chili, turmeric, and ginger, properly tips the scales on this dish to balances out the richness of the fish. The fish also came with what Brad calls a “three slice pile-up.” This turned out to be three thick cut slices of country bread, grilled and brushed with lemon and nutty brown butter. It’s insanely good. Our sea trout and bread extravaganza was followed by a brilliant “salad” of butternut squash—wide wedges of sweet squash are roasted down and lightly pickled so they have just a sly tang, and then tossed with mirin-glazed pecans and thin slivers of mild cotija cheese. To drink, Ruben served us a Pacherenc Du Vic-Bilh Sec, from Chateau Montus, Alain Brumont (2003), a slightly heavier white wine than the Vin de Savoie that still had enough acidity to tackle the fish, but not too much to overpower in combination with the piccallili. What came next truly bowled us over: glazed eel with pickled bean sprouts and a soft boiled quail egg, paired with a beautifully balanced Pinot Gris (2004) from The Four Graces in the Willamette Valley. This course was the most exquisite one served. First, the pairing was terrific; the bright tight notes of the wine feed off the broad base notes of the glazed eel. And about that eel: Wow. Brad braises the eel and then treats it to an exotic spiced glaze that Sanjit said reminded him of food back home in his native Sri Lanka. The glazed eel, which surprisingly has a similar texture and taste to short ribs—meaty and rich—gets topped with pungent pickled sprouts and a tiny little adorable hard-boiled quail egg. Eat it all up in one bite (it’s served on an oversized spoon). It’s okay to moan. We each were served two of these lovin’ spoonfuls and were reduced to nursing infants, crying for more. We did have more. Next came what I call the sea urchin for dummies dish. Sometimes sea urchin can be too intense, too urchiny for some who don’t quite like the brassy brine of the sea on their tongue. It is an acquired taste. So Brad takes the urchin down a notch by turning it into a creamy luscious custard topped with chunks of lobster tossed with lime so you get the gentle essence of the urchin but without getting hit over the head with it. This course was paired a terrific white Burgundy—Pernand-Vergelesses from Domaine Rollin (2001). In between courses, we toasted to Sanjit and Deepa’s newest play, the American Family Project, an original work that explores the transformation of the family ideal. They interviewed hundreds of families across the country and distilled the play down to the experiences of five unique familial situations. [If you’re interested in seeing the play, they will present it from March 1st to March 11th at Teatro La TEA @ Clemente Soto Velez Community Center, 107 Suffolk Street, Suite 200 (btwn Delancey & Rivington). Tickets ($18) can be purchased at www.smarttix.com, or call 212-868-4444, or at the door.] There was more good news to share that night—a play of Craig’s had just been selected for a festival that will run in late April at the American Globe Theatre, and Sanjit’s first really big role on Law & Order had just been aired. (It was called Melting Pot.) He played a murder suspect and had three huge scenes. (You can download it on iTunes and see if he did it.) Luckily we were not short on wine for the multiple toasts that were made. We were, however, soon short on coherence. Oh well. Just as we were draining the last of our Burgundy (since Deepa is pregnant, we all shared hers), our next and final course arrived—a smoked New Zealand venison carpaccio sliced so it was as sheer as a stocking and peppered with licorice pickled onions. To drink, Reuben served us the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir from Martinborough (2003), a wine that made my toes curl with pleasure. (I’m going to run out today and buy it to keep it at home, just in case of an emergency fix.) The end of the night came with a round of cheeses (all made by American farms) and a killer coconut crème brulee. We leaned back and sacked out in our giant banquette and marveled over the food, the wine, and the civility of it all—other than a table of eight extremely loud women who came in and all ordered chardonnay. Come on. Live a little, ladies. But they were a blip in the night. They left after their chardonnays and discussions of Anna Nicole (because there’s really nothing better to talk about). Otherwise, dining at The Monday Room was perfect. It’s a place to go and slow down, where the beauty of wine and food come together to aid you in your slowness. You will leave the rest of the world outside and sit and relax and drink and eat and get to know your friends again. It’s like a decompression chamber. The only problem is that you won’t want to leave. But you can always return the next night. At Public, Monday happens every day.
Review By: Andrea Strong