The Monday Room is no ordinary restaurant. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a restaurant at all.
The room is an annex hidden behind the hostess desk at Public Restaurant in Nolita. Stepping through its door—which is unmarked—you feel as though you’ve entered a gentlemen’s club in the 19th century. There’s a faded Oriental carpet on the polished wood floor, and the walls are covered with wooden panels, giant mirrors and tiles. Instead of leather-bound books, rows of wine glasses and bottles of water (from the oldest spring in Alsace) fill the shelves. Cracked orange glass globes hang from the ceiling. Tubs of silver birch and palm fronds decorate the corners behind the sofas. Small wooden tables, topped with dark red Formica, are set with votive candles. A stern-looking bust of a former Mayor, John Hyland, surveys the room from a high pedestal. As I sank down in one of the padded black leather armchairs, I thought of Oscar Wilde: “I am due at the Athenaeum. It is the hour when we sleep there.”
But we were here to eat food and taste wine. Chef Brad Farmerie, who is from Pittsburgh, spent seven years in England, where he worked in such restaurants as Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Chez Nico, the Sugar Club, and the Providores and Tapa Room. His global cuisine reflects influences from Australia and New Zealand as well as Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
You can choose from a selection of around a dozen small plates and order flights of wines to go with them. Or you can have the tasting menu—a red rag to a bull for me. Readers of my last column may remember the tasting-menu dinner for two I had at Joël Robuchon a couple of weeks ago that cost me $813.60. This time, I put on my glasses to double-check the price before ordering. Five courses for $75, including wine. Sounded reasonable.
The wines are chosen by Rubén Sanz Ramiro (who worked at molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal’s the Fat Duck in England) and include many New Zealand, Australian and Spanish vintages. (The selection was far more interesting than those served at Robuchon for an extra $125.) A manager, Jesse, who is from New Zealand, dressed in a black suit and matching shirt, was in charge of the room. It was a bit like having a personal sommelier to run the show. He crouched down in front of a small refrigerator by the door and began searching through the bottles inside. “I think you’ll like this with your first course, eel,” he said eventually, and brought over an Oregon pinot gris (2004) from the Four Graces.
The eel, served in a curved amuse-bouche spoon, was coated with a spicy glaze and topped with pickled bean sprouts and half a soft-boiled quail’s egg. The different layers of texture and taste were remarkable, and the fragrant, flinty taste of the wine complemented this mouthful perfectly.
Mr. Farmerie tops thin, pink strips of raw Tasmanian sea trout with shichimi (a Japanese blend of chilies and spices) and a crunchy English piccalilli made from diced cauliflower, cucumber, onions and vinegar, and seasoned with chili, ginger and turmeric. With this, he serves what he calls “a three-slice pile-up”: hot grilled bread spread with melting brown butter flavored with lemon. It was terrific, served with a lovely vin de Savoie, chenin veilles vignes Raymond Quénard 2005.
A white Château Musar 1998, a Lebanese wine from the Bekaa Valley, was paired with a rich salad made of roasted squash chunks topped with pecans and thin triangles of cotija (a Mexican cheese, a bit like a cross between aged Feta and Parmesan). Pernand-Vergelesses Domaine Rollin 2001, a white Burgundy, accompanied a smoky dashi custard laced with lobster and lime, topped with American caviar.
“It’s food that makes you think, but not think too much,” my companion commented. It was very good. We also loved the paper-thin slices of smoked New Zealand venison carpaccio sprinkled with licorice-pickled onions and served with a Martinborough pinot noir, Ata Rangi 2003.
Another night, I tried some dishes not on the tasting menu. The duck confit and foie gras ballotine was gray and stringy; chorizo, in long, lightly charred grilled slices, was delicious, but it came on room-temperature black beans subtly flavored with chocolate and sprinkled with popcorn that didn’t do much for the dish.
The dessert on the tasting menu was a creamy chocolate espresso panna cotta with kalamansi lime jelly and Kahlua cream in a small glass. The East India Solera Emilio Lustan sherry that Jesse brought with this was splendid but lethal. You can also finish up with a selection of cheeses served with biscuits (we tasted four blue cheeses one night when Jesse said they were the only ones that would hold up against a robust Penfolds).
The Monday Room is designed by the cutting-edge firm AvroKo, who did Public next-door and the restaurants Quality Meats, the Stanton Social, Sapa and the European Union. The name of the restaurant, said Jesse, comes from a friend of the designers, a New Zealander who kept a special room in his offices where he’d go to relax and drink wines on Monday.
Why just on Monday? I could happily come here every night. Luckily, the Monday Room is open throughout the week (except for Sundays), but it’s small, so make a reservation. I wish I could keep it a secret.