The most recent Chef’s Table event with The Local Tourist took place at a hidden gem of a restaurant in Wicker Park – The Monarch.
On their website, The Monarch proclaims, “We invite you all to ascend to the throne at The Monarch. An aristocratic and sophisticated setting meets an unpretentious dining and cocktail menu in a luxurious environment fit for a king or queen.”
Truth in advertising!
When you enter, the 25 foot high ceilings give you a sense of majestic space even though the restaurant is rather small. The Monarch features exposed brick walls, industrial oak floors and an original paneled ceiling benefiting the restaurant and bar’s royal moniker.
What sets the Monarch apart, however, is a combination of superb food and a staff that truly cares about what they do. They really do make you feel like royalty! Owner Colin Burke has a genuine passion for customer service and will so whatever he can to ensure that every guest has the best possible experience. Chef Michael DeStefano is an absolute genius in the kitchen. Young and unassuming, we expect to see much more from this talented man.
For our recent Chef’s Table event, we were treated to five scrumptious courses, paired with a variety of wine.
The evening started with a salad of Bibb Lettuce, Apple, Spiced Walnut, Manchego, and Sherry Vinaigrette. Deceptively simple, this wonderful salad was flavorful and light. As Colin Burke noted, the salad is surprisingly difficult to make because it is so simple. The trick is to make the ingredients meld well together, while still maintaining their individual character. This was an excellent start to the meal.
The second course consisted of an inventive and delicious pasta – Butternut Squash Tortellini, Amaretti, Sage, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Each tortellini was crafted by hand and this attention to detail was evident in both the presentation and the flavor. Although it seems odd to use a cookie in the filling, this addition elevated this from a good pasta course into a superior one.
As we moved into the two main courses, we were first treated to Roasted Trout, Cauliflower, Turnip, Rutabaga, and Caraway Vinaigrette. Again, this was a light and refreshing course and a perfect merging of flavors. The trout was flaky and delicious, the light sauce was just enough flavor without obscuring the fish, and the vegetables were a pleasant surprise – just enough bitterness to offset the sweetness of the rest of the dish. I must admit, I have always maintained that I hate rutabagas, but Chef Michael DeStefano has changed my mind.
Next, they rolled out the heartiest course – Hunter Style Chicken, Three Sister’s Polenta, and Cured Lemon. This is DeStefano’s take on the traditional Chicken Cacciatore, but much more inventive. The addition of the cured lemon, and tiny minced mushrooms in the sauce, added some zing and the densely flavorful tomato sauce was a wonderful pairing with the creamy polenta.
The star of this final main course (at least for me) was the side – Fried Brussels Sprouts, Thai Carrot Salad, and Curry Vinaigrette. DeStefano quartered the Brussels Sprouts, and then flash fried them and topped them with the remaining ingredients. Even if you think you hate Brussels Sprouts, you must give this a try. I bet you will change your mind.
Finally, the evening concluded with an item not on the regular menu, but made especially for us – Funnel Cake! This fun take on a traditional dessert was topped with “fall flavors” consisting of autumn fruits.