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Culture / Restaurants

Not Just Another Hotel Restaurant

This Houston Spot Defies the Tired Stereotypes With a Daring New Menu

BY // 04.21.16

Eighty-degree weather devoid of rain is a sure-fire way to pack a Houston patio. Couple that climate with spring-inspired fare and a posh hotel backdrop, and it’s a winning combination.

Fortunately, the weather gods (who are currently failing at their job) granted me this exact scenario on a recent trip to Monarch Bistro at Hotel ZaZa.

Monarch was an unusual dining setting for me; I can remember the exact number of times I’ve dined at a hotel restaurant sans a room reservation — zero. Do I have some bizarre vendetta against hotel cuisine? Of course not, but in Houston’s frenzied restaurant-opening arena, hotels tends to get lost in the shuffle.

However, chef de cuisine Jonathan Wicks is taking steps to separate Monarch from the hospitality pack, offering a revamped menu complete with seasonal additions.

“I’m really excited about the direction our menus are going in terms of seasonality. We don’t want to be just ‘another hotel restaurant.’ We want to show the city of Houston and our hotel guests that Monarch is much more than that,” Wicks says. “We will continue to change up the menu to keep it fresh and seasonal, which will allow our loyal patrons to discover new items. I’m very honored to work with the team of chefs that we have, and their talent makes my job that much easier.”

hotel zaza
This Monarch dish — the chicken and the egg — is the perfect color complement on a beautiful spring day.

Wicks, who started with Monarch as a line cook, evaluated multiple factors for the menu revamp, including criticism from previous customers. When the Gulf Coast crab cakes arrive at the table, Wicks explains that the dish now includes less breading and more crab. The result? A delicious cake made better by the addition of a quick-pickled kimchi and  Kewpie mayonnaise.

Other menu standouts include the calamari salad tossed with spicy greens and a Thai chile vinaigrette; tuna tacos served in a crispy gyoza shell topped with an avocado relish; and the chicken and the egg — a roasted chicken breast topped with a fried poached egg.

Wicks has also added spring-centric dishes, including asparagus salad, scallops seared in duck fat, English pea and farmer cheese agnolotti, spring lamb (accompanied by a medley of mint, spring peas and preserved Meyer lemon), and naked strawberry banana cake.

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