Houston Restaurant Weeks: Monarch Bistro

What they're up to for Restaurant Weeks: Monarch Bistro is located in Hotel Zaza and is offering a casual Houston Restaurant Week menu for dinner only. It's three courses for $35 and they're donating $7 per meal to the Houston Food Bank.

Service/Atmosphere: Continuing my journey of hitting places I've never been before for Houston Restaurant Weeks, I joined friends at Monarch Bistro for dinner. We were in a porch area that was walled off by plastic screens, so it was a lot less formal than I expected from the restaurant of a boutique hotel. I wouldn't try to impress anyone with a visit there, but it was fine for us.

Items that won't be on the regular menu: Summer gazpacho and a lackluster penne con pollo are special to the HRW menu. There's a five-ounce filet rather than an eight-ounce for this special, three-course menu.

Don't Miss This Dish: We were wowed by the fried cauliflower coated in red Thai curry sauce and a sprinkling of bonito flakes. It's one of those dishes that makes me wonder why I've never thought of doing that at home. For an entrée, get the shrimp and grits (which reminds me of the hearty, irreverent fare that Chef Jonathan Jones used to make for Beaver's Ice House) and there's only one way to go for dessert: Slice of Ice. "Slice of Ice" sounds like "Slab of Popsicle," but it's actually triangular wedges of ice cream coated in salted caramel and generous amounts of crushed chocolate Oreos. Combining Oreos and ice cream isn't cutting edge, but this was a great rendition of a classic pairing.

Don't bother: looking twice at the Penne con Pollo, unless you have that relative with you who "doesn't like spicy" and considers even black pepper to be "spicy." To add insult to injury, the chunks of chicken breast were overcooked with not a trace of sear or juiciness. Also, pass on the key lime pie, which is served in childlike mini-wedges and garnished with grated white chocolate, which proved to be a source of consternation for the white-chocolate-hatin' key-lime-pie-lovin' person in our group.

Final verdict: I think if you stick with the menu recommendations detailed above, you'll be a happy camper. The alternate selections are the salad of young lettuces (a fine salad, but nothing to write home about) and the filet, which is very tender and comes with some superior butter-mashed potatoes. As far as Houston Restaurant Weeks menus go for the year, this one so far is middle of the road for me. I wouldn't drive out of my way for it, but if you're in the area, you might give it a whirl.

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