Carmen and I were presented an opportunity this evening to experience a little slice of "Restaurant Week," a twice-yearly, week-long event when local, up-scale restaurants offer a limited menu for (usually) half-price. A great way to try the better restaurants around town without dropping hundreds of dollars doing it. Last time, we tried Corduroy , and had a wonderful time doing so. This time...well, we weren't so lucky.
This time we tried The Monocle, a "DC institution" where loads-o-senators and congressmen go to chat it up and make "important" decisions over a $30 steak. We were offered this opportunity via a co-worker who couldn't make the reservation after all, and offered it to us. Gladly, we accepted. Here's what we (well, I, anyway) found.
The decor: old-style interior with fabric wallpaper and a gold-and-crimson color pallete. The interior was comfortable and inviting. Lining the crown molding were painted slogans saying things like, "If you want a friend in Washington - get a dog," and "An attack unanswered is an attack believed." Ok. That's a little disheartening, but, whatever. I think politics suck, and I'm pretty certain politics feels the same about me. No love lost there.
The menu: The menus rolled out for Restaurant Week comprise a limited selection of items, but in no way are the selections poor or second-class. The Monocle offered an appetizer (fried calimari, roasted vegetables with goat cheese, or any salad or soup you wanted), a main course (filet mignon, grilled salmon, or shrimp and orzo), and dessert (creme brulee, cheesecake, or chocolate cake) for a grand total of $30. Sounds too good to be true, right? Read on. Of course, the full menu is available, but not as part of the week.
The food: This is really all I cared about; this, and the wine list of course. Being the complete epicurean, I like to peruse all the meats of the cultural stew. First, the wine list. It was mediocre at best. It had a grand total of roughly thirty wines to choose from. But I'm totally ok with that; the restaurant never claims to be a vintner-grade place, so there is no foul. Carmen got a Californian Viognier. Myself, a central-coast Chardonnay for the apps, and a French Pinot Noir for din-din. The apps were pretty solid. Carmen got a tossed salad with hearts of palm, and a decent vinaigrette. I got the fried calimari. The rings were delicious, and served with a spiced pepper aoili. Good stuff, save for the unfavorable ratio of squigglies to rings. I estimated the ratio of tentacles to rings at roughly 1:1.75...WAY too close. There should be significantly more rings than squigglies, say to the order of 1:3.5 or 1:4. Anything less, and it's like picking through a graveyard of dead bodies to find the little fried pots of ringed gold. Yay to the flavor and cooking of said calimari, boo to the ratio. For the main course, Carmen got the shrimp and orzo in a cream sauce. In her words, it was "more creamy than I thought it would be." She rated her main course a 5.25/10.00. Not a solid outing. For me? I got the "Filet Mignon with Mushrooms, Peppers, and Onions in a Red Wine Reduction Sauce." The owner should really pay attention to whoever is printing the menus for his establishment, because what I got was "Sad Little Pieces of Brownish Meat with Limpy Peppers, Green Mushrooms, and No Onions in a Sickly Sweet Burgundy-Colored 'Sauce' that Tasted Like Chef Boyardee Mixed One Part Cat Puree With Three Parts Ketchup." Now, I completely understand that, during a week-long event like this where your profit margin as a restaurant tanks, the plan is to placate the masses, HOWEVER, at least give them a reason NOT to refer to the inconsistent, oddly-sized brown things coming out of you an hour later as "Monocle Pies." Dessert? We both got the Creme Brulee (who wouldn't?). It can be said that, at least, the "chefs" are consistent. Imagine getting a ramekin that is really cold, with a rim that is almost unbearably hot. Yep. You guessed it. They took it out of the fridge, and ran a cooking torch over the top to caramelize the sugar to a crust. The result was a badly-burned crust with a near-frozen brulee underneath.
The bill: $133 with tip. How? Well, the booze and the extras. We figure we saved roughly $40 because of the weekly event. Thank God. $173 for that would have been like paying $500 to have a one-eyed prostitute f*ck a horse while you drank extra-dry vermouth from the bottle and watched while sitting on a broken glass-covered stool eighteen inches away; it sounds all cool and stuff, you know, a woman f*cking a horse! But then you're there, and it's like...uh...that's...a...woman....f*cking...a....horse.
The skinny: Look, I again concede this restaurant never touted itself as a mecca for higher-end cuisine. It's a place where pols meet to schmooze and conduct "legitimate government business." It NEVER overpromises, therefore it NEVER underdelivers. The place itself is attractive and comfortable. The staff was helpful and present (including the waiter at the end who told me I could go into the coat-check myself and to have a good night.) On paper, The Monocle looked good, maybe even worth the money. But when the tires hit the road? Well, let's just say I held off using their restroom for fear of leaving no extra bathroom tissue that might need to be hidden under "Red Wine Reduction Sauce" and passed off as "Filet Mignon" later on that night. Before or after use, that is.
Food: (as props in a Three Stooges Bathroom Skit, 8.00/10.00; as-is 4.00/10.00)
Wine List: 5.00/10.00
Cost (relative to value): 3.50/10.00