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Openings Tue Jan 29 2013
These days, the launch of a new restaurant is usually preceded by months of buzz and social media-building, followed by even further announcements of "opening soon." Not in the case of Wicker Park's newest opening, The Monarch, which up until a few weeks ago was the very (and I mean very) German bar, Uberstein. In fact, the only possible buzz were the rumors around Andrew Brochu's (formerly of Graham Elliot) new direction into the supposed "revamping" of the place. Before we even had time to ask what Brochu was doing in the bar scene (the German bar scene to be precise), in the likes of a made-for-television restaurant flipping, new owner and former GM Colin Burke closed Uberstein on New Year's Day and reopened on Jan. 11 as The Monarch -- if you're going to have a name like that, what better way to back it up.
It is obvious that the interior, while stylish with several crafted details like a hand inscribed exposed brick wall, a darker and more sophisticated hue and a centerpiece candelabra, still hasn't quite shed its former neighborhood bar skin. (Think televisions, the same typical neighborhood bar design and a bathroom that opens up right into the dining area). The space still comfortably manages to be both a restaurant and bar in one, however, offering intimate dining if you'd like or pull-up-a-chair casual (although you might lose out on seeing Brochu do his magic in the exposed kitchen if you opt for the latter).
It's no surprise that the food is good, and Brochu elevates bar food and "comfortable cuisine" with small plates like the Drunken Bread and the Dill Pickle Wings (you heard it right and it is awesome) on the menu [PDF] while still bringing in four-star entrees like the open-faced Duck Confit sandwich that includes a shrimp puff -- something that should be bagged and sold by the unit -- and the Glazed Beef Short Rib with melted onions which represents the epitome of melt in your mouth beef/onion goodness. Three bites in and the realization that I had finally found something that moved be beyond meh, I looked over to my companion, no longer having the ability to compose a sentence, and said, "This is damn good."
I was originally confused by why such a résumé-heavy chef brought in to turn Graham Elliot into a four-star restaurant chose a revamped German bar off the beaten path in Wicker Park as his next venture -- a favor, a way out of the Michelin scene, culinary license... or maybe the stars aligned and Brochu saw an opportunity away from the hyperactive six corners ripe for hatching to once again practice what he started at Kith and Kin. (I also have to wonder, given Brochu's ambiguous departure from GE, if the Monarch name could also be a subliminal jab.) Confusion and speculation aside, it doesn't matter. Monarch represents something new in this restaurant scene, good food and good service without all the pretense and intimidation to go with it. What it lacks in concept execution it wins in formula -- part restaurant, part bar, part four-star, part the adult's version of Sunday Funday. Owner Colin Burke landed a gem with Andrew Brochu, actualizing the saying "If you make it they will come" while demonstrating a lesson in savvy restaurateurism.
This little spot is bound to give Wicker Park a shake up and I'll be back for that short rib and dill pickle wings. If my one dining experience was indicative of what is to come, then hail to The Monarch.
1745 W. North Ave.
Phone (773) 252-6053