I love dining at the bar of a nice restaurant.The bar is a bit more relaxed, a bit more personal, and the food is just as good. Usually, you have an expanded menu, consisting of both the bar menu (typically a bit less expensive), and the dinner menu.Not everyone eats at the bar, so there's less pressure to order an entire full-length dinner without feeling like you're being cheap. It works great for people with smaller appetites like me.
In fact, we almost always eat at the bar at our favorite local haunts.
Imagine how thrilled I was when I found out that my favorite al fresco dining spot was opening a bar, complete with a new bar menu.
Perhaps Monday Club will become a year-round destination now?
Island Creek Oysters
green papaya mignonette
The bar at the Monday Club was constructed in late 2011 and completed in early 2012. The aim was to provide a space within the Monday Club (downstairs of Upstairs on the Square) for more casual dining and drinks. You can always order everything off of the regular Monday Club menu at the bar. However, the special bar menu also has some additional pizzas, paninis, and various little small plates.
We started with some raw oysters. Though they try to get Island Creeks when they can, they sometimes have to substitute. When I was there, we had Wellfleet oysters. I'm naturally not a huge fan of Wellfleets, though these were fresh and paired well with champagne. Bryan, who generally likes raw oysters more than I do, thought they were good. I'm pretty certain if they had been Island Creeks I would have liked them a whole lot more.
Olives, Pickles & Nuts
Japanese eggplant caponata and muhammara
The small plates are fun and derive inspiration from many different countries. We tried a variety here with a Japanese eggplant caponata and this interesting "pate" made from cod ro.
The eggplant caponata is nice and refreshingly not too salty. I must admit, however, that the cod ro is definitely an acquired taste. I found it a bit oily, salty, and quite fishy. Chef Susan Regis insisted that we try it again with a "really charred piece of toast" since that's the way it's traditionally eaten.
It was definitely better with the charred toast, but I still think it's a taste that takes some getting used to.
Seared Tuna ($13)
Za'atar, black pepper, coriander
Speaking of Chef Regis . . .
Chef Susan Regis recently took over as executive chef at Upstairs on the Square and The Monday Club. A winner of the James Beard Award for America’s Best Chef – Northeast in 1998, Chef Regis has also trained under Gordon Hamersley, Jody Adams and Lydia Shire.
It was a treat to be at the restaurant when Susan was there. Since I was there for a media tasting, we basically told her just to pick her favorite dishes and make us whatever she wanted.
We next tried a simple seared tuna appetizer, which was well-executed (perfectly rare) with a nice, exotic combination of flavors (the za'atar adding a unique Middle Eastern twist to the dish). It was light, refreshing, yet boldly flavored at the same time.
Keep in mind that the photos of the dishes in this post are tasting portions, so you'll actually get larger portions for all these dishes if you order them at the restaurant!
Lobster Pizzette ($13)
One of our favorite bites of the night was the lobster pizzette. I was quite surprised at the reasonable price of this "pizza", which is generously topped with fresh chunks of lobster. The pizza crust is sinfully delicious. Crispy and quite buttery, it holds its own against the rich chunks of lobster and generous sprinkles of scallions.
Brick pressed Spanish Octopus ($12)
smoked potato, sel de mer
Another special and unique dish they have is the brick pressed Spanish octopus. According to Chef Regis, it's really really hard to obtain this type of octopus from Spain. It is only because of a special connection they have with some guy in Spain that they are able to source this particular type of octopus.
We agreed that the octopus was very good. It was meaty and flavorful, yet not tough or rubbery at all. Chef Regis serves it with a spicy and creamy sauce on the side. Other Mediterranean components, like olives, round out the plate. Though not the absolute best octopus I've ever had (that honor probably goes to either Craigie on Main or Marea in New York), it's still excellent and a fantastic value for its price.
Tasso Ham and Fried Oyster Tartine Panini
The tasso ham is house cured and served with fried oysters. The flavor combinations are good (how could a fried oyster not be good in a sandwich?), and I could totally see myself ordering one of these paninis for lunch.
Tagliatelle Heritage Pork Jowl "Bolognese" $12 | 21
After trying several dishes from the bar menu, we decided to order a few entrees from the regular Monday Club menu. All of their pastas are homemade (yay!). The bolognese comes with two types of meat: a delicious slice of fatty roasted pork on top and a sauce made with shredded pork and veal.
This bolognese sauce is a bit different than a typical bolognese sauce because the meat is less "processed". Instead of being ground up completely, it is sort of shredded, not unlike pulled pork. We found it to be quite flavorful, though it was just a tad salty for my tastes and I would not have minded just a bit more depth of flavor. Of course, Bryan loved the fresh, homemade pasta.
ricotta & grappa, plumped apricot & figs, duck confit $14 | 23
We both though the Gnocciolo was really interesting. It's a ravioli made with gnocchi skin and served with apricot, figs, and crisped duck on top. The combination of flavors is deep, rich, and really interesting. The duck and fruit work quite well together, and we enjoyed the texture of the homemade "gnocchiolo."
UpStairs Butterscotch Pudding
pecan caramel shortbread cookie $8
For dessert, we savored a gorgeous butterscotch pudding. It's sort of a cross between a traditional pudding and a creme brulee, since it does come with that lovely burnt top and is quite rich inside.
Deb's famous Signature Milk Chocolate Pecan Turtles Plate of 3 for $8
Deborah Hughes, one of the co-owners of the restaurant, created this decadent dessert years ago when she was executive chef at Upstairs at the Pudding (predecessor to the current restaurant). It's unlike a typical turtle because the inside is filled with pecans and a thick, crystallized maple syrup filling. It reminded me of pecan pie filling, actually. It's rich, really sweet, and best enjoyed in small portions with lots of espresso!
The wine director, Matthew Reiser, was extremely helpful in picking out interesting wines for us to enjoy with our food. Mr. Reiser travels frequently to New York to scope out and procure the best wines. We had a lot of fun sitting at the bar and just chatting with him about wines, restaurants, New York, and basically all things food.
Co-owner Mary Catherine Deibel, Executive Chef Susan Regis, and me!
The food bar at the Monday Club has a great looking menu that I'm really excited to explore. I would definitely come back for the lobster pizza, the octopus, and the excellent wines. I believe the bar menu is available when you sit outside as well (my favorite thing to do in the summer!).
The lunch menu is priced at a very friendly $12-$14 per entree range, which I think is really reasonable considering the quality of the food.
Overall, I'm just thrilled to have yet another nice restaurant within walking distance of my home where I can stop in on a random weeknight for a casual but fantastic dinner at the bar.
Thanks Mary-Catherine, Susan, Matthew, and Danny for a superb evening. We really enjoyed it!
Upstairs On the Square
91 Winthrop St
Disclaimer - I did not pay for this media tasting meal. All opinions are my own.
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[…] out that the restaurant was a collaboration between James Beard Award-winning chef Susan Regis of UpStairs on the Square (one of our old favorite stomping grounds) and Rene Becker of Hi-Rise Bread Company (umm, yet […]