Spring is in full flower at Hotel ZaZa’s Monarch Bistro in the Museum District, which recently debuted a revamped menu courtesy of recently promoted chef de cuisine Jonathan Wicks, who wants, he says, the restaurant to “be one of the best restaurants in Houston.”
Monarch Bistro at the Hotel ZaZa
5701 Main St.
Texas-born and -raised, Wicks was trained at Houston’s very own Art Institute and has been a part of the ZaZa’s culinary team for nearly five years. During that time, the ambitious and passionate chef steadily worked his way up until taking over the kitchen. Looking to incorporate his French classical training with his own Southern background, Wicks is determined to make the Monarch more than a typical hotel restaurant. He told us he’s inspired by seasonality as well as the melting pot of cultures that is Houston, and that he likes to add his own twist to everything on the menu. Expect to find pickling, preserves and fermentation incorporated into his dishes—that’s what Wicks is really into at the moment.
We spent an afternoon on the Monarch’s patio on a gorgeous spring day, sampling some of the new dishes and enjoying Wicks' new additions. Although antelope carpaccio may not appeal to everyone, the innovative dish, which combined the thinly sliced meat with pea shoots and bourbon-pickled Fresno chiles, worked brilliantly. Another new dish, a shaved asparagus salad with almonds, Manchego cheese and Serrano ham with an irresistable lemon dressing, was fresh and vivacious.
Back on the menu after a hiatus was Monarch's spectacular calamari salad, which brought together spicy greens with an impossible-to-resist Thai chile vinaigrette. Our group rounded out the meal with three other dishes we definitely recommend: a market fish (which changes daily) with zucchini spaghetti; tuna tartare tacos in crunchy wonton shells; and an ancho Niçoise-crusted ahi tuna salad.
After chatting with Wicks, we wished we’d ordered his favorites, the new Black Hill Ranch pork loin and the pork rilletes that he called his own favorite dish from the new menu. Next time.
To call the intricate and inventive food Wicks is turning out at Monarch Bistro "hotel food" would be to do it a disservice. Spend some time at the Museum of Fine Arts, then walk over to the Monarch to see for yourself.