Thematic restaurants can be a tough go, with a tightrope act needed to pay homage to the theme without being cloying and also appealing to current tastes and paradigms. Originally opened as The Brass Monkey (by Untitled Supper Club's owner Marc Bushala and chef Ryan Wombacher), the restaurant was '70s-inspired American and French, with menu items from both countries. Laima and I were invited to a media dinner there last week, tasting through the current iteration of parts of the menu.
#BeChildish (as in Julia Child, not infantile) was the theme, with updated interpretations of classic American fare to be had, with some unusual twists to be sure. Making food from a decade where convenience was key and most ingredients came in a can, was no easy feat, but they definitely pulled it off. The decor is also more highbrow than low, though a trip to the bathrooms downstairs shows that the seedier aspect of the 70's is acknowledged, with a wall of Playboy covers featured and a darker atmosphere in general. The soundtrack has some nods to the obvious hits, but it's mostly more obscure, with a colossal selection of songs in the restaurant soundtrack.
For our dinner, appetizers were served family style on a side bar in the vinyl-themed private dining room, the collection of 70's albums a colorful counterpoint to the high ceilings, enormous windows, and interesting tile throughout. Seeing a bowl of wild boar meatballs, mini sliders on a plate, and other appetizers served this way brought me right back to my parents' parties of the time. While all the appetizers were tasty, my favorite had to be the Baloney Sliders (with pickles, melted fontina, caramelized onion, and garlic aioli), just a great way to kick off the meal.
Tastes of available cocktails were served throughout the dinner, with playful interpretations the norm. With names like SoCal75, Tang (yes, the rim was crusted with a powder that evoked that classic astronaut drink), and Side Seat Driver, you know the team had some fun with these. One of my favorites, and perhaps the best named cocktail on the menu, was Chicago River Water, a tasty concoction that in its opaque, greenish-blue glory truly evoked our city's river.
Entrées were served all at once, with diners taking tastes as they wished. The TV Dinner is an obvious choice and does not disappoint, though to me, the Amish Chicken (broccolini, roasted tomatoes, potatoes, lemon-truffle chicken jus, connection to the 70's unknown to me) was the highlight, tasting almost more Thai than Amish. Not a single entrée was left on the nearly empty plates, even though we all knew dessert was on the way.
Not on the menu for the evening, but available as sides every day, were the Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Macaroni and Cheese, more goodness and definitely evoked my childhood, though Brussels Sprouts became an acquired taste later in my adulthood. These my kids would happily eat. The Macaroni and Cheese had everyone raving and, when chef Ryan told us that they use no flour in the sauce, amazed at the creaminess. Two sides definitely worth ordering.
Something I've never understood is restaurants that don't take desserts seriously (if I owned a restaurant, a good pastry chef might be the first person I hired). Brass Monkey does not make that mistake however, with all four desserts offered updated and unique interpretations of these classics. Initially I thought the S'Mores might be my favorite, but ultimately the Bananas Foster Pudding, served parfait style (banana cream pie meets bananas foster. vanilla wafer crumble, banana pudding, Angel’s Envy Bourbon caramel, caramelized bananas) won me over, much to my surprise. I'm used to the classic method, with flames burning off the alcohol, but while more theatrical, it's not as tasty as this version.
Overall, I'd say I was surprised by the high level of detail that went into the decor of the restaurant, along with the food and drinks. What I really enjoyed was the subtlety and creativity shown when reinterpreting the food - most things were identifiable as their namesakes from the 70's, thought the fresh ingredients and twists on the recipes made them stand on their own. Slightly off Restaurant Row, this is an establishment worth veering off the beaten path for, it's that good.
This dinner was provided for review purposes - all opinions are my own.
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