I had a really, really nice meal at Monkeytown in Williamsburg last night, so I thought I'd share....I've been going to Monkeytown for a while now, but not very often--every few months or so I'll try to grab a meal there, because the menu seems to change pretty dramatically on a regular basis, and the food is always interesting and creative (though I've definitely had some clunker dishes there in the past; an absolutely rancorous lasagna comes to mind, one that tasted like bad commune cooking). Last night, sure enough, the menu was completely unfamiliar to me--they seem to have abandoned the boutique-bistro-style menu (just a handful of dishes, like five appetizers and four mains) they've had in the past. Now it's a kind of staggeringly large menu, especially given the somewhat unusual ingredients that find their way into only one or two dishes (truffled sauerkraut? smoked grapes?). The menu--and the cocktail list, for that matter--exhibits the kind of culinary creativity that, for me, teeters between enticingly original and pretentiously perplexing. For every dish that I found myself curious and excited about--mmm, seared venison with celery root puree and cherry cabbage--there was a dish that just seemed like a weird and ostentatious combination of flavors--whaaaa, sea scallops with curried cauliflower, candied bacon and jalapeno caramel. Well, actually, it wasn't a 50-50 split between enticement and perplexity--most of the dishes sounded great. But there is, for sure, a haute cuisine-ish showiness to the menu that can be, at times, off-putting, at least to me.
All that said, the food I had was WONDERFUL. I asked for recommendations, and my server suggested I started with an item I NEVER would have ordered on my own--a "pastrami crab cake", which was served with the aforementioned truffled sauerkraut and a mysterious "hot pink mayo". This dish was fantastic, and fantastically fun. It ended up being a kind of wonderful take on the flavors of a Reuben: the "cake" was a pretty delicious homemade crab cake flecked with little tiny pieces of pastrami; the kraut was a nice homemade-tasting kraut with slices of some black mushroom (definitely not black truffle, given the size of the pieces, but certainly tasty), and the "hot pink mayo" turned out to be a wonderful tangy and spicy thousand-island/russian dressing kind of sauce. Like I said--a weird combo of Reuben flavors, + really nice crab. And it was wonderful, creative and fun and tasty and not too big--pretty much everything I like an appetizer to be.
For entree, I had a duck dish--roasted duck breast with a "leg confit and sweet potato hash" and a "cherry soy reduction". The breast itself, with the cherry soy was really nice: the breast was perfectly cooked, and a nice cut of meat, tender and with just a little bit of tasty duck fat. The sauce--ahem, excuse me, the reduction--was a tad too sweet for me, and I didn't really taste the soy-ness, but like I said, it was a really nice dish. The real star of the meal, however, was the side of confit-sweet potato hash, which was absolutely inspired and delicious. Tiny little cubes of sweet potato mixed with shredded crispy pieces of confit and a few whole chunks of sauteed garlic. It was absolutely divine, and--despite the expected heaviness of the confit--tasted remarkably fresh, light, and subtle. The flavors and textures were really perfectly put together--the soft creaminess of the sweet potato, the crispiness and meatiness of the confit, the crunchiness and tang of the garlic. A GREAT, GREAT dish. And the whole plate was great together; the breast, the hash, the sauce, all combined in a superlative way.
I didn't have dessert, and I didn't have a cocktail (their cocktail list, tho, is particularly crazy, and well worth checking out, if only for novelty value: http://www.monkeytownhq.com/winecockt... ), although I was given a complimentary taste of the "beet-dill infused vodka" after I asked about it. (In addition to the cocktail menu, they have a small section on the menu proper titled "Eat Liquor", four drinks that my server said were conceived of as kind of savory liquors. The verdict: the vodka was actually rather awesome, but--disclaimer--I'm a sucker for borscht.)
To sum up: a really satisfying meal. My earlier grumblings about pretentiousness aside, I do enjoy the unusualness of the Monkeytown menu--however silly I may find some of the dishes, I really like the uniqueness of this restaurant, which is why, I suppose, I always go back. Oh, something else that looked interesting on the menu: something called the "Futurist Cookbook", which listed, simply, "1 course", "2 courses", "3 courses", and a "5 course tasting menu". I asked about this enigmatic little item, and apparently, on nights when the head chef is there (I was told he's there Tues-Sat, so, sadly, I was disqualified, leaving me to my hash-y fun), he'll make you whatever he's feeling like that night, unannounced mystery dishes. Which is kind of a cool thing to have on a menu; I thought that was a rather neat touch. All in all, my meal left me excited about Monkeytown again--like I said, I've had bad experiences there in the past, but it seems like they've really hit their stride.