Houston Restaurant Weeks, which wraps up Monday, offers diners deals at the city’s finest restaurants while helping feed those in need. Many Houstonians use the deals as an excuse to try new restaurants. We heard from one such reader.
Michelle Braverman writes:
“We love Houston Restaurant Weeks and have discovered some now favorites in the past (La Griglia and Brennan's) as a result of great food and service during HRW. This year we loved Up and are certain to return.
“One of our choices this past week was Monarch Restaurant in the Hotel ZaZa. Monarch, it turns out, is a moth and no butterfly. First, we were terribly disappointed that the restaurant looks more like a dimly lit coffee shop than fine dining (and no tablecloths). Adjacent to the bar, it was intolerably noisy from raucous bar activity. Cursory, rudimentary service, intolerably slow between courses, missing utensils, misunderstood orders, hostesses and wait staff running around but not accomplishing much.
“We had the unpleasant experience of being at the table next to a young woman who threw up and were thus witnesses to additional inspections and visitations before the clean-up. Granted, such misfortune could happen any place. It was probably not a good omen.
“Food was not the issue. It was OK, what there was of it. An appetizer portion of ONE lobster ravioli? A mesclun salad straight from the box at Kroger’s? Lean Cuisine-size portions of mains (including two sprigs of broccolini as a vegetable)? A miniature key lime pie tart and sliverette of cheesecake? We saw a slice of cheesecake four times the size of ours served to another diner.
“The waiter could see we weren’t happy and sent over the manager, although we didn’t ask for him. In response to our disappointment about the ambience, the manager said that Monarch was a bistro, not a restaurant (though it clearly says restaurant on the door and the website). Yes, they give smaller portions on the HRW menu and ‘everybody does’ (not so). He took $20 off the bill, which we did not expect or ask him to do. In fact, that demeaning gesture made us feel dismissed. Throwing money around does not solve everything.
“Then no one stopped scurrying long enough to take the credit card. We finally brought it up to the deer-in-headlights hostesses who didn’t know what to do with it either.
“I suspect Monarch’s problems go beyond HRW, but being treated to ‘special’ portions certainly did not make us feel special.”
Whine & Dine reached out to the folks at Monarch and received this response from Matthew Nuss, executive vice president of Z Resorts, which owns the Monarch and Hotel Zaza:
“We are obviously very disappointed to hear that your reader had a negative experience at Monarch Bistro, and we appreciate the opportunity to respond. To start, it seems that the couple who wrote in to your column was looking for a fine dining restaurant, including white tablecloths on the tables. While we understand that some people equate white tablecloths with a heightened level of quality and service, Monarch Bistro is an eclectic, first-rate bistro with a fresh, locally inspired menu served in a friendly, lively atmosphere. Unfortunately, their expectation to see white tablecloths seems to have set the tone for the evening.
“It is unfortunate that the woman dining within close proximity to the couple became ill during their visit to the restaurant, but we can assure you that this was an isolated incident and not a result of ill-prepared food or being over-served. We are also disappointed to hear the portions of the Houston Restaurant Weeks dinner items were not to their liking. The portion sizes for this particular menu have been specifically designed and executed to be on par with portions for a multicourse dinner. In fact, the ravioli appetizer in question is on Monarch Bistro’s regular menu, and it is always served as one large piece — it is not a scaled-down version for Houston Restaurant Weeks.
“We take great pride in our customer service and put forth all efforts in creating memorable experiences for our guests. The gentleman who took care of the Bravermans this particular evening is one of our most tenured servers and sensed their disconcert, which is why he intuitively sent over a manager to ease any uncertainties. After speaking with the couple, the manager offered to compensate a portion of the bill as an appropriate action for their unsatisfactory meal.
“Monarch has a bustling, upbeat nightlife scene and carries the reputation of a respected and sought-after establishment. We offer live entertainment for our guests’ enjoyment toward the end of dinner service, which then sets the transition from just a typical dining experience into a nightlife destination. Many of our patrons are receptive to this change in atmosphere, but we do understand there are those, such as the Bravermans, who would prefer a less lively environment.
“After chatting at length with Mr. Braverman and inviting him and his wife back to give us another try, we certainly hope they take us up on it and become yet another familiar face we greet by name.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Houston Restaurant Weeks, the monthlong promotion features top restaurants’ special HRW menus. Five dollars of each $35 dinner (and $3 of each $20 lunch) goes to the Houston Food Bank. You can find details as well as the menus at houstonrestaurantweeks.com.