Dan Landsberg begins to salivate at the mention of Monarch Restaurant’s 48-hour short ribs. “Every time I visit Houston, I always have my guys put some on. That’s my go-to item.” As Hotel Zaza’s Campus Chef, Dan splits his time between Dallas and Houston, building the buzz around the Zaza brand.
Houston’s Monarch Restaurant maintains the bistro image, striking a flavorful balance between global cuisine and native flavors. Chef de cuisine Jonathan Wicks drives the menu with input from sous chef Mark Whitaker. As the Texas food scene continues to emerge, local purveyors adapt to the flavors foodies seek, and the Zaza team is no exception, drawing from quality local sources. “In the last 15-20 years, the food industry in Texas has grown so much, you really don’t have to go to South America or other regions to find really good produce,” Chef Dan says. In addition to the quality benefits, local sourcing reduces Monarch’s carbon footprint, an important plus to their customers.
On the Mark Communications keeps locals posted, with Facebook and Twitter blasts of Monarch daily specials, and reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp continue to draw business. Internally, Zaza updates hotel guests with changes to the room service menu. “90% of our advertising is through social media, but word of mouth is still the best source,” Dan says.
Monarch Restaurant is accessible from both the hotel lobby and the street. Dimly-lit chandeliers float above the white cloths and 150 seats of the indoor dining room, done in Zaza’s signature modern chic. Outside, another fifty seats offer a view of Houston’s Arts District. The owners’ passion and flair for luxury dining is evident in the smallest details, including the collected artwork which adorns the walls.
“One of the things I love about Charlie Gibbons and the owners,” Chef Dan says, “is the leadership that drives all processes of the company. They have an elegant taste and excellent business sense that filters throughout the company,” Dan says. Whether in cuisine or hospitality, the philosophy of pairing shines through. Zaza sparks interest with style, and creates distinction by offering luxury and service.
Their design aesthetic is reflected in the quality and spirit of the cuisine. Monarch’s noted appetizer, the Gulf Coast crab cake slider with house made kimchi and kewpie mayo, contains 90% crab and 10% vegetable, leaving no room for filler. Ahi tuna tacos and lamb lollipops also open the menu.
Entrées showcase Chef Wicks’ artistry, with a Rohan duck breast alongside a fall squash, red mustard frill, cranberry apple cider gastrique and toasted hazelnuts. The 6-ounce grilled filet arrives with a Texas mushroom-cheddar béchamel, while the pear & taleggio chicken breast features a bacon-apple dashi broth.
Monarch’s Gulf-based product line features a daily market fish. Appealing to the hotel guests’ comfort food sensibilities, Bay of Fundy salmon is served with browned butter and caramelized onion polenta, and bacon-braised and pickled Swiss chard, plated with singular Zaza minimalist style.
The dessert menu comes courtesy of Pastry Chef Claudette Cote. Adding her distinctive flair to an assigned flavor profile, she melds cakes and creams into delightful desserts. “We decided on a black and tan concept rooted in the French bistro dining environment. Claudette came up with a chocolate stout cake with a multi-colored butter cream, ice cream and a pretzel gravel,” says Chef Dan.
In keeping with the hotel’s concept and the restaurant’s bistro styling, Monarch’s wine program allows guests to sip by the glass. Chef Dan recommends a Caymus Cabernet to accompany his short ribs. “It’s a good mix you don’t really get with other hotel brands and restaurants inside hotels,” Dan says. “Hotel restaurants have a conundrum. Are we servicing the hotel or servicing the public? I think we do both. We have some things sensible to the traveler, and funky ideas the locals would want or that the adventurous eater would really enjoy.” Wicks and crew take ownership of the seasonally-evolving menu, stylizing their creative flavors while aligning with company standards and keeping the location-specific theme.
Zaza’s veteran team of culinarians reaches into the community beyond their upscale Main Street location. In January of this year, the Monarch staff of Landsberg, Wicks, Whittaker, and Cote, along with Larry De la Flore and Christopher Locicero and other heavyweights of the Bayou City’s culinary scene, participated in Bon Vivant Houston, an exclusive dinner for 200 benefitting after school children’s programs for Houston’s underserved Greater Fifth Ward.
During the summer months, Monarch supports the Houston Food Bank through an annual Restaurant Week promotion. Area establishments offer patrons a 3-course meal with proceeds going to benefit the local fight against hunger. “It’s a great way to get new diners into your restaurant,” Dan says. “Each city has a corporate sponsor driving the advertising and getting the word out. The event allows diners to check out places they’re unfamiliar with, and the Food Bank benefits.”