There’s no such thing as too many brunch places. You can say that about pizzerias. You can say that about schwarma joints. And you can say that about Vietnamese restaurants, but most people would universally agree that there is no such thing as too many brunch places. At least in Calgary anyways.
So A. and I woke up early one Saturday morning to check out the newest kid on the brunch block – Monki Bistro. They are located just opposite off the Community Natural Foods and occupy a pretty cozy spot at the corner of 10th Ave and 12th St SW. We got there at 10ish and it was already packed, but luckily for us, there was room at the kitchen counter which was fine by me as I love open-concept kitchens that open up to the entire restaurant – it’s like getting a front row seat to your favourite band. We got there in good time too, cause as soon as we were seated, a huge line-up started, most of whom didn’t get seated until we left…two hours later.
"Cozy" would be an understatement when describing this place. I don’t think I have ever been to a tinier restaurant. Shit-hole Korean restaurant Don Day, by comparison, is palatial. Nonetheless, the cozy atmosphere coupled with primate-art adorning walls and large windows that let in plenty of natural light gave this place a kind of a "happening" buzz. Not quite the same happening vibe you get from OEB or Una, but somewhere halfway in between. It’s getting there.
One of the main reasons I wanted to check out Monki was for their Banana and Frangelico cream cheese-stuffed French toast topped with Nutella and condensed milk (yes, you read that right). Who wouldn’t want to try that? However, I don’t like sweet breakfast options, so I convinced A. to order it (with empty promises of sharing my order) whereas I went with a burrata, vine ripe tomato, arugula, pesto olive oil & balsamic panini. As soon as the server left, an absolutely mouth-watering eggs benedict dish of some sort went past us, making me instantly regret my order. Oh well, I guess I have an excuse to go back again.
The dishes were well plated, but the stuffed French toast in particular looked like a thick piece of steak. I don’t know if others would find that comparison tasty, but that’s the first thing that came to my mind. Interestingly, based on what my eyes saw and what I had read about that dish, my mind was expecting something super-rich and sweet. However, kinda like eating dark chocolate, my taste buds were deceived and disappointed. It’s a bit of a mind-fuck, but a delicious, well-balanced piece of mind-fuck. Otherwise, you would have a hard time finishing the dish. Eating a whole jar of Nutella sounds delicious, until about your 10th spoonful. After that, you are just shitting out Nutella. A thick, gooey, dark-brown Nutella.
Next up was the panini and this dish definitely grew on me so much so that I really enjoyed it by the last bite. The panini was a much mellower and earthier dish compared to the stuffed French-toast. Furthermore, I made the mistake of eating the side salad that came with a balsamic dressing. The latter was way too overpowering for the panini. The panini was pretty much toast after the first bite of salad – all I tasted was the texture of the bread and cheese. However, the panini gradually began replacing the taste of the balsamic vinaigrette towards the end and I really started enjoying the earthy taste of the cheese, arugula, and pesto.
The food was good and delicious, but it lacked the "wow" factor for some reason. A. made the very insightful observation that the dishes weren’t balanced properly. So, for instance, the stuffed French-toast was delicious, but it was too much of a good thing. It could have used some hash browns or toast on the side. Same with the panini – the balsamic vinaigrette was simply too overwhelming thus upsetting the balance of the dish. If Monki gets this balance right, my gut feel is that it will become a solid hit.
When you show up to a new restaurant with a camera, the staff pay attention, no matter how inconspicuous you try to be. The main chef chatted me up during a brief lull and we got talking. Monki is run by a pair of chefs/owners/brothers who previously used to run the Italian-joint Gnocchi’s Ristorante (which has a 90% "Like" rating on UrbanSpoon.com). Apparently, one of their reasons for wanting to start a bistro was having a more stable 9-5 pm schedule in addition to cooking a different type and style of food. It also explains the heavily Italian-influenced menu.
One major thing to note: it took us two hours from time we got seated to when we got out. Unfortunately, the food did take a while to come out. The kitchen was working pretty deftly, but they are still working out their timings and rhythm, especially in that tiny, tiny kitchen (think food truck tiny). Typically, in most brunch places, the line-ups are much longer than how long it takes the food to come out, but either way, you are looking at around 1.5-2 hours before you have paid your bill and are on your way out. Monki is no different, except here, the food takes much longer to come out.
No one’s really heard about Monki yet, but I suspect as the word of mouth spreads and they get even busier, they will have to do a better job with getting the food out faster. Also, like most brunch places, you have to wait in line again at the end of your meal to pay before you are on your way out. This is extremely frustrating, but only Vendome has managed to find a solution for this. Either way, I am definitely looking forward to going back there to try their eggs benedict.
||19.5/25 = 76%
Until next time. PO, b.