Visited February 6th, 2009.

Primary author – Jim (Amy will comment once her life is less hectic)

Amy and I had been talking about trying Monroe St. Bistro for few months. This seems to be the latest restaurant trend in Madison, the bistro. As far as I can remember, it all started most recently with Sardine (one of our absolute favorites), then Brasserie V, now Monroe St. Bistro. Apparently, the proprioters were once at Brasserie V. 

We were first pleasently surprised when we were seated immediately. We had seen large crowds, sometimes waiting outside the door, when driving by multiple times before. The environment was nice enough, unpolished, casual, open feel, more akin to a english pub then a stodgy french bistro.  Tables were aligned just how Amy likes them (please turn on sarcasm), jammed next to one another, close enough to reach over to your neighbor and steal a frite. This close to your neighbor feel fits the overall feel of the restaurant, however. Monroe St. Bistro is yet another restaurant with what seems to be a common one in cold climates: missing a vestibule.  So, as I’ve said in previous reviews, wear your jacket.

Service immediately underwhelmed us. Our waitress greeted us long after we had already made all our choices. Generally, the mark of good service is a general feeling of “welcome.” A greeting within 2-3 minutes, a warm smile, and a “I’m happy you are here” is all I ask. However, when greeted with an immediate “do you know what you want to drink?”, I immediately feel rushed. When we asked what specials there were for the night, we recieved a “isn’t the menu good enough” look. We also had to ask for a list fo the soups de jour. I certainly don’t enjoy being up-sold, but on the other hand, I like to know my options.

The menu was what you would expect for rustic french bistro fair. Steak frites, moules et frites, quail.  Appetizers including bacon wrapped dates, cheese and charcuturie plate, and plain frites.

We started with the crab cakes, which was our first introduction to the theme for the evening. The chef was apparently narcoleptic, and a big fan of high heat. Indeed, a crab cake should have a nice, golden brown crust, but this was a notch beyond. The Old Bay tartar sauce was nicely flavored, but a touch on the salty side, while the arugula corn salad was missing a bite of acid to round out the richness of the dish, but depite this, was the highlight of the dish, I thought.

Falling asleep briefly at the grill again, the entrees were equally charred. I had the burger. As you will see in other reviews, I honestly believe the burger is one of the hallmark measures of a restaurant’s success. This one was, did I already mention, charred. The bun was also over toasted. There wasn’t enough aioli to add the moisture needed to make up for the dryness of this burger. We also ordered the frites, a necessary choice for any bistro. They were not apparently cooked by the narcoleptic chef, but instead by a more attentive fry cook. Intead of overcooked, they were overseasoned. I rarely say there is too much pepper, but today, there was too much pepper on those frites.

Amy had the Mahi-Mahi. Again, it was overcooked and tasted of my burger.

So, as you can see, Amy and I were very much underwhelmed with the Monroe St. Bistro. That might be in light of knowing how good the other Bistro style restaurants in town were, but it is hard to look past the inattentiveness of both the waitstaff and kitchen in forming our opinion. So, try it yourself at your own risk, unless you are a fan of “well done.”