If there are any lingering doubts about the direction fine dining is headed, Shawn Monday's new venture could put them to bed. By abandoning his post as chef-partner at the small, posh, and successful restaurant Downtown 140 to launch Hudson's One Red Door, a more value-driven and as-yet-unseasoned place of his own, Monday is going all in with his wager on fine-casual dining. The fact that One Red Door sits atop the grave of Vue, a high-priced temple of haute cuisine, is further evidence that attitudes toward dining have shifted.
And why shouldn't they? One Red Door and places like it are proving that diners can have their polenta cake and eat it too. If spending less while eating well means we'll have to make do without the starchy linens, hefty menus, and snooty maître d's, so be it. Truth is, it's a whole lot more fun this way.
After a seven-year stint as chef at the fabulous Downtown 140, Monday, along with his wife and business partner, Tiffany, decided to strike out on their own. Boasting double the seats and — more important — triple the bar space, One Red Door clearly makes more financial sense. But the concept also makes economic sense for diners. With three-quarters of the menu priced south of $15 and many of those items large enough to share, the restaurant dodges the dreaded "special occasion" designation.
Dramatic changes to the space have worked wonders: Chunky wood beams, exposed ceiling rafters, and wood-slat walls — all added post-Vue — give the room a stylish rustic-contemporary vibe. Once separated by glass, the lounge and dining room are now one uninterrupted space, with a curved concrete bar connecting the two areas. The design has brightened the mood — and elevated the decibel level (an issue, say some diners).
Despite the move, Monday still can be counted on for delivering dishes with big flavor and near-faultless technique, and bearing the more-than-occasional Asian fillip. In the small-plate section of the menu are addictive fried shishito peppers ($3.50), mild and fruity chiles that are blistered in a hot pan and dusted with sea salt and parmesan. Braised in fat, fried in lard, then tossed in a light soy glaze, Monday's confit chicken wings ($4) are as good as these tavern staples get. In the miso-glazed calamari ($10.50), the chef eschews ubiquitous rings for strips, which he pairs with fried shrimp and toasted cashews. In another delightful twist, the kitchen serves pulled pork sliders ($9) not on sturdy rolls, but on delicate Asian steamed buns.
As often as the chef bows to Asia, he also leans to Italy, represented by a fat and juicy meatball marinara ($4) as well as an entire menu section devoted to thin-crust pizzas. Wafer-thin and crisp but deliciously chewy, Monday's pizzas are topped simply Margarita style ($10) or extravagantly with duck confit ($14), Ohio goat cheese, and roasted squash purée. In the latter, crispy cracklings of fried duck fat provide a sinful textural lift.
France too isn't snubbed, represented here by overflowing platters of farmhouse cheese and charcuterie. Monday's meat board ($12), while light on the La Quercia prosciutto, more than makes up for it with the porky house-made pâté and lush duck rillettes. A bistro classic, the luscious warm spinach salad ($8) features meaty sautéed mushrooms, chunky bacon, a runny egg, and heaven-scented truffle dressing.
Ingeniously, the chef manages to imbue a hearty bowl of spaghetti carbonara ($14) with smoky goodness without a single nubbin of pork. This vegetarian version employs smoked mushrooms, and the over-the-top richness of the sauce means you won't miss a thing.
Elsewhere, the briny sweetness of pristine seared scallops ($21.50) is balanced by an earthy truffle-butter sauce studded with braised veal and mushrooms. Meat eaters can sink their teeth into expertly grilled hanger steak frites ($19.50), English-cut braised short ribs ($19.50), or a two-fisted Ohio burger ($15) topped with brie, bacon aioli, and fried shallots. In an upmarket twist on Hamburger Helper, a dish of cheesy macaroni ($7.50) is crowned with a heap of barbecued beef.
As always, Tiffany manages a tight front-of-the-house operation, while curating a compelling wine list loaded with interesting and affordable gems.
Two months in and it's clear that the Mondays' wager is paying off. Business is brisk, to say the least, with standing room only at the bar on most weekends. But rather than simply let their bet ride, the Mondays are doubling down: In a few short weeks, the pair will open Flip Side, a gourmet burger bar immediately next door. Consider us all in for that too.
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Chef Monday can be counted on for delivering dishes with big flavor and near-faultless technique.