What is it about ice cream and its proclivity to wield influence on local restaurateurs in naming their restaurants? Emeril Lagasse’s Drunken Monkey ice cream gave rise to the coffee bar of the same name on Bumby Avenue, and the funky flavors of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream played a major role in the appellation of this Mills Avenue resto. Simian scoops aside, the catchy monikers do their part to build name recognition and attract a little buzz, attributes owners Eddie Nickell and Nicholas Olivieri have undoubtedly capitalized on for their Funky Monkey Wine Co.
Certainly the space’s former tenants could’ve used such marketing gimmicks to their advantage, but the Balkan fare of Irma’s Café Europa has given way to Asian fusion, and the décor, like the menu, is a hybrid of Eastern touches and big-city panache. It’s trendy, sans the pretense. Comfy red couch notwithstanding, there’s nothing particularly funky to the furnishings – even the monkey curios scattered throughout the joint appear as an afterthought. The lighting may be dim, but the mood is as lively as the edamame served as a garlic-flecked, lemon-splashed and carb-free amuse-bouche. The sushi sampler ($18), a platter of various tuna and salmon rolls and nigiri, was mediocre for the most part, but the wheel of tangy fried goat cheese ($9), patted with panko and sided with a sun-dried tomato puree, was exquisitely soft and bloomy.
Cooking with exotic meats is a forte of executive chef Penelope Brown, and while the lean bison burger ($13) isn’t much of a departure from its beefy counterpart, the juicy sandwich is a perfect sharing appetizer. A better dish was the tender ostrich filet ($32), served medium-rare along with a plump-blueberry sauce. It may seem an odd pairing, but the sweet tartness of the sauce toned down the gaminess of the bird and brought out the flavor of the meat, though the aftertaste veered toward metallic. The main was served with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed, slightly overcooked baby bok choy. The thick, pungent ginger sauce slathered over grilled chicken breast slices gave the Asian ginger chicken ($14) a pedestrian appeal. The inclusion of just one tarragon dumpling, however, was likely a plating error; a shame, considering it left me wanting more.
The ample wine list should please even the most cultured of oenophiles – no surprise, given that Nickell runs the local chapter of the Tasters Guild, a society of wine and food enthusiasts. Servers have an appreciation for vino and are quick to make recommendations to patrons, many of whom linger over a bottle long after dinner’s done. And if the wine won’t make you linger, luscious banana cream pie ($6) most certainly will. An ethereal creamy base is topped with sliced bananas and drizzled with a grainy caramel sauce. Absolutely heavenly.
If I were a betting man, I’d wager this Monkey evades the demise met by its predecessor and brings in the funk for some time to come. It has that understated groove that polished foodies search for, and a committed kitchen corps to boot. Culinary trendiness aside, there’s some delicious substance behind the style, and that’s the sort of buzz no gimmick can buy.