For as long as memory serves, Babylon Village has been deemed a “destination.” Known for its array of restaurants, gift shops and cultural offerings, it defines the meaning of the word as one could easily spend an entire day there and still need days more to take it all in. In the heart of the Village on the west side of Deer Park Avenue is an extraordinary façade of the former Bank of Babylon. Having been sadly vacant for too long, the once-grand bank building has now been regally brought back to life and commands the attention of all passersby. While the exterior presents a superb image, it is the experience inside that is worth venturing through the vestibule.
This is Monsoon.
Opened in February, 2012 by the Bohlsen Restaurant Group of Teller’s, Verace and Prime fame, this represents the group’s first foray into the pan-Asian scene; a virtual sea-change of venues for them, which is perhaps reflected by the name of the place itself. As with all of their other restaurants, brothers Michael and Kurt Bohlsen spared no expense in perfectly transforming this 10,000 square-foot building into a two-story restaurant which can accommodate corporate and private events (for 10 to 200 people) in off-hours and daily dinners, seating about 200 patrons comfortably, many of whom may just linger the night away in the stunning lounge. There is an air of excitement about the décor as it appears somewhat different than most local restaurants. There are pub-height tables as well as banquette seating in the elegant dining areas which are enhanced by intriguing art and special effects lighting and the massive lounge is nothing shy of hip.
We were seated immediately (upstairs) and greeted by Adam, an enthusiastic server who proudly commented he had been with the restaurant since “Day One.” Turns out, many of the employees there have been there since opening day and that is excellent testimony in itself. This includes Michael Wilson, the young and affable Johnson & Wales graduate, who, after a decade of experience mastering cuisines in area restaurants, opened Monsoon and has been pleased to work there ever since. “This is my office,” he said to us with a huge grin of satisfaction as he greeted diners on a tour of the dining room. Parts of the dining rooms have access to viewing the immaculate kitchen. There are also grand video screens which convey ongoing international nature scenes.
The menu can be a bit of an adventure as any combo of items could be selected to enjoy and family-style is encouraged wherein diners share the dishes. On this visit, we started with the Japanese Cowboy Roll with BBQ Kobe Beef, Lobster, Avocado, eel sauce and Yuzo Mayo, a surf and turf, Sushi style if you will. The attractive platter contained thinly sliced Kobe beef, grilled and wrapped around the roll of sushi rice and generously filled with chunks of sweet Maine lobster and ripe, fleshy avocado. The roll was lightly drizzled with a sweet and slightly briny eel sauce and counterbalanced by the tart and acidic Yuzu mayo. A good choice for a starter to share! We also had Bibb Lettuce Wraps “Meing Come.” The delicate, palm sized lettuce cups were amply full with a flavorful salad of shredded chicken and coconut. The sweetness of the coconut melded with a piquant Thai peanut sauce and each bite of the wrap was flavorful. A sprig of cilantro and segment of lime added a burst of brightness to the palate.
From the entrees we selected Shrimp with Yellow Curry. Thai yellow curry is richer and creamier than other Thai curries and with the addition of coconut cream tends to tone down the overall spiciness of a dish. The pan-seared shrimp were sufficiently nestled in the rich and aromatic curry. Bright and crunchy, thinly sliced snow peas added texture and lightened the dish. Truth be told, I would have chosen not to share this dish and kept it all to myself. We also had the Shaking Beef. Bo luc lac or “shaking beef" is a sweet and vinegary Vietnamese dish. The plentiful dish contained perfectly seared pieces of filet mignon that were liberally coated with the rich and luscious sweet soy glaze which was offset with Thai basil leaves and narrow slices of the shishito pepper. As a side, we sampled the Seafood Deluxe Fried Rice.
The serving bowl of rice was chock-full of whole baby shrimp and pieces of Maine lobster. To my liking, the egg was not overcooked and sulfurous, but soft and fluffy, joined with the mild flavor of the scallion.
The dessert menu is a talking one as Chef Michael creates special and unique selections frequently. We sampled a variety of treats which included an aromatic, smooth and creamy Lemongrass Crème Brulee; homemade soft serve ice cream and Panko Tempura Deep Fried Double Stuffed Oreos with Chile Infused Chocolate Sauce. The unexpected heat from the chocolate sauce diffused the sweet confection of a double stuffed Oreo; quite different. There was also a Dark Chocolate and Chile Flourless Torte with Raspberry Sauce. Despite being flourless, the deeply rich piece of dessert left behind a sultry chile spark that the fresh raspberry and accompanying sauce subdued. Then there was the Crystallized Ginger Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce. The rich cheesecake was dotted with pieces of crystallized ginger that rested in a puddle of gooey caramel sauce and delighted the palate.
After dinner we retired to the impressive lounge where the DJ was setting up for the evening to entertain later into the night. DJs start at 9:30 PM Thursday through Monday. I had the signature Babylon Express Cocktail, which consists of crop cucumber vodka, St. Germain, pineapple juice and fresh lime juice, a light, tropical flavor; not too sweet! Happy Hour has become quite popular here from 4-7:00 PM when specially priced drinks and apps are enjoyed. A 3-course Sunset Menu is offered from 4-6:00 PM daily with ample selections. The kitchen serves until 11:00 PM weekdays, 10:00 PM Sundays, and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. A full take-out menu is available and parties of all kinds and sizes are welcome during daytime off-hours.
The décor is superb, the presentation was sheer class throughout the meal and the service by Adam and his attentive colleagues was top shelf. If Babylon Village is a destination, then believe me when
I say when you go to Monsoon in the heart of the Village, you are going to know you have arrived.