Monica Greene has been busier than ever. On the heels of opening up her fast and casual BEE (Best Enchilada Ever) in Bishop Arts and walking away from her name sake Monica’s Aca y Alla in Deep Ellum (now Maracas Mexican Restaurant), she is days away from opening up her latest concept, Monica’s Nueva Cocina and ME Lounge at Illume on Cedar Springs.
The new Nueva Cocina is all about her latest take on the fresh flavors of Mexico City with authentic house-made moles, fresh tortillas from stone ground corn and seasonal dishes that she plans to change with the seasons. This all originated after a sabbatical in Aspen where she ran a vegetarian restaurant and looked after her health, often walking miles each day in the mountains and losing 30 pounds.
Monica told us yesterday that she had to make a decision to come back to Dallas to be with her grandchild and take care of her house which had been empty for the past three years. And to open Nueva Cocina which she feels is a proper concept for these times.
The new restaurants are rich with vibrant colors and seductive lighting. The patio is split into two areas with one that is pet friendly. Both are cooled with mist to stay enjoyable year round and beat the Texas heat. These are super inviting restaurants with compelling menus that will most assuredly make a splash on the growing Dallas restaurant scene.
We sat with Monica for a chat to look into her past and find out how she came to be a top restaurateur in Dallas. Tomorrow we speak with her new executive chef, Hector Hernandez, to find out more on his anticipated cuisine.
How did you happen to get started working in restaurants?
Where I come from you are not supposed to work in restaurants, but I moved to Dallas from Mexico City to go to school and I took my first job working nights in banquets at the Hilton. I loved the job and later took a job at Barney Oldfield’s working as bar back and bus boy. They made me do everything. They probably thought they were taking advantage of me, but they were really helping because I learned everything.
I never really had a hard time finding work after that. People would come to me with job offers all the time. When my father found out I was working in restaurants he was very angry and gave me an ultimatum. But I decided to stay and work and got my citizenship. It was fate really.
What was your first restaurant that you owned?
My first restaurant on my own was Eduardo’s Aca y Alla. Two years later it became Monica’s. We were doing something that wasn’t being done. We were using quail, and snails and pumpkin ravioli. We did sea scallops cooked over wood. It was wonderful. Every celebrity who came to Dallas would stop in. We had lines to get in.
You had a few other restaurants as well.
I opened a steakhouse before the entire steakhouse craze. We opened on Oak Lawn at a time when people said you shouldn’t open a restaurant here. The area was in transition. But it was probably my best restaurant. We had great steaks at a good price. But we closed after a year.
I also opened Deep City Deli downtown. It was also before its time. It was an old school deli where you could buy some groceries like milk and bread. You could get a great sandwich and we served coffee ala Starbucks.
Then I opened a little taqueria downtown called Pegaso [Pegasus]. I was one of these dreamers that thought that downtown was going to happen right away. At that time there was a possibility of a Texas Stadium, but as you see that didn’t happen.
My crown jewel, if you want to call it that was Ciudad. Ciudad was the type of Mexican place that slapped people in the face with the kind of food we were doing.
Ciudad was one of this city’s best restaurants.
The chef, Joanne Bondy, did a wonderful job. She immersed herself in the place. We tried to convince her to take the job but she didn’t want to open a Tex Mex restaurant. We had to convince her it wasn’t Tex Mex and took her to Mexico City. She realized this was the next big thing. We were named one of the best restaurants in the United States, we went to James Beard House to cook and we were on television.
Tell us about the new restaurant.
What we are doing here is real Mexican and some Tex Mex. Actually, very little Tex Mex, but we will be serving chips and salsa. We will have an enchilada and nachos. But in between we will have great lamb that will melt in your mouth. We will have sustainable seafood; it will be really fresh food. We are making our own queso fresco here and our own sour cream. This is serious food. We will even grind our own corn to make masa for the tortillas.
What is the ME Lounge concept?
I am going to use this as a springboard for ceviches, tortas, an array of specialty adobos and whole fried fishes. We will serve several sushi rolls, also. This will be open all the time. We will be open for lunches and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday we will serve until 1:30am.
I want you to come in and enjoy the live music and have a drink. Or go to Monica’s and have dinner then move to ME.
Dallas has some wonderful restaurants and great chefs. But this will be like no other Mexican restaurant. This is the right time for what we are going to do.
What are some of your favorite restaurants around Dallas?
I really love Bolsa and Hatties. I like to go to Oak and Meddlesome Moth in the Design District. I really enjoy Salum, I love Abraham. I go to Mai’s Vietnamese Food. I can name a lot since I eat out all the time but I won’t be able to very soon. Literally there are so many restaurants I like. Mercury. I love what Chef Ward is doing.
Monica’s Nueva Cocina is located at 4123 Cedar Springs in Dallas and opens August 2, 2012.