Dinner goes swimmingly at Monroe's Laughing Trout

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By Joan Neeno, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, November 27, 2013

MONROE—Monroe has a fun food scene with Baumgartner's, Pancho & Lefty's, Chocolate Temptation, Roth cheese and Brennan's Market. If you feel like eating a good meal and shopping for goodies to take home, Monroe is a great place to spend a leisurely afternoon.

The most promising recent addition to Monroe is Laughing Trout. Funky name. Excellent food. The restaurant is located near two hotels on the city's south side. It lacks the charm of Monroe's picture-perfect courthouse square, but there's a lot of good shopping along this stretch.

I'm not sure what the Laughing Trout building was before—maybe a pizza place or a family restaurant. It's pleasant but bland. The owners have done a nice job with art and lighting to add some ambiance, but the building itself lacks character.

Upon entering, you can choose a booth near the bar or a table in the dining room. The bar was loud and busy, so we chose the dining room. For part of the evening, we were the only occupied table.

We started with drinks and appetizers. I ordered the Meyer Lemon Drop ($7.50) from the impressive martini menu. It was beautifully done—light and lemony without being sour or cloyingly sweet.

My husband, Richard, ordered a glass of Cupcake Red Blend ($8), which was a generous pour. Laughing Trout has a nice selection of wine by the glass or bottle and a good assortment of craft, domestic and imported beers. The prices are reasonable. Bottles of wine ranged from $20-$50, and the most expensive martini was $9.50.

Our waitress brought us a couple of warm biscuits and butter. They were obviously homemade and consisted of a sweet batter, raisins and a generous dash of rosemary. The combination of sweet and herbal is an acquired taste, but it wasn't overly aggressive.

The calamari rings ($12) were delicious. Tossed in a sweet chili sauce, the rings and a few tentacles were pan fried. The texture of the calamari and the balance of sweet and hot were excellent.

The ahi tuna yellowfin appetizer ($12) consisted of six slices of bruschetta with big, meaty slices of seared tuna. The tuna was topped with a bit of pickled ginger and drizzled with honey wasabi. Like the calamari, it had a sophisticated balance of savory, spicy and sweet that the kitchen pulled off beautifully.

Entrees came with soup or salad. We both chose the seafood stew, which had bits of shrimp and scallops in a rich, creamy broth. The soup was good, but this is where my quibble with the service occurred. Our appetizers were only half consumed when our waitress brought the soup. If the entrees were done and waiting, that would be the kitchen's poor timing, but our entrees were far from done. Our server was nice and attentive but not polished.

For an entree, Richard ordered the rainbow trout ($21). It takes a while to prepare, so we sat for about 20 minutes between the soup and the entrees. That's why rushing the early courses was noticeable.

It was worth the wait. The whole, fresh rainbow trout was pan fried with a lemon herb stuffing over a bed of wild rice. The plate had a line of plump capers as well. The delicate fish, lemon, herbs and salty, tangy capers were outstanding. That being said, trout has many tiny bones and takes patience to eat.

I ordered the nightly special, which was a 5-ounce filet mignon served with a blend of fresh green beans and portabella mushrooms and a choice of side ($25). I chose the rosemary smoked Gouda mashed potatoes. The flavors were surprisingly bold—they didn't hold back on the cheese or rosemary—but once again the balance with the rest of the elements on the plate was nicely done.

The green beans and portabella mushrooms were a pleasant surprise. So often at restaurants, the vegetables are an afterthought placed on the plate to fill space. Not at Laughing Trout. The green beans were fresh, crisp and blended with meaty slices of sauteed mushroom.

The steak was excellent. Perfectly seasoned, seared on the outside, a tender medium-rare (as requested) on the inside—it was one of the best steaks I've had in the area. I didn't like the sauce dribbled along the top and sides, but it was easily removed.

We ended by splitting a piece of pumpkin pecan pie ($7) that had a delicious topping of cinnamon-crusted pecans over a fluffy pumpkin filling. Richard thought it was a little bland. I liked it better than most versions I've had. All of the Laughing Trout's desserts are made in-house.

If you're in Monroe and looking for something nicer than a burrito or a Limburger cheese sandwich, Laughing Trout won't disappoint.

Last updated: 11:58 am Saturday, November 30, 2013

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