What a difference a year makes.
That was the impression we got last night at Monsoon Asian Kitchen and Lounge in Babylon, the pan-Asian restaurant that was one of the most lauded openings of 2012.
Last year, the glamorous, 200-seat, bi-level restaurant (which Newsday awarded four stars two months after it opened in February) was always packed, always buzzing. It was the IT restaurant on Suffolk's South Shore.
Now, 16 months later, the restaurant was practically empty on a Thursday night. When we left at 9:30, the bar area was sedate, a stark contrast to last year, when we had to maneuver through the noisy crowd to get out the front doors.
Chef Michael Wilson was not on top of his game, either. The first course of Bibb lettuce wraps, a chicken and coconut mixture piled prettily on cups of crisp lettuce, was as enticing as ever, interesting to fold and eat. But the steamed halibut was dry and bland, a piece of fish that was shown no love in the kitchen. The shaking beef (filet mignon tips with shishito peppers), a favorite last year, had been shaken way too long, the overdone meat drowning in its sweet soy glaze.
Are dwindling crowds and disappointing food the inevitable second-year fate of restaurants on Long Island? Are blockbuster steakhouses and family-style trattorias the only ones who can weather the storm of fickle diners? We don't want to see Monsoon washed out to sea.
Monsoon Asian Kitchen and Lounge is at 48 Deer Park Ave., Babylon, 631-587-4400.