By Amy L. Carlson   Published Jun 14, 2005 at 5:37 AM Photography: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography

{image1} Prolific restaurateur Johnny Vassallo's latest restaurant venture is taking the Milwaukee restaurant scene by storm. Or shall we say, by Monsoon.

Monsoon Wok and Lounge (811 N. Jefferson St.) joins Johnny V's other restaurants, including Mo's, Mo's Cucina, Mo's Irish Pub, Mocha and Moceans. Housed in the former location of the DeLind Gallery and the short-lived Zyng: An Asian Grill, Monsoon features a variety of Chinese entrees and the novel concept of hot rocks -- where the server delivers your protein and veggies alongside a 700-degree slab of granite on which you sauté your combo right at your table.

Under the direction of head chef Eric Vollman -- formerly of The Palms, Coast and most recently, Moceans -- this latest Mo-venture will surely be a hit. Being near Jazz in the Park and River Rhythms won't hurt Monsoon, either, especially since the space features a dining room that can be easily separated from the hip, modern bar, so the nightlifers can swirl a swanky martini while those in the dining area can peacefully enjoy the Asian cuisine.

{image2}Expect to see archetypal Chinese fare at Monsoon with a Mo-twist. Monsoon diners can nosh on crab rangoon with a mango dipping sauce, fried scallops with a red rooster cream, caramel braised chicken drums, or one of several other appetizer selections to start their evenings. The entrée menu highlights chicken, pork, beef and seafood, and also has a good selection of vegetarian entrées. Prices range in moderation, but Monsoon won't break your budget, and the restaurant expects to draw a healthy lunch crowd from nearby downtown workers.

The space, itself, features some must-see artwork Vassallo picked up on a visit to Chinatown, most memorably a large gong and a substantial piece of hand-stitched landscape embroidery work that took the artist six months to complete.

{image3}Explore the intimate dining area, which features smaller close-together tables if you're out on a date, or check out the giant geometric booths in the very back of the restaurant, if you're dining with a large party. And, since Monsoon features a late night menu seven nights a week, it'll be a great final evening stop for food, fun and great cocktails.

Monsoon brags an impressive wine and bottled beer list, and tops off nightlife selections with a funky original mixed drink list -- featuring such novelties as a Shanghai Express and the Monsoon Slammer -- and a good sake selection. For a more subdued dining adventure, Monsoon-goers can select from three Oriental blends of Rishi hot tea: jade oolong, emerald lily green, and china breakfast blends. In short, Vassallo's newest venue offers a little something for everyone.

Monsoon is open Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. (late night menu until 1 a.m.); Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight (late night menu until 1 a.m.); Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m. (late night menu until midnight). For more information, call (414) 272-7253. Their Web site is mosrestaurants.com.