Sunday, November 30, 2008
Tapas at Casa Mono
Restaurant Name: Casa Mono
Location: 52 Irving Place, (near Union Square) NYC
My husband and I tumbled into the tiny warm cave that is Casa Mono around 6:45pm on a chilly Saturday night. Lacking a reservation we were expecting a wait, even for a seat at the bar, but the early hour and the fact that it was Thanksgiving weekend (and everyone in New York was shopping above 34th street) turned events in our favor. Moments later we were tucked away in a little corner inches from the open kitchen.
Everything at Casa Mono is small. The restaurant is small, perhaps only 10 tables (as well as seats along two bars - one of which is in front of the open kitchen in which four chefs dance precisely around each other at top speed). The tables are small - they even have a lower "shelf" to hold the water glasses! The food is also small; everything is done in the Spanish tapas style of small plates, each a work of edible art. In a nation that prides itself on "bigger is better", Casa Mono perfectly shows up the foolhardiness of that sentiment. Why would you want a plate heaping with a single entree when you could sample your way through six or seven different dishes and leave equally full?
And, indeed, we tried seven small plates. Six were amazing and one was just okay.
Our favorites included a revelatory Bone Marrow with Pickled Radishes (we actually contemplated ordering a second round of this), Confit Goat with Saffron Honey (this was really interesting, served with a goat cheese sauce, caramelized red onion, and swiss chard), Piquillo Peppers with Oxtails (a sizzling stew topped with glistening, red peppers), Housemade Cured Ham (which was served with crispy crostini infused with lots of olive oil and the most wonderful pickled salad of fennel, onions, radishes, and golden beets), and Patatas Bravas (crispy roasted fingerling potatoes tossed with soffrito, garlic aoili, green onions, and a healthy dose of smoked Spanish paprika). The Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Croquettas were just okay - crisp, sweet, and tangy and served with fried sage. For dessert we thought we'd go "light" and we ordered the Tangerine Sorbetto y Moscatel 9. It came as two perfect scoops sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and nestled in a pool of sweet wine jelly.
The wine list at Casa Mono is, as one might expect, almost exclusively Spanish. And its looong...and a little overwhelming, too. The sommelier was very helpful though. Not really knowing what we wanted, we gave her a vague "how about a medium-bodied red wine, more earthy than fruity"? She picked a perfect Reibera Sacra from producer Themera on offer for $65. It was very drinkable and paired wonderfully with all the rich, meaty dishes we'd ordered.
Perhaps our overall experience here would have been a little different if we'd come on a regular weekend and encountered the crowds that are rumored to make for a long wait (making a reservation seems advisable). But nothing could have diminished the pleasure of the food - complex, interesting, and challenging. Also, I should mention, delicious.
This foray into decadence wasn't the cheapest meal we've had - our total bill was around $200 (for 2 people, including wine and tip) - but as we wandered back out into the cold night we both agreed it was well worth the splurge.