Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Casa Mono: Culinary Adderall

Variety is great. But sometimes too much variety can be overwhelming. Every day we are faced with the dilemma of deciding what kind of food to eat and where to eat it. Depending on your point of view, Manhattan's wide range of restaurants and cuisines either solves or compounds this problem. On one hand, New Yorkers can never complain about having a lack of culinary options to choose from. But on the other hand all this variety can become a burden. This is a situation I describe as restaurant ADD; where you become so overwhelmed by the sheer number of dining options that you ultimately cannot come to a decision. Even the most obsessed foodie can become afflicted with this disorder and last week I had a bad case of restaurant ADD when I was trying to make dinner plans with MW who had Good Friday off. The solution to my problem was tapas; the restaurant equivalent of Adderall. Wanting nothing in particular other than good food I made reservations at Casa Mono and was pleased that I had.

With small plates of varying flavors and textures (not to mention Spanish wine), tapas bars have become quite popular. This popularity often results in the adoption of no reservation policies which is not my thing during New York winters. Fortunately, Casa Mono accepts reservations which are highly recommended as the restaurant is tiny. Part of the Batali-Bastianich restaurant family, the food at Casa Mono is Chef Andy Nusser's take on the food he grew up eating in Spain. The mix-and-match menu is quite extensive and is perfect if you don't want to be saddled with one dish.

Multiple reviews on Yelp described Casa Mono's vibe as "romantic." What the hell does this mean? I have no fucking idea; but by combining my experience with the online reviews it seems that romantic equals dark wooden tables spaced less than an inch apart, empty wine bottles lining the walls, eating in darkness and with any Batali-owned restaurant, rock music blasting in the background. It seemed that the best seats in the house were a few stools near the kitchen where patrons were able to watch the chefs prepare plates as they ate their food. Unfortunately, we were not seated here but instead sat at a small table near the windows. Service at the restaurant was efficient and attentive; the best I've had at any tapas restaurant. A basket of crusty bread and a dish of assorted olives were given to us as we decided on our orders. Interestingly, our waiter instructed us that all orders had to be given at once so the kitchen could pace the meal accordingly. We eventually ordered two quantros of wine and seven items from the menu.

The first dish presented was Calamares Fritos. Suggested by MW, I hardly object over anything fried and this was a nice start to our meal. What I enjoyed most about this dish was the delicate coating; thin and light it accentuated instead of overpowering the squid.

Next came Razor Clams a la Plancha, my favorite dish of the night. The razor clams had an obvious sear on them and were topped with a garlic-parsley sauce. The simple preparation allowed the freshness of the meaty and sweet clams to shine.

We also chose the breakfast-themed Duck Egg with Mojama. Mojama is a type of tuna that has been salt-cured. Sliced into thin strips (mimicking bacon) it was placed next to a duck egg and fingerling potatoes which had been cooked with truffle oil. The runny yolk of the duck egg coated each component lending an extra layer of richness which seemed almost overkill when combined with the pieces of shaved truffle.

We ordered two dishes from the Whole Hudson Valley Pig portion of the menu, and were given the Crispy Pork Belly with Greenmarket Apples and Guindillas (small pickled peppers popular in the Basque region) first. The pork belly was crunchy without becoming dry, while the acidity of the guindillas and crisp sweetness from the apples was an excellent combination of flavors.

The other Hudson Valley Pig dish we ordered was the Pork Croquetas with Green Tomatoes and Spicy Alioli. Like the pork belly, I thought the balance of flavors was outstanding. The crispy pork-filled croquetas were counterbalanced with the acidic green tomatoes and tempered with the creamy alioli sauce.

The Skirt Steak with Onion Mermelada was another winner. Cooked to a nice medium-rare, the steak had a nice smokey flavor from the dry rub and paired well with the sweetness of the onions.

The last dish of the evening was the Foie Gras with Cinco Cebollas. A piece of seared foie gras was placed on top of a toasted baguette and served with five different types of onions. From what I recall they included: leeks, red onions, green onions, cipollini and scallions. Eaten together the sweetness of the onions mixed with the silky foie and crunchy baguette to produce one of the best hot foie gras preparations I've eaten.

While MW and I were intrigued by the desserts we were really stuffed and opted to return home for a dark chocolate Häagen-Dazs bar. While Casa Mono may not be the most authentic or unique tapas bar in New York; from conception to execution it was some of the best tapas I've had in New York. On a night when I couldn't decide what I wanted to eat, Casa Mono turned out to be just what the doctor prescribed.

Casa Mono
125 East 17th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 253-2773


To see all our pics, please click the flickr link.

Casa Mono on Urbanspoon

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