Last night I had my birthday dinner at Casa Mono, Mario Batali's Catalan/Spanish tapas restaurant. We had a 9:30 appointment but we showed up a bit early. The hostess was a bit snarky with us. She told us that she didn't have a table for us yet and to "come back at 9:30." Besides that, my dining experience there was delightful. The restaurant is small and cozy – maybe cramped for fat people, but I thought it was ok. I'm used to Japanese hole-in-the-wall izakayas anyway. Also, we saw Ilan, from Top Chef working at his station in the open kitchen right by the door. I think he is one of the top contenders in the competition, I hope he wins.
Now let's talk about food. Everything on the menu is tapas/small plates, or as they say in Spanish, raciones. We started with come croquetas de bacalao (salt cod croquettes) with an orange aïoli. The bacalao was tender and soft like it should be, and the croquettes were a bit greasy but offset by the nice citrus notes of the aïoli. We also had a nice salad with manchego cheese and frisée, spiced up with some nice fried pork fat bits. After all, it's not Spanish unless there is pork product in everything. Next we had some fried sweetbreads served with fennel and a plate of monkfish and langostinos (shellfish that look like baby lobsters) served in a saffron broth. The seafood was perfectly executed. The sweetbreads were nice too, albeit a little bit salty. Then again, you can deep fry anything and make it taste good. They were coated with plenty of pepper, which reminded me of the seasoning powder on Taiwanese fried chicken or fried pork chops. We also got a side of grilled artichokes with mint. The artichokes were nicely charred on the outside and sweet on the inside, with the mint and olive oil balancing out the bitterness and giving everything a nice "lift."
We washed everything down with a bottle of Cava Mono, the house-label cava. It was crisp and dry, "brut" in wine-speak. It tasted a lot like the black label Freixenet brut. The perfect birthday wine.
I will definitely be back to Casa Mono, but what I really miss about the food in Barcelona is the rustic, unrefined places, not the nice fancy restaurants. I miss the simple seafood restaurants by the beach, the tapas bars where you throw your trash on the floor, and the little local gems away from the tourist meccas.
52 Irving Place (at 17th St)
New York, NY
Tel: +1 (212) 253-2773