Birthday Dinner at Casa Mono


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. 

Casa Mono
52 Irving Place (at 17th St)
New York, NY
Tel: +1 (212) 253-2773



The people of Catalonia have voted 'yes' by a margin of 74% to the Statute of Autonomy. Catalonia is a region (or what some consider a "nation without a state") located in the northeastern part of Spain, which includes the vibrant city of Barcelona. The traditional "Catalan Countries" (Paisos Catalans) also includes Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and Northern Catalonia across the Pyrenees, which is now under French jurisdiction.

I had the honor of spending an academic year (2000-2001) studying at the University of Barcelona and have been following the progress of the Catalan people towards greater self-determination ever since.
The Catalans have their own language and culture that is quite distinct from the Castillian (AKA "Spanish") language and culture of central and southern Spain. The Catalonia have historical claims to an independent state dating back to the Middle Ages but eventually, there country was carved up and swallowed up by Spain and France. Also in more recent history, the Catalan language and culture were suppressed during the Franco dictatorship in Spain.

Despite the large margin voting in favor of the Statute of Autonomy, there was also a rather worrying rate of abstention. Slightly less than 50% of registered voters voted in the referendum. Both Spanish nationalists, who believe in maintaining the centralized, unified nature of the Spanish state, and Catalan nationalists, who want nothing less than full independence opposed the Statute. However, the statute was supported by Zapatero's Socialist government in Madrid which is also pursuing talks with Basque nationalists. In concrete terms, the new Statute would give Catalonia's government more tax revenues from the central government in Madrid as well as more say in areas such as the management of immigration, airports and language and culture.

While some may argue that "autonomy" just means an added layer of bureaucratic red-tape, I would still have to say that autonomy is a step in the right direction, with full independence through a democratic process being the most desirable end result in the long term. After all, in the last few weeks, we have seen Montenegro and Serbia become independent countries through peaceful, democratic means, putting the final nail in the coffin of the former Yugoslavia. I think the increasing number of independent, sovereign states in the world is good for democracy and good for the protection of cultural and linguistic diversity. We have other historical examples of peaceful and democratic separations of nation-states, such as the Velvet Divorce of Slovakia and the Czech Republic as well as the independence of Norway from Sweden.

It is interesting to note that while there has been a greater trend towards "national" and regional sovereignty and autonomy, there is also the parallel trend of international integration – such as the European Union. These trends work very well in tandem, even if they sound contradictory at first. The basis of international, interstatal organizations is that of national sovereignty. All parties come to the table as sovereign states. So the Catalan people, should have the right to negotiate in the context of the European Union as a sovereign state, equal in standing to Spain or France or any other E.U. member state. Only then can the system be truly democratic and ensure the protection of cultural diversity in a globalizing world.

Economically, an independent Catalan state is viable.  Along with the the Basque Country, it is one of the most economically developed regions in Spain.  On the socio-cultural level, even though Catalan is considered a "minority language," in absolute numbers, it has more speakers than European "national" languages such as Danish, Norwegian or Finnish. 

Radio-Canada has also recently done a report on Catalonia, comparing the situation there with that of Québec.  Both are regions with minority cultures and languages with nationalist aspirations.  Both have embarked on projects of linguistic and cultural revitalization as a way of countering years of colonialism, assimilation, and neglect.  Catalan leaders interviewed in the report openly admited that Québec served as a model for Catalonia in terms of linguistic and cultural policy.

In a broader context, we can apply the example of Catalonia to other regions/nations without a state.  Certainly, China can learn a lesson or two.  China is still working under outdated, imperialist notions of the Chinese "nation" when it comes to its policies towards Xinjiang (East Turkestan), Tibet, and Taiwan (even though Taiwan is already de facto independent since 1949).  Obviously, China is growing very quickly on an economic level, and it seeks to maintain its territorial integrity as a way of maintaining law and order as well as to ensure its access to natural resources.  However, a "smarter" way to progress would be to allow for state-to-state relations on the political level while maintaining increasingly integrated economic ties.  So in the case of Taiwan – let us be our own country, but let's work together economically.  Otherwise, Chinese policies amount to nothing less than imperialism, no better than the Japanese imperialism of the first half of the 20th century that the Chinese government is so quick to point out and attack Japan for.