Saturday, May 12, 2007

Casa Mono: A perfect take on modern tapas in New York

After a pah! at the Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective at the Whitney, H & I trundled over to Gramercy to find a place to eat before The Kooks. Having rejected Pete's Tavern and its serving platter size plates of fried food, we took a cancelled reservation at Casa Mono, owned by Mario Batali, & billed as a modern tapas restaurant. The tiny space, with tables & chairs rammed up against each other speaks of an operation which care more about revenue than an eater's comfort.

Still pleasant, rapid service always helps, and the menu reads well. H ordered fried sardines, & we shared utterly scrumptious steamed asparagus with fried shitake & a truffle butter reduction, a new take on patatas bravas with chilli spiked oil and spring onions, very good bread and olives, and clever tiny croquetas of pumpkin with a melted goats cheese centre, which could have done with a shot of chilli, tomato or perhaps something citrus-y.

The wine list is comprehensive & wholly Spanish, but seems designed, like the space, to squeeze the diner. There are no wines available by the glass, bar cava & sherry, although a few wines can be ordered in cuartos, baby carafes which are about a couple of glasses. Was also somewhat surprised to discover bottles of Manzanilla & Amontillado on the list. Who in their right mind orders an entire bottle of sherry?

My current theory is that tapas are wholly unsuited to the American belief that restaurant food must be served in ginormous portions. Casa Mono gets around this problem by calling the dishes tapas, but actually serving raciones, the larger plates of food desgned to be shared by a group of people, and priced accordingly.

In a way, it's a shame, because the combination of portion size and high pricing restricts a thorough roam around the menu. Still, as I generally want to eat my way through most menus, I applaud any restaurant where I can eat more than two dishes in any one sitting without doing a Mr Creosote. Jason Atherton at Maze and Gordon Ramsey's The London Bar at The London Hotel in Manhattan (spot the connection) are speaheading this grazing approach to fine dining, and I wholly approve.