Thursday, May 20, 2010
Casa Mono has become a Gramercy Park landmark. It's owner, Mario Batali has been known to park his little Vespa there in the summer, wearing his trademark gray life vest, pink under shirt and orange Crocs with 1980's, light blue tube socks. I know this because I have witnessed this kaleidoscope of color with my own eyes one summer while I was living in Gramercy. It's pretty impressive. But enough about the eccentric owner. This is about his restaurant.
One would not normally think of making a reservation for a Saturday, noon lunch, but I know how small this place is and I did the week before going. And I'm glad I did. It was mobbed. And when I say mobbed, I mean, the 12 or so tables that are crammed into this, maybe 400 square foot restaurant, with open plan kitchen, were all taken by 12:30pm. My first observation, besides the close proximity to my fellow diners was the cave-like darkness. It was a beautiful, sunny, spring day in Manhattan and I could hardly see the other diner in front of me.
After a very thorough look at both the small Tapas menu and the vast, almost overwhelming wine list, mostly Spanish,we ordered our food. Olives and Bread were brought to us fairly quickly and I breathed a sigh of relief when I placed the first Olive into my mouth. I have been so used to being served cheap, salty Olives that these gorgeous mounds of green and black heaven were a welcome surprise. I could eat 500 of them and not be sated.
Up first was our shared Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Croquetas. And I have to say, this was a decent dish, but a little blah. This dish is a classic example of a chef not taking his food to the next level. It simply lacked the flavor and depth I was expecting. I shook it off and prepared for the next course. The Calamares Fritos, Calamari to me and you, was a stunning example. One of the best I've ever had. It was rubbery, but crispy at the same time and it was seasoned with a Chili powder that gave it a subtle sting in my mouth. The next dish was not so impressive.
Being a Tapas restaurant I was prepared for my portions to be small. What I was not prepared for was to be served minuscule portions with hefty prices. And don't think I am naive and don't know New York prices, I know them very well. A little restaurant called Per Se introduced me to outrageously priced food. Le Bernardin helped to further dispel my childlike ideas of food costs. But anyway, that is neither here nor there. My next course was so insanely small for the money it further helped cure me of any adolescent thoughts I had before about what people will pay for food in New York City. My Oxtail Stuffed Piquillo Peppers were not worth the $13 price tag. They were overly salted and just too damn small. The Oxtail itself was beautiful however, there were just not enough bites of it for me. The dickhead eating next to me didn't help matters. As I was taking photos of the Oxtail he looked up at my wife and laughed while saying, "He's taking photos of his food?" He then turned to the woman he was dining with, the one with the wedding ring, he had no ring, and they continued their conversation about how great they both were and what masters of the universe they had become.
Again, I know this is Tapas, but come on Mario, you've been to Spain, you know what Tapas are supposed to be. They are simply snacks, or appetizers and are priced accordingly. You've taken it to another level. I have no doubt that Casa Mono will continue to be packed at all times of the day for many years to come, but that doesn't mean it can't be improved upon. Until then, save your money and go to Pete's Tavern just up the street. At least they serve big portions in what is the "Oldest Surviving Bar in New York".
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