Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I love tapas - Part 1 - Casa Mono

Small plates have always suited Adam and my eating habits, as we like to try lots of things, but recently we've eaten a lot of tapas. We've returned to two great (but different) places. Tia Pol is a little hole-in-the-wall on 10th Avenue (near 22nd). Casa Mono (and its neighbor Bar Jamon), on Irving Place and 17th, is the newest (I believe) of Mario Batali's restaurants.

Our first trip to Casa Mono was for the first night of Hanukkah. We showed up about half an hour early, and since the restaurant was busy and didn't yet have our table, we went next door to Bar Jamon to wait. The room was tiny, without enough stools to go around, but we were standing next a the end of a table close to the bar, which was good for ordering. It wasn't packed when we showed up but got significantly more crowded by the time we left. I think it is really unfortunate that the menus at these two places do not overlap, because Bar Jamon has some really great dishes. We started with glasses of Tempranillo and pan con tomate. Their pan was great bread starter, we could see them rubbing it with tomatoes just like the places we had eaten at in Spain over a year ago. One of the best Casa/Bar dishes is on the Bar menu, artichokes with a poached egg and a tomato-y sauce (similar to if not the same as the romesco on the scallions next door). After that and another glass of red wine (not sure what kind, Adam ordered and I know next to nothing about wine, especially Spanish), we headed next door to our table.

At Casa Mono, we settled in to ordering, though hit fewer dishes than we would have without our snacking next door. Pumpkin goat cheese croquettes were delicious, little fried balls, tasting pretty much as you'd expect them to taste. Cockles with huevos revueltos came with ham bits(which wasn't listed on the menu), so we had to send it back the first time, but the waitress was nice about this. The cockles and (essentially) scrambled eggs were good, but I find cockles/mussels/clams to be annoyingly labor intensive to eat. Scallions with romesco sauce were surprisingly good, not too oniony with a thick sauce that accompanied it nicely. Setas (mushrooms) with garlic were deliciously garlicky (you can never have too much garlic!) and tender. Brussel sprouts a la plancha were surprisingly good. Brussel sprouts have always struck me as a bland, generic vegetable, but the grilled sprouts were crisp and flavorful. For dessert, I got a trio of Manchego cheese, good but not amazingly distinct. Adam ordered a bread pudding, which was also very good. However, the Bar Jamon menu had churros and hot chocolate, so we went back next door. The chocolate was rich, thick, and delicious, and the two small churros were cinnamony and crisp. Dunked into the chocolate, the churros were a perfectly sweet end to a great meal. The portion was small but actually perfect considering how full we were.

We ordered another glass of wine with dinner, as well as trying 3 sherries (1 at Mono and 2 with the churros at Bar). Casa Mono has a few blended red wines which we tried (on this visit and the next). All were pretty good and reasonably priced. I like how sweet sherry is, without having the cloying syrupiness of some dessert wines. There's a distinct raisin flavor in some of them that I found interesting and delicious. I wish I was better at remembering the names and varieties of unfamiliar wines, so that I could know more specifically what I preferred.

A few weeks ago, while my sisters and Tori were visiting, Adam offered to take them out for tapas, which they'd never had. Cat's going to Spain this summer and Ari seemed up for anything, so he figured they should have the experience. We ordered some repeats, so I won't go into those, but only talk about the new things. The razor clams a la plancha were nicely garlicky, with a great sauce left on the plate that we mopped up with bread, calamari, whatever. Patatas bravas were delicious, spicy without being overpowering for my wimpy palate. A nice smoky flavor was the result of black truffles, according to our waitress. The ensalada mono with manchego was good but basic. I wasn't as huge a fan of the calamares fritos (too much dry batter for my taste), but improved significantly when dredged in the razor clam sauce. The dorado (on potatoes, I believe) was good but not particularly striking. Cat ordered the guinea hen (since it was the closest thing to chicken on the menu) and actually liked it. I tried the vegetables on her plates (I try to avoid vegis cooked with meat/stocks, but oh well on that). I think it was a combination of turnips, potatoes, and some other sort of root vegetable. They were deliciously carmelized and probably one of my favorite vegetables of the night.

Adam and I tried a few white wines in addition to a red (another blend, I think). I especially liked a vaguely effervescent white. Ari wasn't a huge fan of the wines or sherry, but did enjoy a glass of cava. For dessert we all split the Mono sundae, which was plum or prune flavored (not sure which...aren't prunes just dried plums anyway?), that was a surprisingly good. However, given how good the rest of the menu is, I find it disappointing that nothing else really excited us enough to be worth ordering. With a few glasses of wine and a lot of food in me, we were then off to Paul's, pre-kareoke, which is a whole other story!


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