It’s only just occurred to me that out of all the restaurants we went to over our two weeks in New York we visited several places owned or co-owned by Iron Chef Mario Batali. The Spotted Pig being one of them, and a couple of others I’m yet to cover. Here at Casa Mono, Batali and co-owner Joseph Bastianich have put their hands to Spanish with Andy Nusser taking the kitchen reins.
As tempting as the adjoining Bar Jamón was we opt for booking a table at the very cosy Casa Mono. Wooden finishes all around, worn coloured tiles beneath the feet, a sit-up counter overlooking the open kitchen and tables anybody over six-foot will struggle to comfortably get their legs under thanks to an annoying ‘hidden’ shelf used for menu storage.
The food menu is more about raciónes rather than tapas, with many delicious and modern Iberian dishes to sink your teeth into and the wine list goes on forever covering blanco’s, rosado’s and tinto’s from all corners of Spain.
Something I still regret not trying at Barcelona’s Mercat de La Boqueria on both visits many years ago was navajas a la plancha. Grilled razor clams (15). When I saw it here at Casa Mono I made sure it was the first dish we ordered and thank the clam god I did. One of my New York highlights was tucking into these lightly grilled clams generously doused in butter, garlic and parsley. Simple ingredients used perfectly. The four golden bacalao croquetas (9) we got next lay in a thick bed of orange alioli. Fresh from the fryer, these breaded stubby fingers have creamy and subtly fishy innards that go beautifully with the citrus mayo.
The following dish sounded too good to be true. Chorizo with fabada beans and aged Manchego (16). Ignoring the extreme saltiness of the subtly spiced chorizo, the beans won us over in their creaminess when mixed with the finely grated cheese and bits of rainbow chard.
The raciónes continue with a divinely rich slab of confit goat with rhubarb (19). It sits firmly on a crisp sheet of wonton and thick mound of goat cheese with flecks of basil seeds tumbling into tinted olive oil. The meat tears off with the slightest touch of a fork. Sensational.
A sliced plump duck breast (19) with seasonal wax beans is another winning dish with its curious fig calimocho sauce. Calimocho (or kalimotxo in Basque) is a drink of Spanish origin that’s made up of cheap red wine and cola and here they’ve incorporated fig to make a syrupy reduction that complements the juicy duck beautifully.
There was only room for one dessert to share so we go with the classic crema Catalana (9). It’s actually two desserts thanks to a handful of buñuelos de laurel on the side. The baked custard is perfectly toffee-crusted and the fried little nuggets are battered bay leaves you gently bite and then scrape the nutmeg scented dough off with your teeth. A little bit of Spain in Manhattan. You’ve gotta love that.