Two Spanish restaurants worth checking out in New York.

Returning to New York had few requirements. There was that nagging list of places as long as my arm, many of which we didn't get to because five weeks in NYC still isn't enough, but one restaurant we had to revisit was Casa Mono. Loved it the first time and, as expected, had the same feelings the second time around.

Rather than squeeze my long legs beneath the cramped table like last time, it was dinner up at the kitchen counter with full view of the boys in action. What's the best way to eat at a place like this? Order a bunch of plates and go with the flow.

The first dish to arrive is the pulpo (13), a tangle of charred squid over a salad of sheaved fennel and grapefruit segments. A few simple components that prove less is often best.

Salads are seldom ordered at restaurants but the sound of the blackened beet salad (14) couldn't be ignored. Charred chunks of golden beets joined a medley of caña de cabra (a mild creamy Spanish cheese), blueberries, shaved pickled beet, some micro herbs and a caraway tuile.

A little confit goat (19) hits us with its rich tenderness; served with zucchini, its flower, pistachio and an interesting emulsion of cheese and avocado. One of my favourites are the sweetbreads (19), cornmeal-crusted and fried and teamed with baby fennel and doused in a buttery almond sauce.

A little more offal joined the set, of course. Two decent sized baked bones of marrow (15) with braised beef cheek that sits on the side. The torn beef is quite sweet and rich with cinnamon but sadly less than two teaspoons of marrow came from the bones.

Next up, desserts. An almost cleansing bowl of lime basil sorbet (9), olive oil ice cream, fresh plums, charred apricots and a good drizzle of wildflower honey. Can you imagine the flavours that were going on? Delicious. The other dessert is cherries with corn ice cream & meringue (9). The ice cream has a distinct corn flavour, just sweeter, which is a winner with the torched meringue, some salted pistachio's and the balsamic-macerated cherries.

I look forward to my next Casa Mono visit, whenever that may be.

Casa Mono
52 Irving Place
Gramercy 10003
212 253 2773
website
Casa Mono on Urbanspoon

In keeping with the Spanish theme, here's another place that's worthy of repeat visitations. Cata is a newish tapas restaurant that opened in the restaurant-heavy Lower East Side. The fit-out is easy on the eye and the service is spot on. The guy running the floor couldn't have been more helpful to his customers and proud to do what he does.

The dinner menu is cleverly broken up into categories such as pintxos, plancha, land, sea, brochettes etc. Within these categories is a bunch of dishes that I personally wanted to try, one by one. Almost every one of them.

Pan con tomate (3.5) is a typical Spanish snack that is often eaten for breakfast. I know I had my share when travelling through Spain many years ago. It's a DIY affair at Cata, where you spoon the delicious mixture of tomato, olive oil, garlic and salt over the toasted bread. We even had a little tomato left over and the manager insisted he bring more bread as to not waste it.

Skewers of halloumi (6.5) are next, served with caramelised onion and membrillo (quince). Salty, sour and a tad sweet.

The carpaccio of sea bass (12) was not only beautiful, but the fresh flavours were divine. Thin slices of fish, a good glug of olive oil, sea salt, chives and lemon juice. To mix up the textures there are a few crunchy pieces of fish crackling.

I'm never one to order patatas bravas (7) at a Spanish restaurant as I often find it ordinary and an unnecessary space-taker. However, once I tasted it here, I wished everyone made it this way. There was none of that tomato sauce that slops everything together. Instead the potato is crisp on the outside, fluffy within and coated in a highly seasoned and spicy mixture. A ramekin foaming with espuma d'allioli is there for a little dunking.

It didn't mention it on the menu, but the Spanish mackerel (7) is served raw, which would disappoint anyone with an aversion to uncooked fish. I'm ok with raw fish but the other half wasn't too happy. There's nothing complicated about the dish, either. Slices of mackerel, herb oil and alternating dabs of heirloom tomato foam and yuzu jam foam.

One of the go-to dishes at Cata has to be the smoked lamb ribs (16). These babies are intensely smokey, supremely rich and a tad fatty. To balance out the intensity there's some pickled veg on the side.

The final savoury dish is roasted bone marrow (17), loaded with the fatty wobbly stuff. So much marrow that there wasn't enough bread to spread it on. What made it even better was the bright green manila clam, garlic and parsley concoction on top. The flavours being subtle enough as to not overwhelm the hero of the dish.

Warm olive oil cake (9) brought a little sugar to the table, topped with a poached half of Jersey peach with crunchy pistachio ice cream. The other dessert, supremely rich as it was, is a dark chocolate terrine (10) drizzled with olive oil and sweet & salty breadcrumbs. Every ganache-like mouthful felt like sweet sin on the tongue.

Cata
245 Bowery
Lower East Side 10002
212 505 2282
website
Cata on Urbanspoon