[Pigging by Wilfrid: May 24, 2010]
Speaking of tapas, it just so happens that I recently refreshed my appreciation of the menu at Casa Mono.
At least, I reminded myself what I do and don't like about this small, still very busy restaurant.
Yes, it's a restaurant. A tapas bar only in somebody's dreams. If any confirmation were needed, just listen to the greeter refusing to seat customers even at the bar except "for dinner." This is no place for a glass or two of wine, some almonds, a montadito or two. There's rent to pay and diners are encouraged to indulge in the small plate equivalent of a full course meal (as it used to be called).
(Experienced eaters will observe that at the top level, tapas bars in Spain are headed the same way; and this is true - at the top level.)
There's no inexpensive grazing here either. With the exception of croquettes, each small plate is priced solidly in the teens, the most substantial hitting the $19 ceiling. Order six, say, to share between two, and your check is headed toward three figures before you raise a glass. And you can raise some impressive glasses here: I trawled the sherries on this occasion, but Casa Mono surely has the best Spanish wine-list in the city, with dramatic verticals of the highest end wines - Vega Sicilia Unico, for example, in the eight hundreds and up. But you can also get the unusual and delicious Petit Grealo from Vinya L’Hereu for forty-two bucks.
As for the food, same old personal reservation. Too sweet, too sweet. Must be me, because thousands of happy eaters pass through these doors every year. But look: strawberries with the quail; rhubarb with the scallops; grapefruit with the octopus; the salt cod croquetas still slathered with an orange sauce. It's not my imagination - there's a theme here, and to me it's not a Spanish theme. Again, experimental restaurants at the higher end are now engaging in flavor combinations much stranger than these, but the traditional Spanish kitchen has kept fruit away from meat and fish for the most part. Cooking duck with pears was regarded as a strange Catalan affectation.
I tried to stay savory, but I should have looked more closely at the description of the goat cheese croquetas.
Pumpkin in the filling too. Guess what? That's the sweet touch. Impeccably made, though, crunchy and creamy. Just a little inclined towards the dessert end of things.
Chopitos - baby cuttlefish - were more appealing. The seasonal garnish sold me the dish.
The cuttlefish, neatly breaded and fried, arrive on a savory mess of ramps and spring onions. A little ham crisp on top.
Untroubled by sweetness, the braised goat dish emphasized the richness of this kitchen's food. A veritable brick of tender, assertively flavored goat arrives on a pedestal of onion slices griddled before you very eyes, over a mound of chard bathed in meat juice. Not the biggest dish in the world, but it contrives to fill your boots.
Enough food for one here - not, I think an excessive order - but over forty dollars' worth. Add a couple of generously poured sherries, tax and tip, and you can see where the story ends. Unquestionably a very successful operation, for all my personal reservations.