Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Inventive and Wonderful Casa Mono in NYC's Lower East Side

Casa Mono on Urbanspoon

Most reviewers, and those who know 8th grade Spanish, will tell you this is the monkey house. I, however, think that title may be better reserved for the Olive Garden in Times Square. Casa Mono is definitely all of the things the OG is not, intimate, dark and brimming with truly original takes on Spanish tapas. Out of the way on the lower
east side (walkable from the 6 train) it was a welcome spot on a cold and rainy Manhattan night in April.

I sat at the bar in a space where there may be as many counter spots as their are tables, make a reservation if you hope to get in with more than yourself as company. My meal started with a frisee salad, progressed to mussels and finished with rabbit three ways. To hear me describe the dishes, you would think french food but the influence of flavors leaned toward Spanish and Italian with classical French technique.

I got to watch the chefs preparing dishes from my spot and waited in anticipation after ordering each course. The salad was dressed with a quince vinaigrette. Frisee has a great, earthy flavor not quite as peppery as arugula and my wife absolutely hates it, which gives me an excuse to eat hers all of the time. Great big slices of Manchengo are why I ordered the dish, such a great flavor and texture, which this dish is all about. The Quince added a great sweetness to the dressing to balance out these flavors and set the stage for the dishes to come. Although alone, I got to think about my wife with the salad and I could not get my brother's voice out of my head as I heard him doing his best Rosie Perez from White Men Can't Jump... "Fooots tha start weeth the letter Q, Quince."

First, mussels are one of my favorite foods on the planet and when paired with spicy chorizo in a great broth I could have eaten order after order until passing out. Fortunately the portion size was perfect for me but also to share with 1 or 2 friends. This is what I love about the emerging trend toward small plates in the US, the ability to share and savor a wide variety of tastes within one meal while reconnecting in person.

Finally, the rabbit three ways took me back to my days at culinary school and the origins of French cooking where they have long applied the correct techniques to various parts of the animal and then served them all together. My favorite of the three was a skewer featuring what I can only say tasted like an adobo (chipotle) bar-b-que sauce. I had soft, spicy, sweet, and crispy in the form of a fritter. This is one dish I will order again and share.

Sorry to the OG and Times Square, but Casa Mono is now one of my favorite stops in NYC.