In which our minds are blown by the food
Founded by Mario Battali and Joe Bastianich, Casa Mono is no culinary secret, nor is it hidden in some trendy outpost like Red Hook or Bushwick. It sits in stately Gramercy amongst the trees of Irving Place, which hush the hustle of neighboring Union Square. I'd never stepped foot in a Battali-affiliated place before, and I felt nervous and ready. It's not that his restaurants are exceedingly expensive (Del Posto obviously excluded) but "moderately" priced fare in New York is still a few more little $ signs than I usually have to spend. Though Blake and I have no problem spending money on our cooking endeavors, spending a 100 bucks for a nice dinner is sort of like telling ourselves that we're going to have to eat cereal for the next week. But armed with a 100 bucks from my mom for finally getting a full-time job, we set out to see what would happen if some of the best chefs in the city indulged our recent tapas craze. Casa Mono is a terribly small place, with a limited table seating and two bars, one that overlooks the wine rack, and the other that sits right in front of the small galley kitchen. It's these seats, with undisturbed view of the chefs at work, that we wanted. Like prime spots at the 50 yard line, it provides the best view of all the happenings. From the moment we sat down until we left completely full two hours later, we were indulged in culinary wizardry as they sauteed, chopped and grilled some fine looking plates. Thus it began: First Course Mussels with Cava & Chorizo Mussels were quickly doused with Cava, the lovely Spanish sparkling wine, and sauteed with garlic. At the end, crumbled Chorizo was added. The almost frothy mussels balanced the deep chorizo, which was all wiped clean by the spritzy white wine. We recommend ordering wine by the quarter-bottle to pair with your choices, which they wil happily recommend. Second Course Lamb Shank with White Beans After the Mussels had tickled our stomachs, it was on to the heavier fare, and nothing looked better than the lamb, which we could see the chefs preparing continuously throughout the night. It falls completely off the bone with one nudge of the fork while still maintaining a crip sear on the outide: the first bite was one of those enlightening moments of your life when you realize that you've never tasted anything prepared quite like this. We crooned at the lamb, intent on proclaiming its wonders to the blogging world. Then the waitress suggested we squeeze the grilled lemon over it, and it got better. Skirt Steak with Onion Marmelada We had hardly recovered from the enlightening lamb when I realized that a couple dishes weren't going to do the trick and that our stomachs still craved for more. I yelled out "the steak!" before we could even look at the menu again. It arrived on a bed of slightly sweet-hot tomatoes and onions with caramelized red onions layered on top. When you bit into the meat, the tongue touched the hotness of tomatoes first, then the juicy steak, and then the sweet onions. While not quite as revolutionary as the lamb, the collision of delicate flavors was equally as stunning and was eaten as quickly as the previous dish. Third Course Way over budget and smiling widely, we decided to stop trying to cheat ourselves and go for broke. We switched from a previously heavy red wine to something fruitier (we forgot a notepad). Then, though unorthodox and slightly backwards, we went back to the vegetable course. Asparagus with White Truffle Sauce The size of small branches, these were some of the largest asparagus we had ever seen. Massive and bright green, they were covered in white truffle sauce with what seemed like candied lemon rind on the side. Delicious. Patatas Bravas These fancy grilled potatoes came in a jumble of cayenne and pepper, and were the lone filling item on the whole menu. There is some question whether Casa Mono is even a tapas restaurant, but that question is best discussed with a plate full of mussels cooked with cava by your side. As a pure dining experience it was unparalleled in taste with both of us leaving the restaurant exclaiming that this was the best lamb we'd ever tasted, the best preparation of mussels, and so on. But as a dining experience to budding cooks who could see the entire thing take place in front of them, it approached a level of giddy fun that we never knew could be indulged. Next time we'll bring the camera.