Transplanted New Yorker here, visiting home from San Francisco. My husband, two friends, and I just had what has to be one of the worst meals we've ever had in NYC.
Not just bad. So bad we giggled as it just got worse and worse and did a slow dissolve into Theater of the Absurd bad, and then we had to stifle howls of laughter when the waiter asked if we would like to see the dessert menu.
So bad it provoked a lengthy discussion of most astounding ratio of culinary anticipation:disappointment experiences and where did this rank? We all agreed, that from a wide variety of zip codes and time zones that this was pretty hard to beat.
So bad that one of my dining companions, once we were safely away, relaxed into the cab seat, heaved a sigh of relief, and said thoughtfully, "That was an assault on all of the senses."
I'm not sure I've ever even made a meal this bad.
One final comment before I get to the food. There were just so many things that were wrong about Casa Mono. So many things to make you uncomfortable. The dark, tiny, crowded room. The constant bumping of the staff against our table and chairs as they walked by. The sound system playing what sounded like a slightly-music infused evening at runway 33R at La Guardia. The fact that six of the ten dishes we ordered came all at once, causing us to feel rushed, as they were served warm. Then the next four arrived altogether as well.
Here is the food in chronological order:
1. Pan con tomate ($5) Unlike some culinary misadventures, I know exactly where this went south. It was prepped well before it was served, so that by the time it got to the table it was basically a soggy, vaguely tomato flavored slice of what may have once been decent bread.. There was no wonderfully fresh tomato taste, even though this is still tomato season. This was a bad sign. If care would not be taken to avoid screwing up something so easy to make so delicious, what next?
2. Pulpo with Fennel and Grapefruit ($13) Far and away one of the most unoffensive things we ordered. The octopus was uninspired but inoffensive. They can mail me the fennel and grapefruit. Apparently, it wasn't available tonight. (I just read this to my husband. He informs me that the fennel was the tasteless jumble of vegetable shavings on the plate. Who knew? I thought it was boiled slighly greenish jicama.)
4. Pimientos de Padron ($9) What does it say about the effort a restaurant is putting out when the only thing that is properly cooked and flavored are a handful of salted pan seared peppers? To me it says, "They are relying on their sprinkling of Battali dust to create a regular clientele of [mostly young] people with far more money than discernment."
2. Razor Clams a la Plancha ($15) "The Augery of the Pan con Tomate" is never wrong. I'm just going to say it. First thing that came to mind. "Wow. I just ate grilled silly putty." Perhaps I was wrong to break my rule of not ordering seafood on Sunday and Monday?
5. Heirloom Tomatoes with Boquerones ($16) Sixteen bucks. Two tiny fillets of bland pseudo-boquerones. You do the math. I'll spend the rest of the night figuring out how much chutzpah you have to have to pass off this totally tasteless fish throttled by far-too-strong olive oil for the impossible marriage of sweet flesh and fish-oil that defines boquerones. Unripe, flavorless green tomatoes made one of their many many appearences in this dish. I'm bitter. I know boquerones. i love boquerones. These were no boquerones.
6. Hudson Valley Pork Croquetas with Green Tomatoes ($15) I'm not a croquette fan. Too reminiscent of all those Mrs. Paul's fishsticks my mom would foist on the babysitter to make when we were kids, but my compadres like them. I tried them. Meh. I will vent my wrath though, on the fact that they were served with a MUSTARDY/MAYO sauce. You cannot do that in a tapas/raciones place. You must think, "diverse, but cohesive."
7. Lamb Ribs with Squash and Harissa ($19) This was truly awful. Awe-full. I was full of awe. How can you screw this up so badly? You screw up the harissa. If you like harissa, do not order this. If you like an incoherent mix of spices that will creepily remind you of the smell of WD 40, go right ahead.
8. Patatas Bravas ($9) Take it from me, if you've had patatas bravas in any one of a thousand unpretentious and stunning tapas bars or restaurants from Barcelona to Sevilla and are jonesing for more, go to priceline.com, bid low, and save yourself from this nightmare. These were, again, truly awful and unartfully presented to boot. Again wtih the WD 40. And to serve Casa Mono's overcooked and chewy potato in San Francisco would get you arrested, no-bond.
9. Chopitos with White Beans and Salsa de Tinta ($15) I looked forward second most to this dish, after the boquerones. It was described as small pieces of cuttlefish over a mash of white beans. Today is a Monday. Perhaps that explains the unmistakeably un-fresh taste and smell of the cuttlefish? The white beans were totally without taste. No garlic. No olive oil. No salt. I never tasted nothing before. Very zen.
10. House-Made Chorizo with Manchego Crujiente ($15) I didn't try this dish. Too scared by this point. Husband's take, "It was a ground meat patty, not a sausage and it tasted burnt."
My husband and I did enjoy an overpriced quorto (1.3333333 glasses) of a lovely Forjas del Salnés Leirana 2008 Rias Baixas Albariño for a whopping $25.
Finally, it was over.
I have never been so relieved, with the exception of Passover Seders hosted by Orthodox relatives, to have been done with a meal.
We tumbled out into the street and caught the first cab for Rice to Riches for some comfort food dessert, and were washed clean of the remnants of WD 40.
Casa Mono is not for people who like to eat good food, in a comfortable setting, that was prepared by people who care about it and you. I'm not sure who it's for. Certainly not anyone who loves Spain.