Absolutely awesome meal at Casa Mono last week.
I arrived slightly after 5:15 for an early dinner. I had the entire place to myself and elected to sit at the counter to watch the chef's work their magic. And work their magic they did. This place deserves the Michelin star it has garnered. Mario Batali amazes again.
I hadn't had anything substantial that day since I was consumed at work. So I was pretty famished as you might guess. Immediatey I was brought some of their bread that comes with olives and olive oil. When I asked for butter they said they didn't do that because they try to be as "Mediterranean" as possible. I said you don't have any butter in the entire restaurant? "No" was the response. This struck me as awkward but I just let it go and carried on. Coming in I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted but was wavering between 4 or 5 courses. Being starving, I decided on 5 courses, which sounds like a lot but the plates are tapas size for the most part.
Before I get into the food I must say that Casa Mono may be the best place for a solo diner I have experience as far as sitting at a bar/counter is concerned. It was so much fun to watch the cooks whimsically whip up every dish one after the other in lightning speed. No stone was unturned. As every dish seemed like it was ready to be sent out, it still needed a little guilding of the lily so to speak. A drizzle of this, a topping of that, some sea salt here, some greens there. Each dish came out beautifully plated and like clockwork. I seriously do not think there was a delay of more than 5 minutes between each plate. Which may be too fast for some, but I dont mind that at all. The timing was perfect. It seemed as if the cook knew as I was half way through my dish to start firing up the next. They definitely have a system here and it works perfectly. One other thing to note is my first 4 dishes were prepared by one cook, while the last one was prepared by someone else. Every course was delicious, expertly prepared, and extremely flavorful. That is a testament to the kitchen that no matter who is cooking your food it seems to be consistent.
Now onto the food. I let them decide the order to serve each dish since I figured they knew best. And it was definitely in the correct order as far as I'm concerned.
Foie gras with cinco cebollitas- This is one of their signature dishes that does not come off the menu. Boy was this great. The foie gras was a nice 3 ounce slab, cooked perfectly. Seared on the outside just enough without over cooking it and keeping the inside as moist as could be. It just melted in the mouth. It was served on a piece of bread and was complimented by five different types of onions, a sweet balsamic type sauce and I believe it was drizzled with a little truffle oil at the last second before being served. The richness of the foie combined with the sweet onions and sauce was incredible. Soft foie, crunchy onions were a great contrast in textures. A must order.
Lobster with spicy sweet potato and agua de coco- This turned out to be the least favorite for me. I LOVE lobster and sweet potato. So this was very appealing to me on paper. The plate came with a half lobster tail sitting in what I guess was supposed to be a sauce accented by sweet potato and was surrounded by bok choy and sesame seeds. Lobster was cooked very well, if not a little over. But the problem was that I did not get any sweet potato at all. And the spice didn't really hit me until the last forkfuls of the dish. It was good, but not great.
Pork belly with sunchoke puree and apple butterscotch- This was incredible The problem with some pork belly preps is its not crispy enough on the outside. Well, CM takes cares of this by completely deep frying the pork belly in 4 cubes. This sounds great, but there is a fine line when doing this as the inside could get dry. Not the case here. It was perfectly fried crispy, juicy. and was so tender and fatty inside you could easily cut it with a fork. The sunchoke puree was terrific and I could have drank a bowl of it. Sunchokes are in the artichoke family for those who are not familiar, and there were also some fresh artichokes dispered in the dish. Really a winner.
Confit goat with creamed kale and pomegranates- This was was FAVORITE dish of the night. Perhaps one of the best things I've eaten out this year. Never having goat before I was very excited to experience it. The flavor was very similar to lamb in my opinion, which I love. This goat was served as a thick block of confit goat, slow cooked in its own fat for sure, then quickly seared on the grill to develop an insanely good crust on the outside. It was set atop creamed kale which was wonderful, and a thick chunk of butternut squash. It was finally garnished with pomegranates which added a tiny bit of crunxh and sweetness. This dish was just a home run. Everything worked in harmony with each other. The goat was so succulent and only needed the slightest prick of my fork to break through it. Succulent, rich, not overly gamy but definitely distinct in taste in a great way. The creamed kale and squash were awesome as well. I strongly suggest to anyone who likes lamb and hasn't had goat before to try this dish. What a wonderful introduction for me.
By this point I was getting a tad full, but had enough room for my final course. I had been conversing with the chefs throughout the meal just saying how great everyone was and nodding in approval. They seemed to be very grateful, and were very friendly. In fact, I must say everyone was incredibly attentive and overly friendly. The service was terrific all around. After that goat dish, I didn't think the next dish could touch it. But I was wrong.... it was right on par with the goat.
Duck with butternut squash and maple syrup- Here's my problem with duck. I absolutely LOVE it when it is cooked the way I want it. A deep red rare with a skin so crispy you can almost break your teeth biting into it. I guess getting it that way is very difficult for some kitchens. Most times the duck comes to me just barely bordering pink, chewy meat, and the skin is rubbery. But not here. I specified to my waiter "extra rare please" and without hesitation he responded "black and blue"? This is not a term I have ever heard when speaking of duck. It is usually reserved for steak. Meaning seared so quickly on such a high heat that the outside is charred (black) but the inside is still left extra rare (blue). Figuring I'd give it a shot since you pretty much can't undercook meat for me, I agreed. It came out absolutely on point. A nice size portion with about 4 thick duck slices. This is without one of the best cooked duck dishes I have eaten in my life and I have had a lot of duck. Bloody rare throughout, the meat was utterly juciy and tender, and the skin was crispy as the top of creme brulee. To make the dish come full circle the maple syrup infused butternut squash puree was a lovely accompaniment. Earthy, meaty, sweet, clean. Everything I love in a dish.
I could not pass up dessert so I got the mono sundae with plum brandy ice cream, arrope and almonds topped with pedro ximenez. I must say this wasn't as stellar as the savories. The ice cream was decent, but I didn't really care for the spicy arropes which are spiced almonds. And I probably would have liked it much better without the dousing of sherry. It was just too much alcohol tasting for me. By the time I got to the end of the dessert and the ice cream melted a little bit, I felt like I was just drinking the Pedor Ximinez. Still it was a nice way to end the meal on a sweet note.
So that's it. I must say in comparison with my dinner to Torrisi a few days earlier, Casa Mono blew it out of the water. One thing to note is when I left at around 6:30 (yes the meal went that quickly), there was not an empty seat in the restaurant, counter or dining room. They hit a home run on almost every dish for me and I loved everything about the place from the atmosphere to the service. I paid about double but I enjoyed my dinner ten times more than Torrisi.
52 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003