Casa Mono

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I love watching people cook. Be it some TV show on PBS, Food Network, or even my own mamita in the kitchen, I’m there watching. For this reason alone, Casa Mono, Mario Batalli’s foray into Spanish cooking, was a treat.

Mono is a small plain restaurant located on Irving Place. Rock tunes play in the background while the attentive waitstaff, dressed in crisp white shirts and black pants, stand ready to give definitions of items on the all-Spanish menu to the patrons. Besides the less than 20 small wooden tables and chairs stuffed into the space, there are two bars equipped with table settings. (You must eat at the bars. If you just want drinks, you’ll be sent over to Mono’s sister establishment, Bar Jamón next door.)

One bar faces the winery, while the other faces the open kitchen. If you have a choice, forget about the tables, and facing the winery, which, while stocked with tons of great spanish wines, is a boring ripe-off. Sit facing the chefs. Pay enough attention, and you may even learn some recipes.

Casa Mono’s menu is not extensive. There are perhaps 25 different items ranging in price of $7 for setas with garlic to $15 for some duck with cranberry mostaza. The beauty of some these dishes is their simplicity.

Sitting at the bar, facing the cooks, you can see that the razor clams a la parrilla are only seasoned with some oil, salt and pepper, grilled for a few minutes and then topped with a sauce made of oil and parsley. The mussels with cava and chorizo also took only a few minutes to prepare and smelled heavenly. Even the pumpkin and goat cheese croquetas were merely little goat cheese balls coated in a pumpkin, salt, pepper and paprika mixture that was deep fried for a few minutes and served on a bed of parsely. I was in awe. Until I got the check. I realize some of these ingredients may be pricey, but even so, I’d still be able to get a pound of razor clams at a fish market for the price of the 5 that I got. And all they used was salt, pepper and oil? And even after paying my check, I was still hungry! Que va!?

Here’s my advice to you food buffs: go to Casa Mono and sit at the bar facing the kitchen. Order a glass of wine, and then take your time deciding which tapa you want to eat. Watch the chefs carefully, eat your one tapa and then go home and cook what you learned for your friends. Your lesson will set you back about $20, but your friends will appreciate it.

Casa Mono is located at 52 Irving Pl. at 17th St.