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Restaurant Review: Casa Mono in Gramercy Park

Casa Mono has a lot to answer for. Founded by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in 2003, it was among the earliest and most influential restaurants to twist the Spanish tapas idiom into what New Yorkers learned to call small-plates dining. The Casa Mono style has spread far and wide, leaving in its wake a trail of cluttered tables, unpredictably sequenced dishes, and diners reduced to asking pathetically, “Will that be enough food?”
All of this might earn Casa Mono the historical notoriety bestowed on early tremors of annoying or inconvenient trends, like the first spam email, if it weren’t the case that almost everyone agrees that Casa Mono has always been very good. To that I’ll add a contention of my own. The pleasures of eating there are both richer and more varied than in 2004, when this tiny, perpetually crowded restaurant was last reviewed in The New York Times. (Marian Burros gave it two stars.)
Andy Nusser, the executive chef and an owner, kept the
tapas fairly uncomplicated in the early days. Roasted piquillo peppers filled with juicy braised oxtail were on the menu then, are there now, and probably will be forever. The seared skirt steak, served with sweet stewed onions and a romesco that crunches with coarsely chopped almonds, is still one of the most elementally satisfying one-course meals near Union Square. It’s even better if you eat it alone at the bar, which may be your only option on those nights when reservations are impossible.

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