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Casa Mono-Feh

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.

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  1. Hey, snarkygirl,

    As I was reading your post, I kept thinking that you have a very aptly chosen screen name! LOL! Despite the fact that I feel badly that you had such a horrible experience and I take no pleasure in that, this was a very entertaining read.

    We've been to Casa Mono twice, and totally agree with you about the *very* uncomfortable seating. The first time we were there, the hostess with the leastess tried to seat us, a party of three, at a teensy- weensy table that could barely accommodate two! When I immediately made it quite clear that that was not going to happen, Miss Sourpuss deigned to have two two-tops put together. But even then, we were shoulder-to-shoulder with the table next to us. As for music, luckily, both times the sound system was off, so no "slightly-music infused evening at runway 33R at La Guardia" for us!

    The food we've had there has been fine, so why yours turned out to be so "awe-full" is a mystery to me. I suppose one could say that sh*t happens. Unfortunately, it appears that it was served to you at Casa Mono -- in spades! :(

    1. Ugh - that does sound miserable, which I find particularly unfortunate as I love eating there and, with the exception of an occasional dish here or there that has been a misstep, we've never had a meal as disappointing as yours was.

      The seating is what it is - since we now go knowing what to expect, it no longer bothers us. Also, I've only ever gone at lunch, and the music issue may be better then. Rightly or wrongly, they always serve the plates that way and, again, knowing that they do, we sometimes have a discussion with the waitress about trying to pace things a bit for us.

      I do hope that you had other meals that were wonderful in New York! And, what a wonderfully written review!

      1. "Very Zen." Ha! Funny. I've only heard good things about the food at Casa Mono, though I've never been there myself. Very sorry to hear that you had bad food there. Regardless of Sunday/Monday, if the food is as bad as they say, the restaurant should be ashamed of itself. Sounds like someone phoned it in on the night you were there.

        My biggest, hugest pet peeve in a restaurant is having my chair kicked by staff every 30 seconds. Okay... there are probably worse pet peeves, but that's the one that sets my teeth on edge after the 100th time.

        1 Reply
        1. re: egit

          It just occurs to me that whenever we eat there, I've always sat at a table on the perimeter, facing the inside of the room, so I've never been bumped. Guess that means my husband and brother-in-law have been bumped a lot!

        2. With regards to your issue about your chair being bumped, at some point you’ll just have to either give up on, or give in to, popular NYC restaurants with tight seating and table spacing. I can name quite a few more restaurants here that are popular, be it for the good food or just by being trendy, where you’ll definitely be bumped by wait staff or other customers

          I have also been bumped at times at CM, either by the staff or by other customers.. However, as the bumpee, I had always let the bumper know about my being bumped and the issue almost always subsided.

          Regarding your comparison about Spain and Casa Mono, I too love Spain and have had more than sufficient dining experiences there to declare that Casa Mono and “loving Spain” are 2 different things. I simply like Casa Mono for their very good Spanish-themed tapas-like dishes and fine list of Spanish wines (easily one of the most robust in the country today). It would be extremely difficult for CM, or any other restaurant here, to replicate tapas or similar dishes that San Sebastian or Barcelona, the 2 cities that I consider as producing the best tapas in all of Spain today,

          1. That sounds like a very bad night out. While I've had some very good meals there, it's been about six months now, and I can only hope you got them on an off night.

            As one who hates eating food that was hot about 5 minutes ago, the timing issue is the one that bothers me most about your experience because it's such a clear sign of staff not paying attention.

            Thanks for letting us know, I'd be interested to hear from others who have been there in the past few months to see if this was a bad night or if your experience represents a downward trend in the quality of food and service.

            1. Hilarious review! I can't say I go there often, but part of the reason why is that my last meal there didn't really cut it, either. I think it is probably the worst Batali restaurant in NYC. I would say "the worst in America" but I have had the distinctly horrifying experience of eating at B&B in Vegas. Too bad, because I find his quality control other than at these two to be pretty darn good.

              1. i have to disagree with a lot of the negative reviews here. i have always found the food there excellent. and i'm not really a mario batali fan. i don't particularly like babbo. complaining about a restaurant being cramped in nyc is like complaining about times square being crowded. there are dozens of good restaurants here there are much more cramped. graffiti and tia pol come to mind.

                7 Replies
                1. re: shane

                  I don't think there are actually a lot of negative reviews here - I've consistently had excellent meals at Casa Mono. But, I'm always glad to read other points of view and/or other experiences, since it's always possible that a place has either gone downhill or had an off night.

                  1. re: shane

                    You know, I just don't buy the "you're from out of town and don't understand bumping."

                    I'm FROM NYC. I grew up here. I lived here most of my life. I'm almost 50. All of my family is still here. I'm here fairly frequently. I GET NYC dining out in all of it's forms. I cut my teeth on NUC dining out in all of its forms. It's not like I've only eaten in places that give you your own zip code. Jeez. Puh-leese. I was NOT born yesterday people. I was born in 1960.

                    I have NEVER noticed being bumped before. Never. Anywhere. No matter how small the tiny dining room, including the tiniest Chinese restaurants in San Francisco (House of Nanking comes to mind) where you sit on the lap of the person who is siitting on the lap of the person who is sitting on the chair.

                    And that's not to say I haven't BEEN bumped before. It was just reasonable bumping. Not noticeable bumping. Not in NYC (including Baboo). Not in San Francisco. Not in Europe. Not in Asia. Look forward to being bumped in Africa and South America and will report back when I go.

                    This was specific intent bumping. Not your average "crowded-bump." This was malice-aforethought bumping. Passive-aggression cum bumping. Head-butt bumping. Bad dog bumping. "YOU are the problem" alpha-dog bumping.

                    I've been on WeightWatchers faithfully since December 2001. I am not bump-worthy.

                    As far as the "this is a version of Spain, not Spain" argument goes, I'm sorry, but again, I'm just not buying it. We've had the "version of Spain in Boston. In San Francisco. In friggin' Japan for chrissakes. Casa Mono was BAD FOOD, not a version of Spanish food.

                    1. re: snarkygirl

                      Oddly enough, I went to Casa Mono (for the first time) this weekend as well, and we really enjoyed our meal, though it was ridiculously overpriced.

                      The only overlap we had with your ordering came with the heirloom tomato dish, which was actually fantastic for us. I can see how the boquerones (yes, only two of them) were a disappointment, but the tomatoes were phenomenal (not $16 phenomenal though). We too had one small unripe green tomato in the mix, which I thought gave an interesting textural contrast. We also had the piquillo peppers stuffed with oxtail (awesome), the cocks combs (good but too rich), the duck egg with mojama (great), the sepia a la plancha (simple flavors but nice), and the goat confit (very good but not great -- probably the best goat I have ever had, but the rest of the dish fell flat), and shared 3 quartinos of wine (all of which were very nice).

                      But... the bill with tip was $200. For tapas. For two. Which is insane, no matter how good it was. I can go spend that on the other side of Union Square at 15 East and have freaking amazing sushi transcendence.

                      I was not bumped at all sitting at the bar, right at the corner where the servers come out from the kitchen, on a Saturday night at primetime. I thought I might be, because that happens to me ALL THE TIME in downtown NYC, but pleasantly enough, it did not. However the tables did look cramped so I can see where the bumping would happen.

                      If they slashed their menu prices in half, I'd be right back in there, at the bar, very soon. I actually liked the music too.

                      Re: Spain. I've had some great inventive (and traditional) tapas in Spain that were better than this... and a whole lot that were worse. I will concede that nothing we had at Casa Mono screamed Spain to me. But as far as comfort goes, Spanish tapas bars are about the most uncomfortable places to eat in I can think of -- constant bumping (from patrons, usually not servers), horribly uncomfortable chairs (if you get one), crazy noise levels, rampant nasty smoke everywhere... ugh. Don't romanticize it too much! I love Spain, but its NOT comfortable.

                      1. re: _emilie_

                        Isn't that mojama dish wonderful? I've tried to replicate it at home, but it's never as good.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          Interesting review. I was just there a week ago and as usual had a great meal.

                          They do rotate their crew, so I do not know who was cooking that night snarkygirl was there. I could have been a off night.

                          I had jamon a mano, razor clams, sweetbreads, duck and lamb chops.

                          I thought that if anything the food has gotten better recently.

                          My only criticism is that the dishes are too big. I would like to be able to sample more things each visit. I tell them that all the time.

                          Oh and PS, I always sit at the bar. I hate the tables.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            It is. Are you making the tuna yourself? Gosh, I would not even know where to start. Kudos for even attempting.

                            And I agree with sushiman about the portions -- more like raciones than tapas (priced to match).

                            1. re: _emilie_

                              No, I bought the mojama at Despana, but I think it wasn't as good as the one at Casa Mono - though, who knows, I guess I wouldn't be surprised if they buy theirs from Despana. I needed to work more on getting the potatoes just right as well. Hmm ... maybe I need to go back soon to do some reconaissance!

                    2. i like casa mono. been there a bunch of times. when solo, i eat at the bar. when wife meets me, we get a two-top on the south-side of the restaurant. when son shows up, we get a four-top almost out on the sidewalk. food is good, wines are exceptional. lately, i've taken to standing at the bar at bar jamon (little place next door owned by the same folk) after a day game at yankee stadium. i swill some cava and eat some ham. it's all good.