Celebrity chef Mario Batali has added a new restaurant and wine bar to his collection of Manhattan eateries. Until now, Batali's battalion -- Babbo, Lupa, Esca and Otto -- has consisted of two-syllable Italian temples. This time, he and chef-partner Andy Nusser are exploring Spanish comida y vino at Casa Mono and Bar Jamón, just north of Union Square.
What's unique about both of these casual restaurants is their communal Spanish-only wine and Sherry list, which features about 160 selections, 20 by the cuarto (one-third of a bottle). The list is divided geographically, with a strong emphasis on food-friendly Tempranillo-based blends. Most bottles are younger, modern-style wines (read: more oak and concentrated fruit), but wine director Erika Ernest plans on adding older, more elegant vintages. Bottle prices range from $21 to $500, with plenty of selections in the $30 range. Cuartos range from $8 for the simple, fruity Bodegas Pucho Mencia Bierzo 2002 to $25 for the more balanced Bodegas Fernando Remírez de Ganuza Rioja Riserva 1996 (88 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale).
Ernest expects to help customers navigate unfamiliar regions and producers. "A lot of people don't recognize anything on the list, so it's fun to teach them about Spanish wine," she said.
Ernest will also help match dishes up with the Sherry list, which is about 10 selections long ($6 to $15 per cuarto) and growing. "I want people to get comfortable with Sherry and drinking it with their meal," she said. There are plenty of light, dry Sherries such as the Emilio Lustau Fino Jerez Jarana Solera Riserva to pair with saltier tapas such as the popular fried duck egg with baby potatoes and mojama, a salt-cured tuna. On the richer side is the Lustau Palo Cortado Jerez Peninsula Solera Riserva, which smells like an amontillado Sherry but tastes like an oloroso.
Fans of Batali's Italian ventures will recognize his influence on the menu at the often-crowded 40-seat Casa Mono ("monkey house"), with its dedication to authenticity and the best obtainable ingredients. Diners can belly up to the bar and watch former Babbo chef Nusser -- who went to high school in Spain, as did Batali -- send out a battery of small plates, which are more miniature entrées than tapas.
The small-plate menu makes sharing easy, and the staff recommends three or four dishes per person for dinner. Starters ($3 to $9) include serrano ham, creamy pumpkin and goat cheese croquetas and fried anchovies. The more substantial platos ($10 to $15), some rarely seen outside of Spain, include cock's combs with green chiles, oxtail-stuffed pequillo peppers, lamb chops with preserved lemon and scallops with cava and chorizo. There are also vegetables a la plancha -- seared on a griddle with extra-virgin olive oil. Desserts ($6) such as plum brandy ice cream with arrope (concentrated grape must with pumpkin) and almonds pair nicely with a copita of the sweet, full-bodied Lustau Jerez Tintilla de Rota, made from pre-phylloxera vines.
Next door to Casa Mono is Bar Jamón ("ham bar"), a tiny 20-seat wine and tapas bar that serves a variety of wine-friendly finger foods such as smoked mackerel with Muscat grapes, cold lentil salad with pickled pigeon and a sampling of aged hams and Spanish cheeses.
Both establishments are open every day for lunch and dinner, but Bar Jamón stays open all day and into the night (until 2 a.m.) and will soon be open for breakfast, specializing in churros and hot chocolate.
Casa Mono and Bar Jamón
125 East 17th St.
New York, NY 10003
Tel: (212) 253-2773
Hours: Casa Mono, lunch and dinner, daily; Bar Jamón, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., daily.
Read about Mario Batali's other recently opened wine bar: