Casa Vieja makes no compromises and has no pretensions. It is a Colombian restaurant, and it is purely, deeply Colombian. Casa Vieja doesn’t pose as a hipster hangout for those who think Mexican food is boring. Nor does it offer a page of Tex-Mex standards to cater to the masses. If you expect chips and salsa, you’ll be disappointed. There aren’t any tortilla chips. And the result is fantastic.
The way your meal starts, instead, is with two little bowls of aji. This is a type of salsa that’s mostly green onion, with vinegar and lemon juice. One variety mixes tomatoes in, while the other is slightly spicy. When we didn’t get any chips, we asked what they were for. The answer, which in hindsight was obvious: put it on your food. We put aji on our empanadas, rice, corn cakes and steaks. It works with everything.
Casa Vieja’s menu shows off the range and diversity of Colombian food. My friends and I started with empanadas, which had a crispier, less doughy texture and more golden color than the Argentinian kind. I ordered a sort of sample platter, Bandeja Paisa. (Paisa denotes a region of northwestern Colombia, in the mountains, including Medellín.) One of my friends ordered a steak served with yucca sautéed in a bright orange sauce. You can also chow down on beef tongue, grilled brisket, “Shish Kabob de Carne” and Caribbean dishes such as whole fish.
That weird grinning food object in the picture up top is fatty, juicy pork skin; then there’s a tiny link of funky curried sausage, a very thin steak, a plantain, a white corn cake, an egg sunny side up, avocado slices, and a whole bunch of devastatingly good beans.
Also, for readers on Blood Sausage Alert: Casa Vieja has morcilla, aka blood sausage. You can get it as a main course with yucca and other sides, or you can get a link on its own as a side dish. My friend Ariel was very excited about this. “I haven’t had blood sausage in years! Not since I was in Hong Kong.” I hadn’t had any since I was in Paris. We each ordered a link and, after our first bites, shared an appreciative nod. This is the good stuff.
Your dessert choice depends on how adventurous you’re feeling. Of course, you might be feeling extremely full after trying four kinds of meat, plus avocado, rice, beans and an egg. But can we tempt you with a good slice of tres leches? What about the more eccentric plate of figs stuffed with a caramel custard and served with a firm cheese that tastes like very mild feta? Yeah, it looks gross ... the figs look like jalapenos with peanut butter (I’m sorry I just made you imagine jalapenos with peanut butter ... but the taste combination is intriguing.
All this food is served in an atmosphere that couldn’t be more welcoming. The walls are decorated with paintings, icons and maps from back home. On Saturday nights, there’s a live band in the house, although this triggers a minimum $15 bill per customer. Some of the waiters speak English well, others don’t, but everyone is very friendly and can offer you advice if you need it.
One more hot tip: On the first and last Sundays of the month, Casa Vieja prepares soup specials. The first Sunday means a Caribbean seafood soup of shrimp, fish, clams and calamari with a base of coconut milk. The last Sunday’s soup involves chicken and “3 kinds of potatoes” served in a clay pot. So if you want to hang out with me on July 26, you know where to go.
Instead of wrapping up with grand pronouncements about Casa Vieja, I’ll just quote the conversation my friends and I had as we left. “We’re coming back the next Sunday they have that soup.” “I love this place.” “Your review … ‘glowing’ would be an understatement.” “It's so genuine. They are not in the hip part of town and they are just doing their own thing.” “Can we please be regulars?”