The Old House Gastropub
The English are here
So what the hell is a gastropub? I hear the term at least once a day lately—I've even begun to use it myself. But I’m sure some of you would like a clear definition. In a nutshell, it describes British pubs that have taken it upon themselves to serve bar food that goes beyond hot wings and extreme nachos. What that translates to is restaurant-quality food in a place you’d normally reserve for picking up the drunkest tube top-wearing barfly who can still legally give consent. Something about the idea speaks to my very soul.
The Old House Gastropub, formerly Casa Vieja, is a few steps above that. A sprawling hacienda, OH has a decidedly homey feel. Spacious and cozy at the same time, with dining rooms and bar cleanly separated, it feels like an upwardly mobile relative’s crib.
The menu certainly surpasses usual watering-hole fare. With buffalo, yak, ostrich and kangaroo, the local zoo and some less adventurous local diners may approach OH with some apprehension. Too bad for them.
Continuing the homey feel is the proprietor, Rebecca Carter, who herself hails from across the pond. Waiting tables, manning the kitchen and just checking up on diners may keep her busy, but she seems to take a personal and almost motherly interest in her customers. She’s gentle and pleasant like the better female characters in British literature. And her accent makes you want to engage her in conversation.
Back to the menu. It’s a goddamn menagerie. It’s almost like eating at The Explorers Club. Though the only thing I hadn’t tried previously was yak, I’d never seen all these furry creatures on one menu. There’s also duck, wild boar, seafood and the expected farm friends. It’s a pretty far-reaching menu that may reach too far.
With such a huge and varied menu, initially it may be difficult to discern a theme or tie that binds it all together. It seems the focus is mainly on serving unusual proteins classically. By that standard, Carter definitely has a good thing going.
Tenderloin kangaroo medallions had enormous flavor and could’ve easily passed for steak on the plate of an unsuspecting diner. A red-wine reduction brought simplicity and its own powerhouse flavor to the table. If you order it, stick with rare or medium-rare. Beyond that, the lean meat can become tough and dry.
An ostrich fillet almost fared as well, and most will disagree with my one complaint: truffle oil. People, there’s no truffle in truffle oil; it’s made in a lab. Without it, the mushroom jus served alongside would have been just as good.
Yak rib eye was pretty damn tasty. Glazed with strawberry and peach liqueur, the meat itself had a slightly sweet taste. I was amazed by its leanness, considering rib eye is typically a very fatty cut. Though it lacked the substantial amount of marbling seen in beef, it still displayed melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.
Back to the menu. It’s a goddamn menagerie.
For sides, Carter offers some old-school favorites. Mashed potatoes were an even blend of pureed potato and soft chunks. Though the promised chives were somewhat underwhelming, the potatoes were so buttery, I got over it. The braised romaine was totally unexpected. The leaves retained their shape and color nicely while the lettuce ribs took on an al dente texture. Though it tasted very similar to uncooked romaine, the change in texture made it seem like a new vegetable.
At brunch I ordered a traditional English breakfast. Don’t try it unless you’re very, very hungry. Two eggs, two rashers of bacon, wild boar sausage, beans, sautéed mushrooms, fried potatoes and an English muffin with Midori jam could’ve fed a small village. The sausage was a bit heavy for the dish, but still yummy and spicy. The northern beans tasted like canned pork-and-beans—but kinda in a good, comfort-food sort of way. Everything else was equally comforting, except the bacon. You remember What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and the line “Nobody wants greasy, floppy bacon”? This was the floppiest bacon I have ever come across. That may be how it works in the U.K., but soggy bacon doesn’t cut it in the U.S. of A. I had to eat it with a knife and fork.
The service was excruciatingly slow on my dinner visit. There were more staff than customers, but I hardly saw them. They didn’t even give me a chance to order dessert, just dumped the check on the table and walked away. Brunch was better with Carter herself ferrying out dishes and pouring coffee.
The Old House is charming and comforting. A bookshelf in the bar offers lone diners something to occupy themselves with, and Carter enjoys doting as much as she does cooking. It’s more restaurant than pub, and dinner on the patio on a cool Corrales evening couldn’t be further from the loud music and sticky floors commonly associated with bars stateside.