A Dream Becoming a Delicious Reality
There’s something amazing and wonderful happening at Casa Vieja, a new restaurant housed in a 300-year-old adobe in the farming village of Corrales, in the rural outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Not long ago, newlyweds Chef Josh Gerwin and Sommelier Kate Gerwin bought the historic building with a dream — to build a top-notch restaurant featuring sustainably-grown, fresh, local ingredients with a New Mexican twist. And they’re accomplishing their dream with spectacular results.
The Gerwins come with impressive credentials. Chef Josh, a standout at the New England Culinary Institute, where he earned the Golden Tong Award for Best Savory Chef in his class, studied under a number of influential chefs, including Todd Humphries, Kelly McCown, Christopher Gross, and Gregory Casale. Before opening Casa Vieja, Josh was Sous Chef at the award winning, Five Diamond Fairmont Princess Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. New Mexico’s Weekly Alibi recently named Josh Best Chef. And he’s living up to that title.
Wine expert Kate is a certified sommelier from the International Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine from the Society of Wine Educators, and is one of the few who hold an Expert Diplome es Vins de Bordeaux awarded by the Consiel Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux. She studied wine and worked at a number of top wineries, including Flora Springs, Quivera Vineyards, Chalk Hill Winery, and Helen Turley & Associates. She specializes in finding distinctive — and affordable — wines that pair perfectly with the Casa Vieja dishes.
And the dishes are something special. Chef Josh makes everything fresh. That means every sauce, every vegetable, every side dish, and every entrée is made in-the-moment for each customer. One of his biggest challenges, he says, since coming to New Mexico, has been finding kitchen staff that understand his vision. Some young chefs he’s hired have tried to convince him that making a big pot of mashed potatoes and keeping them warm on a steam table rather than making them fresh by the plate would streamline his kitchen. Was Josh interested? Not so much.
He’s had an equally challenging time convincing local purveyors and farmers that he’ll take even small amounts of fresh, local products — and pay a fair price. “They’re starting to get it now,” he says. “They’re beginning to understand my vision and the availability of local products is getting much better for us.”
Josh’s menu changes seasonally and with what’s fresh. Also by what comes in the back door each day from local farmers and vendors. We started with an appetizer of scallop with wild mushroom. The scallop was perfectly cooked with just a hint of crispness on the outside. The wild mushroom provided an earthy contrast to the sweet scallop. Another appetizer, semolina-crusted sweetbreads were perfectly cooked with moist, tender sweetmeat encrusted with just the right amount of crispy crust.
Appetizers were followed by a tasting menu. First, a creamy mushroom soup with truffle oil that made us want to lick the bowl! Quail, served on a bed of red and white risotto with a cherry gastric and five-onion jam, was tender and mild with the toothy risotto providing a nice counterpoint. Hanger steak with Romesco sauce, sliced on the bias and served rare, had a lovely deep beefy flavor and smoky sear. The Romesco Sauce is made with local pinons (pine nuts) instead of almonds and is served with a green chili croquette. And though I’d have preferred my steak had been left on the fire just a moment longer, this tender piece of meat will leave meat lovers smiling.
Do leave room for desserts when you visit Casa Vieja. No surprise, they make all their own desserts (and fresh bread daily). We enjoyed a dessert sampler – tiny tastes of a light, chocolatey coffee mouse, a chocolate ganache truffle, a crispy-tender apple fritter dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and an incredibly creamy crème brulee with just the right amount of crispy sugar topping. If you’re a donut fan, Casa Vieja serves a retro dish of freshly fried donuts and the apple fritter that’s impossible to stop eating.
And if you get a chance, order one of their very interesting drinks before or after dinner. Casa Viejaa’s bartender was named best area bartender by Weekly Alibi, and they take mixology to a whole new level. There’s a Mulberry Cocktail, organic mulberry-infused vodka, lemon juice, and Cava sparking wine, and a Sweet Corn Cocktail with sweet corn that’s been soaked for 12 days in vodka to bring out the corn flavor served in a martini glass with a sugar-spiced rim. The folks at Casa don’t ignore those who don’t drink alcohol. They offer a couple of great selections, including Kevin’s Cocktail, a mixture of fresh-squeezed citrus juice, spearmint syrup, and mineral water, was incredibly refreshing.
Real bottom line: Casa Vieja, is a fine new player on the New Mexican culinary scene. Let’s just hope diners figure out that they’ve got a wonderful secret hidden in the old adobe and that they keep Chef Josh and wine goddess Kate happily in business for another 300 years. — BH
Casa Vieja Restaurant
4541 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico 87048