Casa Vasca abides by the long-established norm for an Iberian restaurant in Newark's Ironbound: half the place is a bar full of local's who have been coming for decades, and the other half is a restaurant with white tablecloths and stiff, hurried service. We brought a group of four on this evening, so my normal choice of bar seating did not make as much sense for the meal. True to form, our chairs were still being adjusted underneath as we sat and the waiter stood at the table, pen ready, and asked what we wanted.
On his second visit maybe a minute later, a pitcher of red sangria was ordered, giving the man something to do.
The vast majority of Basque peoples from both Spanish and French regions have settled in the northwest, in northern California and Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. My mother has lived near Reno for the past 15 years, one of the Basque population centers, giving me the opportunity to visit their wonderful restaurants with family style meals.
Despite having small groups in Brooklyn and Newark's Ironbound, the presence here on the east coast is very small, and the restaurants reflect this with their portioning. Entrees are large, but the family size atmosphere never translates. Four top tables make up the dining room, while out west any Basque restaurant will be made up of cafeteria-type tables and groups can fill them up. It is standard practice for any couples to sit at two free seats and share bread and soup with large groups that have already been served. You end up making friends quite quickly.
After ordering, everyone is served the soup of the day
If there was a mistake made in the selection process, it may have been not steering more towards the seafood portions of the menu. Our best dish was the bacalao a la Flamenca ($19, below), a grilled salt cod with garlic sauce. A full section of the menu is dedicated to fish and seafood, with different types of whole fish preparations and seafood paellas available.
The pollo al ajillo ($14, below) is truly a Basque taste, with the excellent garlic sauce dressed over small on the bone chunks of chicken. Unfortunately even with all the sauce, the chicken was extra dry and did not allow for much enjoyment. Tried again with tender chicken, this dish could be divine.
Casa Vasca does not stick strictly to a Basque menu, offering a wide array of Spanish dishes from around the country. Don't feel shy to come here on your own and sit at the bar, linger for a few drinks, and have a dish solo.