POSTED ON OCTOBER 31, 2012:
A Trip Way South
Venturing into eastside Venezuelan cuisine
At only a year-and-a-half old, Casanova's is one of Tulsa's newer restaurants. It's also the only one that serves Venezuelan cuisine. Before this review, I had never eaten Venezuelan food and had no idea what to expect. It wasn't half bad!
The a la carte menu means you can get any combination of food you want. (I actually ate a main course then ordered an appetizer.) If you're hungry and want to eat American-style (that is, too much), this may not be the place for you because none of the meals come with sides. It's also a tad expensive for the portions if you get more than one item.
On the other hand, if you're going out for a quick lunch, Casanova's is a tasty and filling option at a reasonable price. For a sandwich and a soft drink, you can expect to spend less than $10.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Venezuelan iced tea. It came in a small, Styrofoam cup about a quarter of the size of the tumbler I was expecting. I quickly found out why. Venezuelan iced tea is very sour lemonade mixed with brown sugar (so it looks like American iced tea). I puckered up big after that first sip. It definitely took some getting used to. I didn't like it at all for the first half. By the end I thought it was okay. I'm glad I tried it, though I didn't get a refill. If you're up for an adventure, get the Venezuelan iced tea.
The food was like a combination of Hispanic and Philadelphia Italian. I ate a pepito, which is basically a hoagie with beef prepared in a way similar to Italian sausage. It was topped with a somewhat bland salad. The standout part of the sandwich was definitely the beef. I never figured out the seasoning, but it was cooked so that it popped in your mouth. I really enjoyed it.
Realizing I was still hungry, I ordered some tequeños, which were described on the menu as Venezuelan cheese sticks. They were the highlight of the meal. Fresh cooked, they took some time to cool, but were worth it in the end. Tequeños at Casanova's are fried, sweet bread surrounding melted mozzarella cheese. The cheese stretched splendidly as I bit into the tequeño; it reminded me of when I was 10 and tried calzone for the first time (cut me some slack -- I'm from Choctaw County). The next time I visit, tequeños will be the first thing I order.
You go to Casanova's for the food, not for the atmosphere. There are maybe six tables in the whole space. It's a small restaurant; the kitchen covers as much floor space as the dining area.
A map of Venezuela adorns the wall, along with a ukulele and a small guitar. The restaurant was very quiet while I was there. It would be a good place for a business meeting or just to go for some quiet reading as you eat.
Casanova's is tucked into a shopping center on 31st just west of Garnett. Because the food is great for lunch while the dining room is nothing to write home about, Casanova's may be a place that would benefit from finding a facility with a drive-through window. Non-chain fast food is hard to find in this town, and Casanova's could be the type of place where it could thrive.
The service was great if you speak Spanish. While I was there, various folks came in, having rapid conversations that my five years of Latin did not help me understand.
I have to give Edgar Casanova -- the owner -- credit for a valiant effort at a bilingual interview. Casanova is a native of San Juan de Colon, a medium-sized town in Estado Tachira in western Venezuela. He came to the United States 12 years ago. Casanova worked in insurance for 25 years when he decided to fill a hole in the local restaurant scene -- his is the first Venezuelan restaurant in T-Town.
Casanova is a short, friendly man who takes great pride in his food. He spent most of his time in the kitchen, adding seasoning to a soup and things like that. Despite the language barrier, he described the ingredients and his dishes: he spent a great deal of energy telling me he uses a patacon plantain -- and not any other plantain -- to make his cachapas, which are similar to omelets.
I enjoyed my time at Casanova's and look forward to going back. In theory, it's easy to get to -- being right off Highway 169 -- but its position in a shopping center with no drive-through will probably hold back growth. Hopefully, it will be able to get a freestanding building at some point in the future.
Despite this, I recommend Casanova's as a place to eat lunch or an early dinner before a night on the town. Even if you have to get some place downtown or in south Tulsa, Casanova's is a quick jump on the highway from where you have to be. If you want authentic Venezuelan food fast and a la carte, I will see you at Casanova's.
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