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COLOMBIA VIA VAN NUYS OIGA, MIRE, VEA INVITES ADVENTUROUS EATERS TO OPEN THEIR SENSES TO NATION'S ROBUST CUISINE.

Byline: Larry Lipson Restaurant Critic

THE OPENING of a second location in Van Nuys of a Colombian restaurant from Las Vegas suggests a great deal of success has been enjoyed by the Gambletown original.

The No. 2 branch of Oiga, Mire, Vea sits on busy Victory Boulevard in Van Nuys, the prominent facility in a small huddle of stores where Van Nuys ends and Valley Glen begins.

Loosely translated as ``Listen, Look, See,'' Oiga, Mire, Vea is an inexpensive, no-frills cafe purveying large portions of robust Colombian food that'll fill you up while calorie counts and cholesterol measurements zoom.

But some of the more inviting items on the menu are not always available. One day there were no pasteles de yuca ($1.25 each), cassava flour turnovers stuffed with ground beef and spices.

One excuse was that the person who provided them had gone to Colombia. And no, it wasn't exactly clear when she would return.

Neither were papas rellenas ($1), meat-stuffed potatoes, or a tamales plate ($5.99) on hand. Evidently they had run out. ``We'll have them on Sunday,'' was the answer.

And this was only Wednesday.

But at least there's no shortage of Colombian-style empanadas ($1 each), which are smaller than the more familiar Argentine ones. They arrive deep-fried but not oily, quite tasty little tidbits stuffed with chopped meat and potato, delivered with a separate container of a zingy green aji dipping salsa.

Also worth trying from the entrada (starter) offerings is the spherical ``round bread,'' here called bunuelos ($1 each). These turn out to be small bread balls fashioned from white corn flour, flavored with a hint of cheese.

Most of the remaining starter possibilities can be had as part of an entree choice.

This is particularly true of the bandeja paisa main course ($9.99), which showcases samples of pork belly (chicharron), pork sausage (chorizo), platano (fried plantain) and arepa (white corn cake).

A veritable introduction to Colombian fare from the Oiga, Mire, Vea kitchen, this dish produces a range of emotions regarding quality while it unquestionably reaps satisfaction for its quantity.

Its thin slab of grilled steak is rather dry and overcooked, although there's a suggestion of good flavor left in it.

The red beans and white rice are fine, as is the fried, sweet plantain.

And a well-fried egg sits provocatively atop the mound of white rice as an additional taste treat.

But the diminutive chorizo sausage has been cooked to death and tastelessness. And the pork bellies are merely passable.

Again, the good news is, you can leave both of them after a bite or two and still have plenty to eat.

My favorite plate here though, won't be a favorite to many. It's the lengua (beef tongue, $7.99) with a ``Creole sauce.''

The ``sauce'' emerges as a full-flavored, turmeric yellow-hued mix of mostly onions and tomatoes with possibly a sweet pepper boost.

The slices of tongue are lovely and tender, and there's a mix of potato and yuca along with the usual accompaniments of an arepa corn cake, a mound of rice and sweet fried banana quarters.

What else is good? How about a filling, meal-size bowl of soup?

Chicken, oxtail and tripe versions ($5.99 each) can be had, my first choice being the ajiaco bowl termed ``hen stew.'' This reveals torrents of flavor in a bowl with both regular and yellow potatoes floating in it, plus pieces of chicken and a half-cob of corn. On the side are sour cream and capers to add as desired. They definitely bolster the bowl's enjoyment.

Some of the dishes here are augmented by a salad, usually of julienned cabbage topped with a slice or two of cucumber and tomato.

One of these that deserves attention is the gratifying house rendition of arroz con pollo (rice and chicken, $5.99), here a nifty, tasty melange of yellow-toned rice, vegetables and chicken flanked by sweet banana and served with the ever-present arepa.

Other than a platter called picada ($15.99) that seemingly has bits of everything on it, the most expensive item in the house is the ribeye steak with chimichurri and salad ($11.99).

Ask for the steak rare and you'll probably receive it medium rare. This kitchen obviously has an aversion to undercooking anything. Requested medium rare, it came up more medium one day, and though as steaks go it didn't warrant raves, for this price one really can't complain.

End with a small rectangle of white cheese topped with guava ($1) called bocadillo con queso, or the sweet boiled milk and sugar concoction titled oblea con arequipe ($1.50) and perhaps you, too, will listen, look and see better, fueled no doubt by a similar Colombian gustation.

OIGA, MIRE, VEA

Food: Two and one half stars. Service: Two stars.

Where: 14038 1/2 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys.

Hours: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Recommended items: Empanadas, bunuelos, ajiaco soup, beef tongue in Creole sauce, arroz con pollo, oblea con arequipe, bocadillo con queso.

How much: Starters from $1 to $5, soups and entrees from $6 to $16, desserts from $1 to $1.50.

Wine list: No list, just a house white by the glass ($3) or half-carafe ($4.50) and red ($3 by the glass and $8 a carafe). Colombian bottled beers (Club Colombia and Aguila) are $3 each.

Reservations: Taken. Call (818) 902-0892.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2) At Oiga, Mire, Vea, the rice on the bandeja paisa plate, top, is topped by a fried egg. The empanadas, above, are deep-fried yet not oily.

Phil McCarten/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Review; U
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 6, 2002
Words:942
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