Saturday, January 30, 2010
The Columbia Restaurant - Ybor City, Tampa, FL
The Columbia in Ybor City is the original restaurant in a small, iconic Spanish chain in Florida, founded in Tampa's Ybor City by Casimiro Hernandez Sr. in 1905. While it may not be the verybest Hispanic cuisine to be had anywhere (they really have to churn out the entrees due to their popularity with locals and tourists, alike), the food is really quite good and generally consistent. The restaurant is located in Tampa's historic Latin quarter and would be worth a visit if only for its lavish retro Spanish decor, resplendant with mosaics, fountains, artwork and skylights. The Columbia consistently ranks in Florida Trend Magazine's "Top 25 Restaurants in Florida" list.
Anyway...one of us got a craving for 1905 Salad on a rainy Saturday, so (since everyone stays happier and safer when hormonal female cravings are quickly satisfied) we hopped in the car and sped to Ybor. We were seated in the Patio Dining Room, which was built to resemble a courtyard like the ones found in Andalucia (the south of Spain), and was added onto the original structure in 1937. It is surrounded by a balcony, with a colorful mosaic-tiled fountain with the "Love and the Dolphin" statue in the middle. The statue is a replica of a sculpture found in the ruins of Pompeii.
Okay...enough about history *yawn*. Let's get to the good stuff. UD and I started with an appetizer of Empanadas de Picadillo (spiced ground beef filled pastry turnovers with roasted corn and black bean salsa). I adore empanadas, and can never visit The Columbia without ordering these. The only place I've ever had better was in Buenos Aires, but these stand up pretty authentically even to those.
The spousal unit and I both decided to forego the accompanying Caesar Salad and pay the $3.95 upcharge for the famous 1905 Salad. Tossed tableside, it is comprised of crisp iceberg lettuce with julienne of baked ham, natural Swiss cheese, tomato, olives, grated Romano cheese and the Columbia's signature garlic dressing (a 100 year old family recipe of fresh garlic, oregano, wine vinegar and Spanish extra virgin olive oil). This salad was named “One of America’s Top 10 Best Salads” by the Salad Guy – Wiley Mullins in USA Today, and it really does deserve the honor. I asked our server to hold the tomatoes on mine, which she graciously did...but upon closer look, I discovered that the olives had also been inadvertently omitted. Breathe, hormonal woman....breathe! The salad (although it looks a bit wan in my photo) was delish as always...in spite of the absence of the olives...so I let it pass, dug in, and graciously decided to let everyone live.
I selected Mejillones y Chorizo “Andres” (Fresh Prince Edward Island mussels and sliced Chorizo, sauteéd and simmered with extra virgin olive oil, onions, celery, tomato, basil, spinach and garlic splashed with dry white wine and lemon). They were wonderful, and the Columbia's fabu Cuban bread was perfect for sopping up the broth. Delicioso!
Dawg opted for Snapper "Adelita" (Snapper, grilled and topped with hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and onions, and served with yellow saffron rice with pimentos and peas). He pronounced it "tasty" in spite of the fish being slightly overcooked.
For dessert, we shared an order of White Chocolate Bread Pudding, made with white chocolate and topped with a rich Bacardi Rum Sauce. Bread pudding is my favorite dessert and this is one of the best. I'm so happy they put all of that stale Cuban bread to such good use!
"In my next life, I want to be bread pudding."
Overall, it was a delightful, leisurely meal in lovely surroundings, with excellent service (service is almost always better-than-average at this Columbia) and very good food. Appetizer, two entrees with upcharge for 1905 salads, one dessert and 5 glasses of wine: $90.