It’s been a little while since I’ve eaten at the famed Columbia Restaurant. However, over the weekend we headed out to the Pier for a little respite and ended up there. The view, as always, is spectacular, surrounded by open water on three sides and it was a beautiful day.
The first thing I noticed was the upturn in the level of service compared to some of my visits there months ago. Our server was very attentive and I noticed the other tables around us (with other servers) were getting a short lesson on the history of the Columbia and the origin of some of the dishes. Good stuff.
We ordered the Devil Crab Croquettes as a starter and I was a little skeptical since the last time I had them (at another Columbia location quite a while ago) they were more cracker crumb and less crab. I was so happy when I tried a bite and it was exactly as it should be. They were filled with crab and deep-fried to perfection. The fryer was hot enough that they were not greasy. They were perfectly crispy on the outside. I added a little of their hot sauce, which has a small kick but is not over-the-top spicy, and I was in heaven. It was a Florida regional dish at its finest.
For my entree, I ordered the Mariscos Diablo, a dish that comes from the Mexican term, mariscos (which refers to a blend of shellfish) and has some Italian influences. We also ordered the Chicken Salteado (salteado is a Spanish word which means sauteed).The diablo was brimming with huge Panamanian shrimp, crab, mussels, clams, scallops and lobster over a bed of slightly spicy linguine. The shrimp, mussels and clams were tender, the scallops were the smaller bay scallops and very tasty. The lobster could have been cooked a little less, but added a sweet seafood component to the dish and the pasta had that tender, slightly al dente bite to it.
The Chicken Salteado is a sauteed combination of olive oil, onions, green peppers, garlic, mushrooms and chorizo with a little wine added and some yellow rice on the side. The rice was the way it used to be. It was not clumpy and overcooked with that pale, yellow color you sadly see in so many Latin-inspired restaurants these days. It was a deeper, orange-yellow (presumably from saffron) and was the perfect consistency. The taste of that rice really took me back and made my whole day.
It was a very pleasant meal, and I can’t wait to go back and try more of their old-world dishes renewed. I cannot convey how happy I am the original Columbia cooking that made our Tampa Bay region so unique seems to be getting back to its roots.