Since a change at work at the end of last year, I am now in Columbia, South Carolina three days a week, allowing me plenty of time to explore their food scene. Unfortunately I think Columbia has a long way to go, especially compared to Charleston and Greenville, which are both vastly superior in terms of cuisine and weather.
Of course, there are gems, my favorite being Terra just across the bridge from the Vista (downtown). I probably visit once a week. Chef Mike Davis is young, creative, and recently had the honor of cooking at the James Beard house. The menu has some mainstays, but the specials are often the way to go. On a recent visit they were trying out some bar snacks, including lobster “corn dogs”. This was fresh lobster, fried on a stick, with a tempura like texture. It was a little gooey from being undercooked, but showed potential and was a fun attempt, and was worth ordering at $7.
I often end up ordering the wood fired pizzas, as they are too hard to pass up at $10. The pizzas are super thin, very much like Sardinian flat bread, with great toppings. The duck confit and port soaked cherries is my personal favorite, though the carnitas is a close second.
The frisee lardon is also a common order of mine – rich chewy Benton’s bacon, mushrooms, and a poached egg soaked in jus. Sinful and delicious.
Last week I tried the veal hangar steak with risotto. Perfectly cooked veal, wonderful al dente risotto with little cubes of roasted butternut squash, and once again, a good value at $20.
I don’t have a picture of another dish I like, but Terra commonly offers a skate wing appetizer, which is three medium sized pieces of fried skate, with celery root mash, and hericot verts for $8.
On another trip, I ventured towards the east side of Columbia, near the military base, where the best ethnic food can be found. The ladies at Mai Thai near my office, who often day dream about how good the Korean and Chinese food is in Atlanta, sent me over to Pho Viet when I told them I was seeking pho.
Compared to my first pho mission in Columbia, this was stellar, but I’m slowly learning just how good we have it in Atlanta. The broth was decent, though the ribeye wasn’t thin enough, and the brisket was tough and too lean. The omission of Thai basil was also disappointing, I love that stuff.
Last week I decided to seek out tonkotsu ramen. I found it at Inakaya. This was edible, but my heart sank as I realized that this was no Haru Ichiban or Yakitori Jenbei. The broth was too salty and was too thin, and the pork was a major let down. Rather than the thin slice of fatty, falling apart pork, these were three little pieces of tough pork, maybe small slices of roast loin.
The adventure of finding great food in Columbia has been a lot of fun, and as mentioned, only reinforces how good the food is in Atlanta, particularly ethnic food. Terra can be slightly inconsistent in execution, but I think it’s the best food in Columbia, with prices which beat anywhere of comparable quality in Atlanta. They also has a wide wine selection with fair prices.
I’m sure there are other “finds” in Columbia, and my plan is to try them all.