Columbia SC: Terra, Pho Viet, Inakaya

February 28, 2010 · 15 comments

in dining out, out of town dining

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Terra on Urbanspoon

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.

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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.

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Pho Viet on Urbanspoon

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.

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Inakaya Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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. 

  • http://takethoufood.com Sean

    Great post. It really makes me appreciate and be thankful for what we do have in Atlanta.

    How is Columbia vs. Athens in terms of food? (although not good, at least they have a ramen joint…)

  • http://lifeafter40isgreat.blogspot.com/ Beth

    Began following you after your post about eating at the bar at Bacchanalia. I am from Columbia. Grew up there, lived there for years. And you are right — sorely lacking in the restaurant department.

    Try Mediterranean Tea Room. It used to be one of my favorites. Ristorante Divino, Motor Supply, Garibaldi’s and Saluda’s also used to be good — but again, haven’t been there in years.

    GOOD LUCK!

  • http://eatitatlanta.com jimmy

    Beth –

    Thanks for the suggestions – I have been itching to go to Motor Supply, no excuse except that I have a tough time tearing myself away from Terra.

    I checked out your site, cool to see another triathlete in the blog world! Good luck this season,

    Jimmy

  • http://moniqueslcbexperience.blogspot.com/ Monique

    I was just in Columbia recently and we ate at Motor Supply Company Bistro. It was very good. You should put it on your places to try. They serve lunch and dinner.

  • George Altman

    If you want the best sushi in Columbia try Saki’s just outside the base gate, if you haven’t done so already!

  • Mike

    Hey, we get it already. Atlanta is awesome
    and Columbia sucks. You made your point.

  • http://eatitatlanta.com jimmy

    LOL. Thanks for the comment, Mike.

  • Mdn1107

    try gervais & vine & you really need to get to the motor supply bistro. For Japanese try sushi yoshi in 5 pts across from yesterday’s. Its small but good. There is also a thai place-Thai Lotus in St. Andrews.

  • Katieoh

    Check out a little tacqueria in west columbia called tacqueria jasmine. Freaking delicious! Another cult Columbia favorite is the blue cactus in five points. Come visit cellar on greene sometime, too! I’m the manager there, we’d love to have you.

  • http://www.eatitatlanta.com jimmy

    Def dig TJ and Blue Cactus, though I get tired of the wait times (and no booze) at Blue Cactus. Baan Sawan has become my mainstay in Columbia. Love it.

    Haven’t been to cellar on greene, will get out there soon! Thanks

  • Jen

    As someone who has been to Japan, and has had the honor of her Vietnamese neighbors cooking for her, I can tell you that both places are true to their roots. Inakaya is one of the most authentic Japanese restaurants I have been to, and Pho Viet is just like Ms. Kim-Ly’s cooking. :) Sounds like you’re just spoiled on American fluffed “cuisine” to me.

  • http://www.eatitatlanta.com jimmy

    Thanks for the comment!

    I sure do love fluffed up American Japanese cuisine like nigiri and tonkotsu ramen!

  • Jinglefurt Prunx

    Solstice Kitchen and Motor Supply are great. Also, The Backyard Cafe in West Columbia is an interesting gem.

  • BRD

    Mr. Friendly’s on Greene Street in the Five Points area is one of the most consistent and reliably good restaurants in the city. I have eaten there for 17 years without ever having a disappointing meal. Columbia has a good restaurant scene — not as renowned as Charleston, certainly, but a very good selection for a town its size. And I moved here in 1992 — from Atlanta.

  • Inakaya Watanabe

    Hope you will come see us again soon. We are the new owners of Inakaya on St. Andrews. We gave all our ramen a makeover: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=485595021457231&set=pb.335316829818385.-2207520000.1349041184&type=1&theater

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