Day of the Week: Christmas Day (Wednesday)
Total Bill: $363.00 (before tip)
Breakdown: 4 starters, 5 salads, 1 soup, 7 mains, 4 desserts, 3 coffees, 2 beers, 2 pitchers of Sangria, 3 sodas/iced teas
Pros: Historic restaurant, excellent food, fabulous service.
Verdict: A stellar Christmas experience.
I haven’t gone out on Christmas Day in ages. The last time I did was probably when a friend and I took our moms to Disney for Christmas (about eight years ago). But our plans got a little topsy-turvy this year and we ended up in Tampa for the holiday (instead of Orlando, like the last six years) and decided going on to dinner on Christmas sounded nice. Not a lot of places are open Christmas Day, and a lot of the ones that are open are quite pricy. We all finally agreed on the Columbia in Ybor.
Our reservation was for 6 PM. We got there a little before 5:30 and found the entrance of the restaurant packed. We went to the bar for drinks … and found it pleasantly empty. Not sure why everyone was crowded around the hostess stand! Several of us started with a pitcher of their imported sangria ($21, definitely worth the upgrade from the house sangria, which is $19.95), while my father-in-law had a draft Estrella Damm ($5.75) and my mother-in-law had a dirty martini.
Not too long after 6 we were seated at a corner table in the center room that looks like a courtyard. We were very pleased with our table because, 1) it was round (there were seven of us, which makes conversation at a rectangular table basically impossible) and 2) it was in a corner. The restaurant was PACKED, so people whose tables were along walkways were probably feeling quite crowded, what with people constantly walking behind them and probably bumping into their chairs. Kali greeted us very quickly.
Hubby ordered tapas for the table as starters. We had the champinones rellenos (“Baked Silver Dollar mushrooms stuffed with baby spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic and cheese. Drizzled with olive oil and lemon,” $8.95), croquetas de pollo ($7.95), stuffed piquillo peppers ($7.95), and coca de langosta (“Coca, the Catalonian flatbread, is brushed with our 1905 sauce, topped with Spanish chorizo, diced vine-ripe tomatoes, Maine lobster meat and Manchego cheese. Baked until crisp, drizzled with Piquillo pepper alioli.,” $10.95). Five of us ordered the 1905 salad ($4.95 with entrée) and one person had a cup of caldo gallego soup ($3.95).
All of the tapas were amazing. The mushrooms were huge. Hubby doesn’t really eat spinach or artichoke hearts but he loved them anyway. The flatbread was not what you usually see at a Cuban or Spanish restaurant and it was a great change of pace. If you’ve never had a 1905 salad, and you like olives, go get one tonight! This is one of my favorite salads in Tampa. I also tried a bite of the soup, which was perfectly seasoned.
Columbia had a couple of Christmas specials that showcased traditional Cuban holiday favorites. One was roasted pork with rice and black beans, fried plantains, and some form of yucca, for $21.95. My mother and mother-in-law both had that. I didn’t try it but it looked delicious. I thought it was nice they had something Christmas-y but authentic.
I had the merluza a la Rusa (“Created by Francisco Pijuan, Columbia’s famous chef and former chef to King Alfonso XIII. Premium Atlantic Merluza, Spain’s favorite fish. Breaded with Cuban bread crumbs and grilled. Garnished with a Russian sauce of lemon butter, parsley and hard-boiled eggs. Served with yellow rice and vegetables.,” $21). I love the a la Rusa style because it’s a light, delicate flavor that doesn’t overpower fish. I had not had merluza before and I really liked it. Very mild and flaky. I’m not even a fish eater as a rule.
More drinks were ordered throughout the evening (a pitcher of the house sangria by accident, more Estrella Damm, another pitcher of the imported sangria). I stuck to iced tea because I was the designated driver (don’t feel bad for me – I got kind of drunk Christmas Eve night, oops).
Despite being stuffed, several of us went for dessert. I had key lime pie ($6.95), which I don’t usually eat but it was very appetizing after a rich meal. The pie is served with their house-made guava sauce that is TO DIE FOR. The pie is delicious on its own (it’s a legitimate key lime custard made there) but the sauce really seals the deal. I also had a coffee ($2.95).
Hubby had the churros tres amigos ($5.95), which come with three sauces (guava, caramel, and chocolate). Hubby was practically eating the guava sauce with a spoon. My mom, MIL, and friend shared the famous white chocolate bread pudding ($8.95 for a piece big enough for at least four people). I took a bite and it was delicious, but very rich. Another friend had flan ($5.95), which I did not get to try. I assume that’s because he ate it all and did not want to share. He also had a café con leche ($3.95) that he seemed to enjoy quite a bit.
Throughout our meal, Kali was a real superstar. The restaurant was quite overwhelmed. They ran out of water pitchers, butter for the bread (???), dessert menus…but Kali kept it together without ever seeming the least bit put out. We consistently had water, drinks, and fresh bread. She even wrote a nice big “Merry Christmas!” on our receipt. Yes, service was a little slower than it should be on a regular night. But half of Tampa must have been through Columbia that night, so I’m going to cut them some slack.
So, bottom line: they did such a great job on a HOLIDAY NIGHT that none of us could find flaw and all of us want to go back. That’s an accomplishment.