Eating Paella At The Columbia

Eating Paella At The Columbia

The Columbia restaurant, located in Ybor City Heights in Tampa Florida, is one of those “foodie list” type destinations having been featured on multiple Food Channel shows. It’s a beautiful restaurant, with history dating back to the neighborhood’s Cuban origins. Many believe it serves up the quintessential Spanish dining experience, so we happily gave it a try.

When you sit down you’re given a big crusty loaf of bread and the drink menu. We skipped the sangria and tried the mojito instead. The bartender loudly muddles these at the bar so you know when yours is on the way.

For our first course we ordered the Cuban Black Bean soup, which isn’t really much of a soup as there’s no broth. It is a very simple dish composed of black beans on a bed of white rice with crisp white onions on top. Next we ordered the Black Bean cakes from the Tapas menu. These were incredible. They are similar to little fried dumplings that you dip in guacamole. But let’s be honest, anything fried tends to be pretty tasty anyway.

My main course consisted of the paella “a la Valenciana”. This is a huge pile of yellow rice mixed with different types of seafood including mussels, shrimp, and octopi as well as chicken, sausage, and vegetables. I had high expectations for it as this is their most famous dish and why we came. But, well, hmmm…

Time for my honest opinion. Was our dining experience here good? Well, it was OK. There honestly isn’t much to write home about food wise. There’s an expansive menu, but nothing that really pops out as unique. My understanding is Spanish food tends to be simple food, but if so, there’s no need to charge $32 for what is essentially a plate of rice with some tidbits thrown into it.

Service for us was OK and below many of the restaurants we’ve been to at this price point. Desert wasn’t bad, but the key lime pie at $8 a pop felt more like a kick in the ass on the way out of the door than anything else. The restaurant itself is beautiful and gives you plenty to look at and we’d like to have seen more of it. Like most of Ybor City, it seems like there is a lot of character here, but the main course of business is to get the tourists in, get their cash, and send them on their way.

If you’re going to go I’d suggest making reservations. We walked by plenty of people in line for a table who didn’t have one, and we arrived fairly early for dinner. There was also some kind of performance there, which we didn’t know about and would have seen if we had the chance. If we come again we’d try to see that show.