In December, I was lucky enough to have a business trip to beautiful and warm Tampa. Unfortunately, I missed out at staying at the conference hotel. This was sad on two counts. 1. I was horribly sick (which may have slightly affected my taste buds on this review), and 2. The Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, the conference hotel, is a pretty spectacular spot. The hotel is located on on a 35-acre wildlife preserve right on the shore. It has a cute path and gazebo where you can spy on some egrets, pelicans, and ibises.
Before my cold took a turn for the worst, I managed to make it out to Ybor (“eee-bore”) City. Ybor is Tampa’s historic Spanish district with fun bars, places with flamenco dancers, cigar rolling places, and live music. My coworker and I were told to go to the Columbia Restaurant, est 1905, for great Spanish cooking. We ordered a salad, tapas, and paella.
I’d like to apologize in advance for having awful photos. Due to my horrible cold, I left my camera at the hotel and resorted to using my camera phone. Like I said, it was not a good trip.
The Columbia’s Original “1905” Salad (TM) – and yes, the 1905 really is in quotes – is a mix of iceberg lettuce, ham, Swiss cheese, tomato, olives, grated Romano cheese, and their famous garlic dressing all mixed at the table. The concierge at the hotel raved about this salad. I believe he said something along the lines of “I’m a steak man, and I love this salad.” While the dressing was flavorful, I don’t know if I would call this the greatest salad ever. I mean, look at it. Even though we asked them to go easy on the dressing, our plates were swishing and swooshing with liquid. Frankly, I’m not a big fan of iceberg lettuce either, but that’s my bias. Was the salad worth $8.95? Probably. It was big. I would personally get something else in the future.
Next we got the tapas plate called Mejiliones y Chorizo “Andres.” Apparently, it’s named after Andres Sanchez who made the restaurant owners the best chorizo. The plate is a nice combination of mussels, chorizo, onions, celery, tomato, basil, spinach, and garlic in a sea of dry white wine and lemon. The dish was a complete success! The spiciness of the chorizo is nicely balanced by the sweetness of the basil and the tartness of the lemon. The white wine helps boost the complexity of the broth. I kind of wish I had ordered it as a main with a side of rice. This dish was definitely the highlight of the meal!
Next we split the Paella “A la Valencia.” Unfortunately, the whole was not as good as the sum of the parts. Everything should have been right – there were clams, mussels, shrimp, squid, chicken, and pork, baked with rice, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, wine, and spices – but it was not good. The rice was dry. The seafood and meats were overcooked (like we didn’t finish the chicken or the shrimp). The rice didn’t have that nice crust that you’re supposed to get on the bottom of the paella pan. Needless to say, after that, we didn’t get dessert.
On the positive, their coffee was delicious!
The building is interesting and the space on the inside is spectacular. Each room has something different going on, which makes the experience fun. It was lively and would be good for a group, which is about the only reason I would go back. It’s highly rated, so I was a little surprised that I didn’t like it. Hopefully it was an off night.