After beginning the night with two homeless men banging on our car door window and begging for money (which I certainly don't blame on Columbia), we should have known an interesting evening was in store. Despite asking for a later reservation and being told nothing was available (the place was empty throughout our entire 90-minute meal), we were seated shortly after 4 in the afternoon at a lovely 5-top near the water fountain -- which was terrific because it easily kept my kids' (5-yr. old boy and 12-mo. old girl) attention, allowing us to nibble on some cuban bread and butter as we perused the menu.
The waitress came over and was fantastic. She was kind, informative, and even playful with the kids, which I always like when we go to a nicer restaurant where kids may or may not be welcome. She answered all of our questions, quickly met our requests, and always refilled our glasses ASAP.
Regardless, I'm here to discuss the food -- and I can assure you that it was attrocious. As a longtime customer of the Columbia since when my dad used to take me as a child, I've certainly developed my favorites. On this visit, I decided to order two of my main staples: a 1905 salad and the Merluza a la Rusa. The salad was fantastic as always. The bite of the garlic and the saltiness of the ham do tremendous wonders for boring iceberg lettuce. However, the Merluza is where things started taking a turn for the worse. Like I said, I love this dish, but this time it was certainly lacking. To start, it wasn't evenly cooked. Some parts of it were mutilated by overcooking, while other pockets remained just fine. The egg topping was tasty, but also very mushy -- which isn't usually the case. I still was able to combine the egg with the yellow rice for a tasty treat. My daughter also loved the egg and rice. In fact, it was the only thing she ate all night.
The real disaster, however, came from one of the evening's specials: Lechon Asado. Both my mom and wife ordered this dish and were extremely disappointed. I introduced my wife to this dish when we started dating 11 years ago, and she's been a fan ever since. We've enjoyed it at the Columbia in the past, as well as La Teresita, Pipo's, a few Miami locations, and even at home. As such, we know when it's good -- and last night it was not good. My wife described the pork as a dry, flavorless pork chop one might receive at the Waffle House, not at The Columbia where they advertised the meat as having been marinated in sour orange, garlic, oregano, and bay leaves. My mom went so far as to say the meat tasted more like an old shoe than anything else. On top of that, the moros and yuca side dishes were both overcooked and oversalted.
Naturally, we decided to complain about the pork meals and were told that replacement meals would be right out. After 15 minutes of waiting, we flagged down the waitress who suddenly seemed not interested in serving us. She informed us that they have no microwaves in the restaurant and, as such, all meals are made to order. Really? Roast pork is made to order? We told her to forget about the replacement meal and just bring us our check. She removed the two pork dinners from the bill, but failed to send a manager over to apologize, did not offer a coffee or dessert to make up for the error, and generally seemed to avoid us the rest of the night. And the saddest part of all is that this was our Christmas Eve dinner, not some average night in June. The Columbia lacked remorse for runining TWO dinners on CHRISTMAS EVE! Combine that with an empty house and loads of customers wearing BATHING SUITS and t-shirts to dinner, and I'm starting to wonder if The Columbia has finally become the type of tourist trap that us chowhounds have long avoided?
2117 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605