(I am posting this thread separately rather than under the post seeking "kid-friendly" options in the same city, as I know one of the places I'm reviewing would NOT qualify & I am not sure on the other!)
Following the demise of my local favorite (Village Wine & Cheese) & coupled with my desire to break out of our typical Addison’s/Sophia's rut, we tried two new spots in Columbia last week: Hemingway's (off of Nifong) + Mackenzie's (north of I-70 off of Rangeline).
Hemingway's was nice in the tradition (& price range) of Sophia's -- a fairly eclectic menu, a decent selection of high-prized appetizers, a lively patio, etc. (Their "20 Bottles Under $20" wine list was actually what drew us there, but that's a whole other topic.) Probably the best part of the meal, & the reason I would return versus places in a similar vein, were their crepes. They are made in the very thin & un-overstuffed tradition I prefer, & the one we chose with came unadorned with any sauce held up better than the one we chose which came with a sauce too heavy for the delicate crepe itself. That is probably the one Hemingway’s tendency that I disliked -- sauces too heavy & too overpowering for the food, although this is problem I seem to encounter quite frequently. Anyway, it is still a nicely upscale (& very romantic, at least in the main dining room) spot, & their little wine-shop with the walk-in humidor is a nice addition to the business. (I'll admit that the young serving/hostessing staff does have a ways yet to go.) My guess is Hemingway's will do well in Columbia over the long-term.
For something completely different, Mackenzie's was a real delight. They cook their steaks & seafood (& other proteins too, I assume) over an open-flame wood-fired grill; as we learned, the chimney design of the grill is actually the invention of the proprietor who received his training at a place called CC Broilers (which may mean something to any of you who are locals...?). Anyway, the quality of the meat + seafood was excellent, arrived in perfectly-sized portions, & was served unadorned except for the beautiful woodsmoke flavor -- but when the quality of the cut & preparation is that strong, the food can (& should) stand on its own. Sides were standard (some upcharges) & the salads (included in the price of entree, an added bonus) were considerably better than your typical side salad. As I posted on the "Mid Mo Dining Guide" site, Mackenzie's really had the atmosphere & feel (staff, patrons, prices, patio, etc.) of a "neighborhood"-type restaurant but with the menu selection, wine list, & food quality of a much nicer -- & pricier -- place. They don't try to do too much, & I think that's an excellent strategy. My only complaints would be the appetizers (too much breading & some subpar quality -- I think this is the only area where they fall into the trap of overreaching) & the itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny wine glasses which are vastly inadequate for the relatively optimistic wine list. I get the sense that many of their patrons are "regulars," including family of the owner, so I wouldn't describe the atmosphere as romantic... more "comfortable"... yet still delightful.
(Oh, & one quick comment -- had decent Thai food at a spot called "The Blue Moon," also off of Nifong, which offered decent curries but seemed to be such a greasy, dive-y type place with staff of the same ilk that I am not sure I could return! There must be better Thai options in the city, or at least Thai food that doesn't come with sticky chairs & dirty tables!)