Room-38, Columbia’s new tapas restaurant, is officially open. A “soft opening” they call it, meaning, I guess, that you’re supposed to forgive the inevitable early delays and glitches from the kitchen. You don’t get a discount but hey, at least they’re being up front about it.
The interior is fairly dim and private, the banquettes set off by black composite countertops. You will not forget that you are in a lounge at Room-38. Lots of mirrors and soft lighting and black-clad servers. The hipness and bottle service may turn some people off, but everyone seems pleasant enough as they scurry about, taking and placing orders, explaining that they’re out of this or that, and so on. The wine list is impressive and for the most part, free of the usual suspects (are you listening The Rome?). Virtually every bottle is under $25. The menu is broken into flatbreads, salads, small plates and, for lunch, sandwiches.
I ordered three small plates: sesame crusted ahi tuna, thai chili spare ribs and rosemary chicken kebabs. All were eight to nine dollars, but only the ribs were outstanding. The chicken consisted of five small skewers of tired, rosemary-scented chicken breast. They were a bit dry but came with some very nice sweet potato fries. The tuna did nothing to make me rethink my “no tuna in Columbia” rule just yet, though a gentle shake of salt improved it considerably. The “thai peanut sauce” was thin and punchless, the seaweed salad replaced incongruously with fried wontons.
The chili ribs were the best I can remember having, however; a celebration of the ancient art of balancing sweet and spicy. I could have opted for a little more of the latter but I do run a little hot in my preferences. They were tender, plentiful and if the wine list and novelty aren’t reason enough to go back, these would be.
So, an understandably mixed bag so far at Room 38; they’ve been open three days, after all. But there is an experienced crew behind the effort and they’ve navigated the maze of city codes and ordinances for a smooth renovation of Otto’s (one reason could be the presence on the ownership team of Shan Rich, owner of Enrich Construction). My advice? Drop by one day after work and grab a glass of wine. Decide whether the scene is your bag or not. And do yourself a favor; don’t forget the ribs.
38 North 8th Street