Can anyone argue that Sycamore Restaurant is not now the best restaurant in Columbia? Not the flashiest, the most stylish and certainly not the most conversation-friendly. Just the best – day in and day out – in town. Chef Mike Odette hasn’t been a nominee for any James Beard Award for a few years, but I think they’ve only gotten better.
Our visit the other day was a case in point. We were there with the kids – ages 8 and 5 – and requested our customary dining-with-kiddos booth toward the back of the restaurant, where we made our way through no fewer than eight dishes (we like the salads and small plates at Sycamore at least as much as the mains). Brandade we sold to the kids as hush puppies went over well, as did the fried orange tomatoes in an electric pesto vinaigrette that invited swooshes of bread long after the tomatoes were dispensed with. Onto a pork terrine featuring creamy duck liver and crunchy pistachios. It’s nothing you haven’t had there before, but it’s still damned good. Then it was gnocchi with confit tomatoes and fried oysters with remoulade – both excellent in concept and execution.
Dinner proper featured a trio of dishes that demanded round after round of plate-passing. Braised short ribs may have not dropped off the menu in years, but it’s a local favorite and, I’ll admit, I’ve never ordered it. I finally took the plunge and they were tender, beefy and paired with a well-executed, herby sauce and some very tasty mashed potatoes. Comfort food defined. The little one wanted noodles, so we ordered the seared scallops with shiitake udon noodles and mandolined zucchini. It was the show-stopper: silky noodles, perfectly-cooked ‘shrooms and Sycamore’s trademark, unimpeachably-seared scallops. If the “Special Salad” of hearts of romaine, a soft-poached egg and olive oil croutons was a little drab (more salt and more chives in the dressing, chewy bacon, etc.), it provided a welcome crunch and bit of green to the affair and was probably more a victim of high expectations than anything else.
I still wish the menu changed a little more, seemed a little less familiar to those of us who count ourselves as regulars. But Mike and co-owner/front of the house manager Sanford Speake* are running a business (while I’m just writing about it for free). Besides, familiar has it’s place and Sycamore delivers time after time, year after year.
800 E. Broadway
Columbia, MO 65201
UPDATE: A subsequent visit revealed a dish both entirely new and wildly successful: a new charcuterie plate. I’ve had others there, sure, so maybe it’s not totally virgin ground they’re breaking with this item, but it is quite simply one of the best things I’ve ever tasted in Columbia. Duck mortadella, hunter’s sausage, summer sausage, spreadable andouille and so on. Stupendous, and the handiwork of the relatively new-to-Columbia Josh Smith, an expat-chef from New Orleans who is also doing many of the restaurant’s pastas. Go order it immediately.
* I count both Sanford and Mike – among others at Sycamore – as friends. I don’t think that colors my opinion unduly, but hey, who knows? Full disclosure and all.