The Columbia restaurant scene is unusually active these days and my column Tuesday covered the topic. I did leave one new arrival off the list. Las Margaritas has stepped into the revolving-door-space out at Corporate Lake, just south of Rock Bridge High School. I’ve only been once, but the molcajete was impressive. Give them a shot.
Also, give KFRU a listen tomorrow morning at about 9:15am, when we’ll be talking restaurant news and, if Simon’s afternoon teaser today is any indication, squirrel and cream of mushroom soup recipes. Anyway, onto the column.
Approximately three restaurants open their doors in New York City each and every day. Thankfully, Columbia’s growing community of food enthusiasts doesn’t have to keep up with a thousand or more new restaurants each year, but that doesn’t mean nothing is going on. What’s going on in early 2013? More than usual.
There was the news last week that one of mid-Missouri’s finest restaurants — the bistro at Les Bourgeois — was undergoing a change of chefs. Josh Smith, a Missouri native late of New Orleans, will be running the kitchen when the restaurant reopens from a “short winter’s nap” on Jan. 31. For the last couple of years, Josh was a creative force at Sycamore Restaurant, turning out phenomenal cured meats and pasta specials at the respected downtown eatery. Les Bourgeois is one of the most challenging chef gigs in town, but we’ll see what he can do with a kitchen of his own. I’m looking forward to it. (For more local chef news, see Kitchen Notes, Page 8A.)
As always, much of the action in Columbia is centered on our bustling, rapidly changing downtown. Two weeks ago brought the opening of another Thai restaurant, Thip Thai, in the former Crazy Noodle space at 904 E. Broadway. Even early in the game, this confessed Thai food snob thinks Thip is going to be an excellent addition to the dining scene. A green curry chicken dish properly balanced sweet, salty and spice, and an appetizer of minced chicken, fish sauce and lime juice was bright and refreshing. Others have reported similar strong results.
Across the street, Bambino’s is no more, the venerable, low-brow pasta outpost finally succumbing under the weight of relocation and ownership/management turnover. For me, the place was never the same after moving from its just-off-campus location on Hitt Street and removing one of Columbia’s best sandwiches — the New Yorker — from the menu. In its place will open Nash Vegas, a country-themed restaurant and nightclub.
The opening of Café Poland at 807 Locust St. is a rare treat: something available nowhere else in town. The menu is as adorably small as the restaurant space itself and devoted entirely to Polish and eastern European specialties. Warming, tomato-based borscht is sold, charmingly, in to-go cups. Light and tender, potato dumplings called “kopytka” remind me of gnocchi. Best of all is bigos, a sauerkraut-and-kielbasa stew that will warm on even the chilliest winter day. Their sign promises “Espresso and Pierogies,” and the kitchen delivers on these goods as well. Overall, a very welcome departure from the status quo. (For more on Café Poland, see Page 9A)
I am told that The Oak Room has been long-delayed by the Tiger Hotel owners’ focus on renovating their hotel rooms first before moving onto the restaurant itself. However, with the finishing touches being put on the bottom floors of the hotel — crews worked top to bottom — they’re ready to hit the future steak-and-seafood spot. Chef Patrick Wilson will slide over from the catering/Vault foodservice and run the kitchen. There are talks of opening late spring or early summer.
Not all of Columbia’s new dining options are tied to one location, as last year’s emergence of Pepe’s Taco Truck as perhaps the best Mexican food in town proves (find it on Facebook or at @PepesOfColumbia on Twitter).
Sunflower Waffle Co. has served chicken and waffles at various locations over the last couple of years, including the kitchen at Mojo’s, but it has its truck up and running and can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@SunflowerWaffle) as well. Skeptics of the chicken-and-waffle combination should put aside their reservations and give them a shot — it’s delicious.