Friday, August 19, 2011

Tombo grilled up a great meal.

I really used to be one of those people who gets stuck in a dining rut.  I'd go to the same places repeatedly.  I'd start to get bored, but I wouldn't bother to try a new place.  I don't know if that was because I was too lazy to look for a new place, or too afraid to step outside my comfort zone.  At any rate, this blog has forced me to try new places, and as a result, I've had some pretty fantastic experiences.  Once of the best I've had, by far, was Tombo Grille.

A few weeks ago (really, I've been sitting on this post for awhile and just haven't had time to write it!), R and I headed for dinner at Tombo.  I fell in love as soon as we walked through the door.  The art on the walls is unique, the restaurant has a cozy, yet very nice, feel, and the staff were incredibly friendly.  Our server came over almost immediately after we were seated for drink orders.  I was in a beer kind of a mood, but as usual, couldn't make up my mind.  I asked our server (whose name I cannot remember...should have written this post sooner!) for his recommendation.  After I told him what I liked, he recommended the Stranger American Pale Ale from Left Hand Brewing Co.  It was the perfect choice.  It wasn't too hoppy or too strong, but was a nice medium-bodied beer.  Plus 10 points for an excellent recommendation.

Like normal, we took our time with the menu. Tombo has both it's regular menu and a specials menu.  We had a really hard time deciding, and ended up ordering two things from the small bites menu to start.  Definitely didn't need both, but I'm glad I got to try them.

First up were the scallops. There were two large sea scallops, served with lentils, fried leeks, and saffron aioli.    The fried leeks were amazing.  Cutting into the scallops was like cutting into butter.  They were so perfectly tender.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the lentils too.  Lentils aren't something I normally eat, but wow.  If they were always this good, I'd eat them a lot more often.
Did I mention how big the scallops were?
We also ordered the crab cakes.  I'm exceptionally picky when it comes to crab cakes, probably because I've been spoiled.  I have family in the Baltimore area, one of whom is a chef who is known for his crab cakes.  He has been known to serve them at family shindigs right alongside his box of jello shots.  It's kind of hard to compare to the family recipe and deliciousness, but Tombo did an exceptional job.  These were crab cakes that were much more crab than filling/breading.  They were nicely browned, but not overdone.  And the homemade tartar sauce was outstanding.  The crab cakes were served with a grape tomato & arugula salad that was divine.  I really don't know if I preferred the scallops or the crab cakes, but I would recommend either to anyone in a heartbeat.

These were a pretty good size too.
So you can see from the size of the small bites that you could easily make one of them a meal.  Our fabulous server actually let us know that you can have any of them for a meal....they just up the portion size a little bit.  And probably increase the cost too, but I didn't ask about that since we weren't making either a meal.

We finally got around to ordering dinner.  When we did, we were each asked if we wanted to add a salad.  Never one to turn down vegetables, I immediately said yes.  The salad that really caught my eye was one with local greens, local blueberries, feta cheese, and lemon vinaigrette.  It sounded nice and light, and as I really didn't need a salad, I thought I could get this and still eat dinner.  Definitely a good move on my part.  The blueberries were fresh and the feta was the perfect complement.  I would eat this every day if I could.

R also got a salad, but he went with the more traditional iceberg wedge.  Let it be known that I can't stand iceberg lettuce.  I feel that it's a waste of green space.  But, as I wasn't eating it, my opinion didn't really matter.  This one had smoked bacon and tomatoes with blue cheese dressing.  While I didn't have any of the lettuce, I did steal a few tomatoes and some bacon.  R was very happy with his choice, but I think it was a lot bigger than he anticipated.

Onto our actual meals.  R settled on the Cornish hen, mostly because he wanted to try the sweet potato cornbread.  He adored the cornbread - I'm not much of a sweet potato person, so it did nothing for me.  He especially loved that it was clearly cooked in something cast iron and that it was perfectly cooked.  The hen was pretty delicious.  The meat was tender and the skin was crispy, which is all I ever ask for in fried meat.  I was a pretty big fan of the espresso gravy too. It had a great coffee flavor that went surprisingly well with the hen.

Pretty good sized meal.  And look at all that gravy!
I opted for a meal off of the specials menu.  I was really in a seafood mood on this particular night (as evidenced by the scallops and crab cakes).  Given my cravings, I decided that the pan seared North Carolina flounder was exactly what I needed.  It was served with pesto orzo, squash, and grape tomatoes.  The fish was good.  It was flaky and tender.  My only complaint was that I would have liked a little more seasoning.  Or course, when eaten with a bit of the orzo, it was perfect.  I added a bit of lemon to the fish, and that helped it as well.  Back to the orzo.  This very well may have been my favorite part of dinner.  Both the squash and the tomatoes were mixed in, and the pesto was unbelievably good.  I devoured this dish, and would absolutely order it again.

That was a lot of fish too! 
Convinced that there was no possible way that I could eat anything else, I was content.  Until our server came around and asked about dessert.  R was all about the seared pound cake with blackberries and vanilla ice cream.  To be honest, so was I, but I hate ordering the same thing as someone else.  In the end, I was pretty glad that I ordered a different dessert, but we'll get to that in a minute.  R's dessert was awesome.  The berries were tart, but when eaten with the ice cream and a bit of cake, it was heaven in your mouth.  I would most definitely recommend trying this one out if you can.
A few more berries would have been nice, but otherwise this was perfect.
Why was I so happy that I ordered something different?  Because I got the Italian wedding cake.  I was trying to decide if I really wanted it, when our server told me that the wedding cake is rarely on the menu because it's made by a local guy who is happy to sell it to Tombo.  I really wish I could remember his name - turns out he was sitting at the table behind us, so we were chatting a bit when he got up to leave.  And by chatting, I mean full-on raving about how good this cake was.  For those of you not in the know, Italian wedding cake is basically cake with a ton of cream cheese icing, coconut, and pecans.  See also: some of my favorite things.  This cake is one of the best things I have ever eaten.  The cream cheese frosting was gooey, and the crunch of the pecans was a nice touch.  The fresh blueberries were the perfect addition....especially when dipped in a bit of errant icing that fell on the plate.  If this dessert is on the menu the next time I go to Tombo, you better believe I'll order it.  Delicious.
Perfect end to a perfect meal.
Tombo is never a place that I would have thought to go to.  For one thing, it's on the complete opposite side of town from where I live, so it's not really convenient.  I've got to tell you though....convenience is definitely no longer a factor.  This was one of the best meals I've had in a long time.  And the best part was that while I was certainly full, the food that I chose and the pace of the dinner kept me from feeling overly full.  I strongly urge anyone even remotely close to the Columbia area to check out Tombo.  I'm planning to take my mom and her boyfriend there the next time they come to visit.  You hear that Mom?  That means you must come to SC sometime soon.

Final Rating

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