Although I’ve visited Tampa a few times, I hadn’t made it over to Ybor City yet. I met some of my co-workers for nice dinner after a very long travel day. I was happy to finally not be either in an airport or on an airplane. Columbia Restaurant is the oldest restaurant in Florida and serves some pretty amazing Spanish food.
In case you haven’t noticed, I love searching for that quintessentially traditional cultural food item, from Vietnamese Pho to a Philly Cheesesteak. This time around it was the Spanish Paella. My memory of paella comes from frequent visits to a now closed Seafood Café in my favorite city Hermosa Beach. My family went there so often we knew the owners very well and they treated us like family. And the food was da bomb. It’s been a very long time since I had paella and what better place to sample than at Columbia. And I was not disappointed.
First of all my dish was put together tableside. The skillet with the Valencia rice and seafood was brought to the table and then transferred to a serving dish. From the first bite to the last, it was exactly the traditional flavorful creamy paella that I remember. I also appreciated how full of seafood every bite was, from muscles to clams and shrimp to squid. And how could I resist not ordering the flan. I had to end my traditional Spanish dinner with a traditional Spanish dessert. It was perfect. And I ate it so quickly I forgot to snap a photo.
The highlight of the night, however, had to be the flamenco dancers. We made reservations and got there in time to have a show by some very talented flamenco dancers that was complete with vibrant wardrobe changes and sounds from the classic castanets that dancers held in their hands.