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Friday, October 12, 2012

Columbia Eats: Lunch at the Oak Table

The sister restaurant to the fantastic Macintosh in Charleston, the Oak Table landed on Main Street a couple of weeks ago and immediately became a twitter sensation in the area, garnering critical acclaim from locals for their American Bistro fare. Just this past week, they added lunch service, allowing this foodie on a budget a taste of the hottest new restaurant in town. I can happily say that, just like the Macintosh in Charleston, the Oak Table is going to be the place to be here in Columbia for what I think will be a very, very long time if this lunch was any indication. 

Warning: This is going to be a bit of a food porn heavy review. 

On the surface, we're talking about some really American stuff going on here. It is American bistro afterall, and looking up and down the list there's no doubt about it. The menu at Oak Table for lunch is fairly lean and mean, with your standard burger, BLT, salad options, and some steak options. There's even a mahi mahi dish. They do not mess around with the genre. What they do different, however, is really punch of the sex appeal of all these classics. The BLT, for example, is slathered in a lemon-garlic aioli, topped with the classic Southern fried green tomato and swabbed with some fresh pimento cheese on brioche. The bacon was reliably great as bacon always is, but the pimento cheese they slather here is what makes all the difference. Really creamy and tangy, with the crisp, chewy brioche and the excellent fried green tomato on top of that, it was a BLT that put all others to shame. There was also a housemade sausage sandwich floating around that looked spectacular, and came with an interesting beet Dijon to set it apart from the norm.

For all the interesting things they do, they don't mess with the classics completely though. The burger, for example (which was perhaps 90% of the lunch hour's orders, I understand Columbia, you love your burgers), is done how you want it and the way it should be, topped with a thick slab of cheddar and some applewood bacon. Take that beast and throw some bistro fries next to it that were cooked in truffled oil. Just straight solid and delicious. (Some people give a bad rap towards truffle oil. That might be true for a lot of things, but as far as fries are concerned, they are extraordinary and perhaps the To really set the Oak Table's lunch towards upscale, there's also the Oak Table Butcher Board sandwich, which this foodie had to order, hands down. Smooth chicken liver with a pork terrine, housemade pickles and pickled red onion with a slather of preserves, this was a real treat and a welcome find in a town where charcuterie is a rarity.  Like a classic Vietnamese banh mi, it just had all the wonderful livery taste on top of the terrine, which were extenuated by the pickled cucumber and red onion. I know this may be a little out of bounds for a lot of people, but if you are into this kind of stuff, this is a no-brainer. Served with truffle fries, it was a steal at $9.

Columbia, and Main Street in particular, was sorely in need of a place like the Oak Table. With elegant indoor seating and casual outdoor seating, it brings an upscale atmosphere that's incredibly lacking in our downtown, and the fact they are producing what may be some of the best food in town right now makes it all the more exciting. Bring the party there for dinner, bring yourself there for lunch. You will not be disappointed.

The Oak Table on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Soda, Schnitzel, and Songs: This Week in Columbia, SC

Jam Room Music FestivalIt's another busy week in Columbia this weekend with festivals and fairs going on everywhere, particularly the beloved South Carolina State Fair. Though exciting and a fine choice for entertainment this weekend, my money for this Saturday is on Main Street, where all the action will be going down starting at 8 AM when Soda City makes its debut. Formerly the All Local Farmer's Market at 701 Whaley, the new market aims to land on the constantly evolving Main Street, including Paradise Ice and in the near future, the new Drip on Main. Expect to find all all your favorite Whaley vendors this weekend, and more exciting additions as the ambitious new market expands on Main. After Soda City, you can hang around and get ready for the much hyped Jam Room Music Festival, which really needs no introduction after all these weeks of hype in the capital city.

If you're looking for more humble offerings this weekend, Octoberfest fun continues in Columbia, this time at the Incarnation Lutheran Church. Lots of live German music and dancing (particularly all day Saturday) and of course great German food aka schnitzel everywhere.

For those who missed the first announcement, Lake Carolina's Food and Wine Festival is also this weekend. For $30 (of which go to Children of Columbia Charities), you can sample various Carolina wines along with great food from some of Columbia's best, including Cafe Caturra and Solstice.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Columbia Eats: Spice Junction

Blessed and cursed with a generous amount of hype from local bloggers and news makers, Spice Junction garnered a lot of talk about its Indian buffet. Folks clamored over its wide array of unique, tasteful Indian dishes that have dazzled eaters in West Columbia since its grand opening last year. It was obvious that the minute I got back to Columbia, this was the place I had to go. 

Turns out, I may have been wrong. 

I sat down to eat at Spice Junction last weekend - well, walked in and scurried to the buffet line that is. It's only buffet at Spice Junction, and for the most part you are alone in servicing yourself, with a water machine to the left and buffet in the back waiting. The owners are always active in the back though, ready to guide you if you have any questions and serve you other drinks if you are craving. 

The selection was fit and fine. Samosas, the staple butter and chicken curry, a spicy cauliflower dish, some tandoori and the usual saag panir (curried spinach dish). There were the less usual suspects though, including some spicy, curried lentil dishes and a goat biryani. A goat biryani! In my buffet line! That alone should have cried wonderful. 

Unfortunately, a lot of their dishes just weren't up to par. The spice level on a lot of the dishes, for one, was slightly strong, maybe even overpowering for someone who has a low tolerance level. The chicken curry was filled to the brim with far too dry chicken. Loaded chicken may be a good thing in a lot of dishes we eat, but I really pine for the thick curry and succulent bites of chicken in between to swab up with my piece of naan (Indian flatbread). That just wasn't there in the curry, and for a lot of the dishes in fact. The butter chicken may have been the only fair one, but its richness in a buffet setting makes it a hard sell for having a lot of it along with anything else. The goat biryani, though, was interesting and definitely worth a taste, but alone not enough to save everything else going on.

There was good though. The samosas were crispy and flavorful. The vegetable samosa had the right balance of crisp, potato, dough and spice that you want in it. And the naan. Good god, the naan. If there were one reason to come back to Spice Junction, it would be just to sit there and eat mountains of their warm, buttery naan. This was really where I was crying for some good dishes to mop with, because it seriously is some of the best naan I have ever come across, and for sure miles ahead of any other naan in town.

So there you have it. Great, really great, naan. Pretty tasty samosas. A bit flat in the world of everything else. I really want that rich curry, some good, dependable saag panir for my naan, and some really comforting, maybe even surprising dishes that bring not only flavor, but the right balance of it that makes good Indian cooking so extraordinary. In those departments, Spice Junction let me down a bit. 

Spice Junction on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 5, 2012

Lake Carolina's 10th Annual Wine and Food Festival, October 13, 2012

Lake Carolina's Wine and Food Festival celebrates its tenth year this October! There will be lots of great activities including a silent auction, live entertainment, and demonstrations from various local chefs. Of course, there will also be great food and wine pairings from many of South Carolina's finest as well, including Solstice, Cafe Caturra, and Sweet-T Gourmet, to name a few. Smoked gouda-applewood bacon mac and cheese, roasted red pepper hummus, or pumpkin-spiced gooey butter cake anyone?

If that weren't enough, all proceeds for the event go towards Children's Charities of the Midlands, a nonprofit that actively works for the improvement of health, welfare and education of youth in South Carolina. Food, fun, and a good cause. What more do you need?

Head over to the event's main page and find out more about this exciting event just around the corner.

Additional Info from the folks at Lake Carolina Festival:

Wine & Food Festival
Saturday, October 13, 2012
2pm – 5pm

Tickets are now on sale for Lake Carolina’s 10th Annual Wine & Food Festival on Saturday, October 13 from 2pm – 5pm. The festival kicks off at 8:00am with the Wine Glass 10K sponsored by Velocity Distance Project and continues with wine & food tastings in the afternoon.

Lake Carolina’s 10th Annual Wine & Food Festival pairs Columbia’s best culinary chefs with the area’s finest wineries for a mouthwatering afternoon on the Village Green. Festivities include live entertainment, chef demonstrations a Silent Auction and more. Savor the flavors on Saturday, October 13, 2012 from 2-5pm.

Proceeds from the 2012 Wine & Food Festival benefit Children’s Charities of the Midlands, a non-profit corporation formed specifically to raise funds and contributions primarily for the betterment and improvement of the health, welfare and education of children and youth in the South Carolina community.  

Visit for tickets and information.

Details: $30 per ticket, must be 21yrs. of age or older. Includes parking, event entrance, wine tastings and food samplings. $15 per child 12 years and under.
Where: Lake Carolina Village Green, 100 Lake Carolina Boulevard, Columbia, SC 29229
When: Saturday, October 13, 2012 2pm – 5pm
How: Buy Tickets at or at the Lake Carolina Sales Center. To register for the Wine Glass 10K, click here.
Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for Event Promotions, Giveaways and Festival Highlights.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Columbia, SC: First Thursdays on Main

Hey folks, this week in Columbia is First Thursdays on Main Street! Every first Thursday there's arts, crafts, food and more going on downtown. This month's First Thursday is sounding pretty terrific, with Godzilla Karoke (I kid you not) down around Paradise Ice, a Nickelodeon Parade to celebrate the new location, and the tapping of a "rare" keg by the Whig! I think 2 Fat 2 Fly and Bone-in Artisan Barbecue Food Trucks will be out also.

Parade starts around 7 I think, stuff going on all evening though. More info on time tomorrow if I find it. Don't miss out, should be a lot of fun!

Get more info on the events going on here.