Saluda's Restaurant celebrates many histories. Its solid mahogany bar was part of Philadelphia's Blakely Hotel in the late 1800s, its walls sport vintage European posters advertising festive drinks, and its menu pays homage to timeless Southern staples, from shrimp and grits to artfully grilled rib eyes. Perhaps the greatest nod to the past is the building itself, which was constructed after World War I as a VFW officers club. There, veterans would gather to carouse and reminisce, fostering a convivial tradition that Saluda's has since restored and nurtured.
Executive chef Blake Fairies fuels the animated atmosphere with dishes whose down-home roots benefit from French and Italian influences. His prime concern is freshness—in an interview with Undefined magazine, he revealed how his fish du jour is often prepped the day after his friend Mark, a member of Abundant Seafood in Charleston, lures it onto his boat with promises of a free tropical time share. Like much of the kitchen's produce, chef Blake’s flash-fried green tomatoes come from local farms, and his entrees incorporate seasonal ingredients to complement ones imported from across the world. The results are plates that blend classic taste with inventive zest: steaks in black-truffle butter, helpings of handmade pasta, and pork chops brined in sweet tea. At the bar, guests can peruse more than 300 wines as well as cocktails and small-batch bourbon.
For three years running—2011, 2012, and 2013—Columbia Metropolitan magazine has declared Gervais & Vine's wine list the city's best. What earned it the distinction is simple: globe-spanning variety. Its menu hosts everything from California's 2011 J. Lohr pinot noir to South Africa's Spice Route “Chakalaka” and Germany's Dr. L Riesling, which completed medical school during its fermentation. All told, more than 40 wines by the glass fill the list, complementing the Mediterranean-inspired tapas of head chef Jason Holowacz.
When crafting his entrees, Holowacz focuses on pairing. Dishes range from the Spanish flavors of grilled shrimp to Italian favorites such as pizza with goat cheese and herb-infused olive oil, allowing guests to experiment with their white or red selections. For pointers, periodic winemaker dinners and wine tastings cover different varietals and their best edible matches. And while guests sip and sup, inside or on the outdoor patio, Gervais & Vine entertains their ears every Wednesday and Thursday night with live jazz.
The flames of wood-fired ovens flicker under Neapolitan-style pies as chefs assemble subs, giant salads, and traditional Italian fare. With more than 30 toppings, including pine-rosemary chicken, pancetta, and grilled zucchini, diners decorate a 12-inch pizza in countless fashions or select from specialty pies such as onion and gorgonzola. Meanwhile, pasta dishes fill the dining room with rich scents and a dozen subs, sandwiches, and wraps keep hands from compulsively slapping their owners' cheeks. In addition to singling out pie-tanza's "warm rustic garlic bread," the State praised that the ambiance marries New- and Old-World influences, noting the "brick arches," "rustic colors," and "Italian blown glass spotlights and futuristic elements." For those who wish to supply their own ambiance, customers celebrating a birthday, hosting a seminar, or throwing a seminar-themed birthday party can count on pie-tanza to cater the event with fare such as baked ziti and goat-cheese salad.
Carolina Deli has stood on the frontlines of the lunchtime rush for more than three decades, furnishing empty belly space with fresh sandwiches, salads, house-made sweets, and freshly brewed iced tea. Owners Travis and Melanie Mooney prevail over the homey, family-operated eatery, where Midlands munchers flock five days a week to tackle the shop's diverse menu with their mouths. Carolina Deli's specialty sandwiches, such as the Eagle, stuffed with roast beef, turkey, and bacon, challenge jaw-stretching capabilities with hefty stacks of meats and veggies, and the deli allows diners to design their own meaty, handheld creations. Luncheons, corporate events, and weddings can also treat taste buds to a catered Carolina Deli spread, including an optional, 3-foot tall chocolate fountain, in which guests can dip fruit or "accidentally" drop a penny into before diving in to retrieve it.
Eric Leon, owner and founder, has been wrapping enchiladas and simmering the spices of traditional Mexican cuisine since he was 12 years old. Now, he helms a team of chefs as they bury crispy chimichangas beneath mounds of melted cheese, serve heaps of shrimp and bell peppers in a still-sizzling skillet, and marinate chunks of chicken in a dark, chocolaty mole sauce. Authentic dishes such as these have earned San Jose Mexican Restaurant its spot as Columbia?s Best Mexican Restaurant according to Columbia Metropolitan readers. The eatery?s popularity also stems from the lively environs: the glow of TVs and video games flicker off brick walls, and occasional live music encourages syncopated chewing.
The culinary team at Tsunami fixes up a veritable feast for the eyes with artfully plated Japanese delicacies festooned with sprigs of herbs, splashes of sauce, and colorful garnishes. Flames rage as hibachi chefs blast rib-eye steaks, scallops, and vegetables on their sizzling grills, and the restaurant’s sushi-rolling savants coil specialty rolls such as the Emperor, which surprises tasters with hidden stashes of fried soft-shell crab, cucumber, eel, shrimp, and avocado. At Tsunami's four locations, diners polish off plates in a sleek, modern dining room with candles in faceted glass votives, a bar backlit with lights that slowly change colors, and waiters who can speak fluent binary code.