Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sycamore - something exciting in Columbia, MO


mywhitedevil
 Share

Recommended Posts

Well, it's been open for just under a year now, and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere, so I feel I can finally write about Mike Odette's new restaurant, Sycamore. Previously, there wasn't any fresh, fine dining options in Columbia. Growing up there, I think that after Witchita, it might be home to the most chains and fast food spots in the country. Before May, the only really good restaurant was Trattoria Strada Nova and sister site Cucina Sorella across the street (oddly enough where Mike began cooking nearly 10 years ago). Sure, there are a lot of Sysco restaurants masquerading as fine restaurants, but they've all been mostly disappointing. Dali's, CC's City Broiler, Boone Tavern, and Grand Cru all come off as derivative and poorly executed. The places that work in Columbia all seem to be poorly copied Lawrence, KS ripoffs. Uprise Bakery is no Wheatfields no matter how hard it tries, Flat Branch Brewery isn't up to par with Free State, etc.

Well, Sycamore is different. You get the service and atmosphere you would expect in finer restaurants. The renovation of the old Widman's is phenomenal. The kitchen is in the rear on a mezzanine, and is open to the dining room. The art is simple and attractive, and the layout of the tables is aesthetically pleasing and conducive to the normal restaurant traffic. The bathrooms are very clean, although a little small for the size of the dining room. The bar is a little small. Several times I've tried to go get a drink later in the evening while on the same block, and there wasn't enough room at the bar.

Service is more than passable, and certainly some of the best in the city, but not quite up to par with the quality of the rest of restaurant. The bussers are a little slow, the bartender could use some work, and while the wait staff knows the ropes of proper service, they often do the little things wrong. For instance, we ordered cocktails before our meal on our last visit, and the waiter removed the wine list before we even ordered our starters. I had to ask him to bring it back. To his credit, he was pretty quick about having the bartender remake my cocktail, but it remains to be seen if it was the bartender's fault that my gin was all bitters, or if the waiter didn't relay my order as I placed it. (Sapphire, rocks, 1 dash of bitters doesn't seem to be too hard to communicate).

The menu rotates fairly often, with a few staples such as Steak Frites and Cassolet that seem to be permenant. The menu is smallish (as it should be) with 5 or 6 salads, 5 or 6 starters and 7 or 8 entrees. The most amazing thing about the menu is the afforability of it. The most expensive menu item was the Steak Frites at $19. the Cassoulet was $18, and it gets cheaper from there. It took two cocktails, two starters, a bottle of wine (albeit not a good bottle) two entrees and two desserts for us to finally break a C note.

On our previous visit, we shared a starter, handmade raviolis stuffed with wild mushrooms, local goat cheese, and black truffles. They were served with a light, subtle veal broth jazzed up with truffle oil and shavings. At first it seemed a little boring, but by the third bite, the subtlety of the dish shined through. It was a fantastically balanced dish. For the entree, I had the cassoulet, which again featured deft balance of flavors. The flageolets were perfectly cooked, the boudin was obviously handmade and perhaps a little under seasonsed (but as a master butcher I'm very particular about my sausages) the lamb shank was perfect and the confit was perhaps the best I've ever had (and mine are quite good). There was nothing to fault in the dish at all. My wife had a vanilla bean-brined pork loin with mashed potatoes and a fig compote. The pork was well overcooked (as boneless loins are want to do) but the fig compote was amazing. I thought this dish would have been perfect has the pork been left slightly pink..

On our dinner last night we started with veal sweetbreads for me (the wife is still picky regarding offal) and proscuitto wrapped asparagus for her. The sweetbreads were tender and creamy and just as you would expect. They were served with matchstick potatoes, and a demi-glace and black truffle sauce that cut the offal-ly-ness of the sweetbreads very well. The asparagus was good for winter asparagus, grilled well and covered in truffle butter, but the prosciutto was not good. It tasted like cheap, mass-produced ham. It actually went uneaten, which is unheard off between my wife and I, both of whom love our cured pork products. To me, this is a shame as just 90 miles away in St. Louis, Volpi produces an exceptional and affordable prosciutto.

The wife had Mahi Mahi cooked with a grilled pineapple salsa and ancho roasted sweetpotatos. I can't comment on this as I didn't have a taste. It was cooked well, and looked pretty and the lady had no complaints (except she wanted another chunk of pineapple on the side). I had seared scallops with broccoli, shitakes and chow mien. The scallops and broccoli were cooked to perfections, with the scallops seared well and just slightly rare inside and the broccoli was just slightly al dente. the shitake/chow mien was a little overpowering, but not objectionable.

The desserts bring my strongest criticism. Firstly, the bread is OK, but it it outsourced from Uprise bakery, which is a poor substitute for Wheatfields. My wife has worked at both bakeries and Uprise is not something we even eat anymore. Secondly, while the portions for all menu items are more than gracious, which I'm not want to criticize, but the dessert portions were obscene. They were more than enough to share. Secondly, it's obvious that there isn't a dedicated pastry chef. the dutch chocolate truffle torte was unbalanced, not subtle and just plain blah. The carrot cake was not bad, but very dense (nearly too much so) and iced with a cream cheese/white chocolate icing that just emphasized the density. A nice, light sour cream icing would have been a much better choice.

Needless to say, I'm very pleased that Sycamore has succeeded. I know that we plan on making many return trips, esp. considering our other options.

Edited by mywhitedevil (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Needless to say, I'm very pleased that Sycamore has succeeded.  I know that we plan on making many return trips, esp. considering our other options.

mywhitedevil.

Thanks much for your report.

Columbia, the few times I have been, has mostly been a drive-by phenomenon along I-70 between larger cities... so I haven't spent much time (okay, really only about thee or four times) eating there. Thanks for putting this on my radar.

Ulterior Epicure.

[Edited to strike a sentence that was ignorantly asked; admittedly, I read through your comments rather quickly and haphazardly.]

Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for the very nice write-up, mwd. It sounds like the food at Sycamore is delicious, comforting, consistent and reasonably-priced. Can you describe the cassoulet? Is it fairly traditional?

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Previously, there wasn't any fresh, fine dining options in Columbia.  Growing up there, I think that after Witchita, it might be home to the most chains and fast food spots in the country. 

Uh... have you been to Topeka?!?

Seriously though, thank you for reporting back... it sounds like a great restaurant for Columbia. I haven't been there for years, but I always kind of liked Columbia... I didn't remember it being that bad of a chain mecca?

"Many people believe the names of In 'n Out and Steak 'n Shake perfectly describe the contrast in bedroom techniques between the coast and the heartland." ~Roger Ebert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for the very nice write-up, mwd.  It sounds like the food at Sycamore is delicious, comforting, consistent and reasonably-priced.  Can you describe the cassoulet?  Is it fairly traditional?

=R=

the cassoulet was, as I said, quite good. I'm not up on all the provincial differences, but this was comprised of true flageolets, duck confit, lamb shank and boudin, with no tomato, and no breadcrumbs, so I think it kind of stradles the traditions of both north and south France. I keep trying to try new things when I go, but it's hard to not choose the cassoulet.

Ahh, also I guess I should include their info since there is no website.

Sycamore

800 E. Broadway

Columbia, MO

(573) 874-8090

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Seriously though, thank you for reporting back... it sounds like a great restaurant for Columbia.  I haven't been there for years, but I always kind of liked Columbia... I didn't remember it being that bad of a chain mecca?

Heh, I used to cut meat for a very short time at the Dillions in Topeka off of Lake Sherwood, when I lived in Lawrence. Incidently, never buy your meat there! :wacko:

Columbia hasn't always been bad, but it's gotten very much so in the last 4 or 5 years. It's getting unbearable, really.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Columbia hasn't always been bad, but it's gotten very much so in the last 4 or 5 years.  It's getting unbearable, really.

that's disheartening... :sad:

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Columbia hasn't always been bad, but it's gotten very much so in the last 4 or 5 years.  It's getting unbearable, really.

One thing I've never quite figured out is why college towns (I think Columbia qualifies) don't have better fine dining options. I think the professors would support it. I know college students have limited income, so an owner would have to find a way to generate volume without compromising quality. I also think there may be a market to partner with the educational institution in some fashion -- teaching business dining etiquette or something like that.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Columbia hasn't always been bad, but it's gotten very much so in the last 4 or 5 years.  It's getting unbearable, really.

One thing I've never quite figured out is why college towns (I think Columbia qualifies) don't have better fine dining options. I think the professors would support it. I know college students have limited income, so an owner would have to find a way to generate volume without compromising quality. I also think there may be a market to partner with the educational institution in some fashion -- teaching business dining etiquette or something like that.

I could never understand this about Lawrence, either. Not only professors but so many students who return from studies abroad to a culinary wasteland. Lawrence has gotten a lot better but it wasn't that long ago that you still couldn't get a decent meal. There were a few good places over the years but they were unable to stay open; the support just wasn't there.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

Link to comment
Share on other sites

MWD,

Thanks for the report. I had to wait a while to reply, until my urge to make Quin Snyder jokes could be controlled. :wink:

It sounds like you finally have something (or should I say somewhere) to celebrate over there. I hope it continues to develop, evolve and improve. Even though they're apparently getting more things right than not, it will be nice if they keep turnover low in the servers and polish them a bit. And maybe you could leave a Volpi wrapper on your plate, next to the uneaten prosciutto, and they'll take the hint?

I have to ask (although this is a 180-degree turn from your fine dining experience) if there is still a sub shop housed in a former taco place (evident from the, um, 'architecture') on the west side of town. I can't think of the name of it but they give you a playing card to identify your order when they call you to pick it up and they have really good sandwiches. I stumbled upon it years ago enroute to St Louis and have stopped there numerous times over the years, although not recently.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One thing I've never quite figured out is why college towns (I think Columbia qualifies) don't have better fine dining options.  I think the professors would support it.  I know college students have limited income, so an owner would have to find a way to generate volume without compromising quality.

Professors with really good grants can support fine dining, maybe... In Columbia, it often seemed like the students had way more cash to spend than the professors. :hmmm:

And the student cash wasn't going toward fine dining....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Living in Columbia, my family and I went to Sycamore withing the few weeks weeks of its opening. Our experience sounds similar to yours. The room was very nice and the service was acceptable (with minor problems) and the meal had its ups and downs. However, it sounds like the menu items have become a bit more creative since our meal. For instance, I don't remember sweet breads, truffles, etc. Perhaps things have stepped up a bit and I am now looking forward to another try.

Going to Trattoria this Saturday first and I'm looking forward to seeing if anything is new.

I do agree that the massive expansion of chain restaurants is not preferable to locally owned, orginial restaurants, but I do enjoy having more options.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have to ask (although this is a 180-degree turn from your fine dining experience) if there is still a sub shop housed in a former taco place (evident from the, um, 'architecture') on the west side of town.  I can't think of the name of it but they give you a playing card to identify your order when they call you to pick it up and they have really good sandwiches.  I stumbled upon it years ago enroute to St Louis and have stopped there numerous times over the years, although not recently.

Yeah, creativly named Sub Shop. It's about 3 blocks from our condo. Needless to say, I'm a regular. Very good stuff as long as you pretend the kitchen isn't filthy.

Oh and it's fine to make Snyder jokes, as my wife and I are both Jayhawks.

Edited by mywhitedevil (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Just ate their for dinner tonight. It was our second time there, the first being 10 months ago right after they opened. The service and food has definitely been kicked up a notch and things are looking good.

I'm glad there is finally a place in Columbia where I can get awesome short ribs.

The Roasted lamb and apple hash with mediterranean spices on polenta was a very satisfying appetizer and probably the only dish worth the $7-9 appetizer prices there. The rest of the party had a thai shish kabob (good, but small portion for price), quarter pound of shrimp with mango salsa ($8 for 5 shrimp and cocktail sauce?), and potato gnocchi with spinach (very good, but would be better off as a main course instead of a plate with 12 gnocchi on it).

My mother had a dish of scallops with shiitakes and lo mein that she said was wonderful.

I agree with the first poster that the desserts do leave a bit to be desired. I'd like to see something more original than two types of chocolate cake, a carrot cake, and a creme brullee.

This place is definitely on my "eat at more often" list. I'm glad this forum brought it back to my attention and got me interested in deserving another try.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with the first poster that the desserts do leave a bit to be desired.  I'd like to see something more original than two types of chocolate cake, a carrot cake, and a creme brullee.

This place is definitely on my "eat at more often" list.  I'm glad this forum brought it back to my attention and got me interested in deserving another try.

I had drinks there right before the True/False Film Festival, and tried a dessert that hadn't previously been on the menu; a ginger marscapone cake. It was very good. Head and shoulders above the other items. Mike needs to leave this on the menu as a signiture.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...