Terra is a restaurant on a mission: to exalt local produce using classic culinary technique. Mission accomplished! It is a casual bistro, for sure: no tablecloths, brick walls, waitstaff informally attired; but it also is extremely well-crafted. Open since 2006, Terra has become a beacon for food-savvy diners near and far. From its addictive signature hors d’oeuvre of Lamb Mac (smoky shredded lamb shoulder, poblano peppers, fontina, goat cheese) to after-dinner Southern Afogato made with house-churned Maker’s Mark ice cream, everything on the menu glows with creativity.
Yes, meals are creative, but not show-offy in a way designed to wow dinner guests with the razzle-dazzle skills of a striving cuisinier. I get the feeling that Chef Mike Davis is confident enough that he doesn’t need to dance a jig to convince diners of his skill. Instead, what he makes is creative in the way it honors the intrinsic goodness of its ingredients.
Wild mushroom pappardelle is a good example, in which the distinctive flavors of three or four kinds of wild mushrooms each shine through thanks to a subtle mushroom cream that cossets them and the flavorful flat pasta. A web of melting Pecorino Toscano and a poached egg on top seal the deal.
The menu is endlessly interesting. A great pillow of grilled swordfish (the most tender, ever) is surrounded by a ring of peppery parsnip puree, the inherent luxe of the fish and its brown-butter glaze balanced by capers and lemon. The selection of wood-fired pizzas includes a southern-accented charmer of pimento cheese (house-made, of course) and profoundly beefy ground ribeye. The made-in-heaven combo blankets a wafer-thin, crisp-edged crust.
Terra makes a big deal of its wine list, which is a catholic selection divided into New World, Old World, and Big American West categories. When the oenophile at my table could not decide which of three red wines to choose, the waiter kindly brought tastes of each to sample. There are craft beers and countless whiskies, rums, tequilas, digestifs, and cordials from which to choose as well as a list of fascinating house cocktails. These include a champagne cobbler (plum & macerated cherry cordial, peach shrub, sherry, champagne) and a pisco sour (Macchu Pisco, egg white, lemon, and bitters).
Service is hospitable and truly knowledgeable. I can’t remember a time when inquiries about menu items elicited so useful a description. Waiter William S. offered not a laundry-list of ingredients, but a truly informed and informative description of dishes’ different flavor profiles. As he compared and contrasted swordfish and parsnip puree with the kitchen’s seared flounder and curried carrot puree, I began to wish that I, a food writer, could describe taste so well!
Did I mention the view? Out the broad front window, visible from most tables in the house, are the distant twinkling lights of Columbia’s skyline. It’s a beautiful background for a beautiful dinner.