Just back from a weekend in Asheville where we visited Cucina 24, 12 Bones, and Curate --plus sampled Saturday Farmer's Tailgate Markets. As "Foodies on a Budget" we weren't able to experience the full range of menu options the restaurants had to offer.
Perhaps that is the reason for the less than stellar experience at Cucina 24. We started with a very generous offering of olives but while the olives were quite good (especially with the breadsticks), we would have appreciated a bit of variety. My husband ordered the tagliatelle bolognese and I had 2 apps: sardines with fennel and a nettle pasta with mushrooms and fried shallots. We planned to share everything. The meat in the tagliatelle had a smoked flavor which was a bit of a distraction. It was good but neither of us loved it. The sardine was a nice size but each mouthful was so full of teeny bones that it required very careful eating. It was quite salty. My husband took one bite and declined the rest. The nettle pasta (which I ordered because the server recommended it as unusual) was actually kind of bland. Did like the fried shallots but the mushrooms were hard to find. The highlight of the meal was the apple fritters with sea salt ice cream that was suggested by the waitress. There were 4 good sized fritters which were not too sweet -- just lovely. The ice cream portion was less than 1/3 a scoop though -- really skimpy and we really needed more to complement all the fritters.
We nibbled our way through the 2 tailgate markets Saturday morning. We loved the one at UNC-A in a wooded setting. Enjoyed the mushroom lady and the fresh ginger stand -- stuff we don't see in the Triangle. One pet peeve was the shortage of non-vegan and non-gluten-free offerings. This meant fewer choices and higher prices for those of us who neither need nor want these options. But we did manage to find one vendor with good shortbread and a delicious cherry coffee cake.
We had a late lunch/ early dinner at the Arden 12 Bones and went with what we heard were the Obama choices of blueberry-chipotle ribs and brisket. Ribs were good but brisket was kinda dry. Really liked the corn pudding and for once found the green beans tasty (almost always an uninspired side at other BBQ places). The cucumber salad was too vinegary and the Mac ‘n Cheese was just OK.
Had read tons about Curate --especially all the warnings about skimpy portions and high prices. We tried it for brunch and were the only ones sitting at the bar. Again, we went the budget route but were amazed at the generous portions and reasonable prices based on the quality and attention to detail by the chefs. My husband ordered the brunch dish with fried egg, ham, and crispy potato chips and from the regular menu we shared the pan con tomate with manchego, the mushrooms (setas al jerez), and the universally raved-about eggplant dish. I had a lovely tart mimosa and my husband had what he deemed an excellent cup of Americano coffee. The brunch dish was ample and very good. We were amazed to be served 4 huge slabs of delicious pan con tomate. We saw them flame the mushrooms (several varieties) multiple times with sherry and they had phenomenal flavor and depth. The eggplant dish was very good, but it was a bit of a letdown because based on all the reviews, I was expecting transcendence and it wasn’t quite that. Still, this was a terrific meal – about $40 before tip and well worth it. We’ll be going back to check out the rest of the menu next time we are in Asheville. Sitting at the bar, we got to see the amazing precision of the chefs. Sheer artistry just to seeing how they cut apples or onions. Oh, and wonderful service, too.