Mrs. B and I had a wonderful trip to Asheville. Four dinners and four breakfasts/lunches, and only one dish (and one drink) missed the mark – a fantastic food trip!
Cucina 24 – We really enjoyed our anniversary dinner at Cucina 24. The room has a great feel for a nice dinner out, and our server was terrific. The ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossom antipasto had a perfect, light texture and wonderful flavor; and sweet corn fritters with country ham and pickled watermelon rind did a great job of classing up some down-home favorites. The burrata panzanella with local tomatoes and cucumbers was nice, though we would have willingly swapped some of the copious burrata for more tomatoes. The veal-prosciutto meatballs in tomato ragu (with a nice house-made tagliatelle) were wonderfully tender and delicious – I can only imagine how good the dish would be on a cold January evening… Seared scallops over sweet corn risotto with bacon and chanterelles was a wonderful combination. We were ready to pass on dessert, but our waiter comped us a celebratory dessert in honor of our anniversary: brown butter cake with sea salt gelato. We were leaning toward another stop for something chocolaty, but we were very happy with the cake, which was lusciously rich, with a nicely balanced hint of the sea salt in the gelato.
The Admiral – AWESOME! The advance hype did not disappoint. We started with grilled gazpacho (with heirloom cherry tomatoes and cilantro cream) and blackened NC flounder (with goat cheese grits and succotash), followed by main courses of grilled pork chop with sour cream-chive mashed potatoes, grilled peach, and a barbeque aioli; and leg of lamb with rosemary risotto, asparagus, and a blueberry gastrique. The gazpacho was Mrs. B’s favorite dish of the trip (and she tried three different versions!), and the pork chop dish was my favorite (the barbeque aioli was fantastically unique, the chop was great, and all the elements came together perfectly). Admittedly, the “faux dive” atmosphere is a bit much, but it didn’t really detract from the experience. I also read complaints about the service, and while I wouldn’t necessarily give it an “A” for service, it didn’t take away from our evening. Would love to go back.
Curaté – Again, a restaurant that lived up to the hype. We went with a little lighter dinner here, but everything was a hit. We split the pan con tomate, bocadillo Serrano (sandwich of tomato bread with Serrano and Manchego), pincho moruno (grilled lamb skewer), gazpacho, and berenjenas la taberna (fried eggplant with honey and rosemary). We could have eaten a few loaves of the tomato bread, and the fried eggplant is an absolute must-have – it’s almost like a fried dough pouch, rather than fried vegetable (and would make a great dessert). If you’re a ginger ale fan, the Fever Tree brand that Curaté carries is top-notch, and is a nice complement to many of the flavors on the menu.
The Market Place – Recommended by a chef friend of a friend who recently moved to Wisconsin from Asheville. Beautiful space and exceptionally warm and helpful service. The heirloom tomato salad was another great reflection of the local produce, and the mac and cheese starter (cheddar mornay sauce with prosciutto and peas) was my second-favorite dish of the trip -- I ended up sharing quite a bit of it with an envious Mrs. B. The hand-cut pappardelle (with duck confit, oyster mushrooms, and confit tomatoes) had a lovely texture, and the flavor of the dish was rich and very well balanced. The bacon-wrapped pork loin (with sweet potato fondue and string beans) was tender and delicious, though I wouldn’t have objected to dialing back the smokiness of the bacon just a bit.
French Broad Chocolate Lounge – We will REALLY miss the Chocolate Lounge. Mrs. B is a chocoholic, and we actually had dessert here on three straight nights (with a lunch dessert on the fourth day). We liked the chocolate mousse, cacao nib brownie, chocolate chip cookie, and olive oil chocolate cake, but the Quintessential Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ultimate Ice Cream was perhaps the best chocolate cake we’ve ever had – layers of wonderfully rich cake and a gorgeous ganache. On two occasions, we paired that cake with a luscious milk chocolate liquid truffle, which is a hot-chocolate-esque drink that is apparently made from their truffle mix, diluted with half-and-half (mmm… liquid truffle…). We loved the place so much that we also picked up boxes of their truffles and caramels to bring home as gifts for family – big hits!
Over Easy – A picture-perfect embodiment of breakfast in Asheville: inventive, Southern-inspired comfort food. Though we had to wait a bit on Saturday morning for a table, the wait was worth it. Blackberry hotcakes (berries in the cakes and on top) with orange-zest whipped cream and real maple syrup had a really nice texture – they were thick, but fairly fluffy – and fantastic flavor. The build-your-own omelet with roasted potatoes was another hit – with heirloom tomatoes and pico de gallo absolutely shining – and included a delicious biscuit.
Sunny Point – A mostly successful visit for breakfast. The outdoor seating is lovely, and most of the food was great. The succotash hash included wonderful beans and corn from their garden – a great encapsulation of August Asheville produce. Angel biscuits and house jam were heavenly. Unfortunately, the Bloody Mary Gazpacho was melt-your-face spicy, and the heat completely swamped the flavor of what were likely very good tomatoes. This was doubly disappointing because the menu made no mention of the spiciness, and we specifically asked if there was anything unique about the “Bloody Mary” aspect of the gazpacho.
Homegrown – Nice stop for lunch on our last day in town. The grilled trout “samich” was delish, and the carnitas burrito was huge and exploding with tender pork and a great flavor mix. Nice combinations of good, simple ingredients – saw a half dozen other items on the menu I would have loved to try.
Old Europe Bakery – Popped in for a bite while we waited for a table to open up across the street at Over Easy. Blueberry “muffin” (more like an individual coffee cake – in a good way) was fantastic, with bursting-fresh blueberries. Note, they opened later than we would have expected (10-ish, I think?), which thwarted our efforts at a breakfast muffin later in the trip.
City Bakery – On two breakfast stops, we really enjoyed the bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit; sticky bun; and berry “granola” bar. Also used their French sandwich loaf for picnics on our day trips (yum!). If you’re not a coffee drinker, though, AVOID the weak and watery hot chocolate – we threw ours out they were so weak.
Chocolate Gems – Delicious peanut butter milk chocolate truffle and pretty good gelato (chocolate and salted caramel), though a bit less creamy than my favorite gelatos.
Cheerwine – For those not from North Carolina, don’t walk, RUN, to get yourself a bottle (or two or three) of Cheerwine soda while you’re in town. I’m a fancy-soda junkie, and the cherry-ish, red soda flavor of Cheerwine (made with real sugar) has a great flavor, and was a fun thirst quencher after an afternoon of walking. Highly recommended to any uninitiated Yanks :-)