Recently, my girlfriend and I went to Asheville for one night. That sounds crazy from Chapel Hill, but I work in the restaurant biz, and combined with her schedule as a hs teacher, that's all we could do until summer. Enough background. We had three meals--lunch at Salsa, dinner at Marketplace, and breakfast at Early Girl.
We arrived, rainsoaked and starving, at Salsa on Friday afternoon. The place was bustling with customers of all ages. We had an excellent margarita and a better mojito to start (true kudos to the bartenders), followed by goat cheese jalepeno poppers (killer). For entrees, my girlfriend had beef empanadas, which were very carribean in flavor (despite the mexican empanada setup) and absolutely delicious. I had pork fajitas, which were excellent as well. I was expecting grilled pork loin, and what I got was perfectly slow-roasted carnitas. BANGIN'!!! (this is a compliment, btw).
We followed lunch by a walk around asheville, then dinner at Marketplace. We were really excited about this, and I had brought an expensive bottle of wine for the occasion. After being given a hard time about the wine (a 1986 vouvray which i fully intended to share with the kitchen), our server agreed to open it, snapping that there would be a corkage fee. i had also expected this--and didn't see what the big deal was, since i had already ordered a bottle of champagne off the list to accompany our first courses. i again offered a glass of the vouvray to her and the kitchen, and she declined for both. whatever. on to the food--mediocre across the board. For first courses, my girlfriend had a scallop dish that was oversalted and overcooked. I had some of the driest duck confit i've ever had. For entree, i had an overcooked stuffed trout dish. this had been advertised as having a beurre noisette--what came was burnt butter and almonds. My girlfriend had an undercooked halibut. I wasn't expecting thomas keller, but for $150, i was expecting properly executed technique and at least marginally friendly service. we definitely won't go back there--maybe dinner at salsa next time. better food and service for a fraction of the price!
as far as breakfast--early girl eatery was fantastic. the owner was hostessing up front on a busy saturday morning with her newborn in a sling around her neck. she was friendly and very good at remembering her regular customers' names, despite the controlled chaos around her. Excellent french toast, excellent farmstead cheese omelet (as good as i had in lyon last summer), killer apricot jam on the table for the toast/biscuits, and nice strong coffee.
sorry for the rant--just thought i'd report the mixed reviews on a snapshot of asheville.