Restaurants & Bars 1

Two days in Asheville - our report

coldtoes | Aug 26, 200912:34 PM

A big thanks to the Asheville Hounds who made our short trip to your city such a success - we ate and ate until we had to be rolled home.

Our first meal was Sunday night dinner at Zambra. Fantastic. The arugula salad with manchego and dried cherries popped whenever you got a bite with the right proportions of cheese and fruit. I adored the pomegranate-braised pork spring rolls with guacamole and a mango sauce - an amazing pairing of flavors. My husband thought them good but was not as enthusiastic as I was. However, when the merguez croquettes arrived, my usually taciturn spouse could not shut up about them. Spicy sauteed chickpeas with garlic, lemon, and spinach were also quite good. Then there was a tasty quail supposedly stuffed with cherries and onions but seemed to have a dozen other unlisted ingredients - sweet potatoes, lentils, some kind of root vegetable that we thought was a turnip, beets, maybe carrots?, and a tiny bite of some wonderfully garlicky green that the waiter though might have been kale. All delicious but the spring rolls and the croquettes were the winners. We paired the above with mango-chipotle mojitos and Spanish reds, and then finished the reds off with a flourless chocolate torte. My only suggestion there is that while the sea salt pairs nicely with the dark chocolate, and it looks lovely there sprinkled on one corner of the slice, woe to the person who eats that bite unless you've done an excellent job of salt-dispersal!

The plan for the next day was breakfast at Sunny Point, lunch at Tupelo Honey, drinks on the GPI Sunset Terrace, and a late dinner at Nova. Overambitious as it turned out. At Sunny Point we ordered a breakfast sandwich and a huevos rancheros with the idea of sharing. But while my husband ate half of the breakfast sandwich, I was in no hurry to trade. When I got the sandwich I ate a few bites - it was perfectly good and might have been delicious if I hadn't been thinking about that scoundrel across the table eating MY huevos, so then I just had to bide my time until he got full and I could go back to eating the huevos. The plate was heaping with crumbled chorizo, tomatillo salsa, feta cheese, crispy tortilla strips, and a cilantro crema (not very cilantro-y though, as I am one of those who finds it soapy in large quantities), not to mention the potatoes and eggs. And oh, there were black bean cakes in there too, although I ate a good portion of the dish before I found one and I hadn't missed it, so I thought the feta and the tomatillo salsa were more central to the dish's success. Definitely the best huevos rancheros I have ever eaten. And super friendly service to boot (though not perfect - our ice waters were forgotten and we had to wait for them to appear before we could continue with the chipotle cheese grits, which were quite spicy). But it was charming and made me happy to be back in my native South, as I am now used to the much less chatty service in Boston.

After that 11 a.m. feeding frenzy, eating anything ever again seemed unlikely, so lunch at Tupelo Honey was out. We still weren't hungry at 4:00 but didn't think we could make it until our 8:30 reservation, so we split a chicken caesar at the GPI and a chocolate-chocolate cupcake from The Sisters McMullen. The salad was perfectly fine but nothing to write home about, the cupcake was moist and chocolatey but I thought the frosting was a tad too sweet. Still yummy, though.

When we arrived at Nova they said they were offering a Monday date night special of 4 small plates/soup/salads (excluding any $12+), 2 glasses of wine, and a dessert for $45. Since that's pretty much what we would have ordered anyway we thought that was a good deal. We started with a nice heirloom tomato salad with "lemon caviar" which the waiter revealed as tapioca (we couldn't guess), sea salt, pea tendrils (well I thought they were - the menu online says micro greens), and a parsley puree that didn't taste particularly parsleyish. I would have preferred the arugula with pancetta but my husband says I've over-arugulaed him. (Is this possible? Horrors!) So I didn't get to try that but I'm feeling regretful looking at them on the menu. The potato and chive croquettes with pickled shallots were the winner of the evening I think - I never knew before but I might eat anything if it came with pickled shallots. Pork terrine was a disappointment. I was expecting something more spreadable and remembering the nice focaccia with sun-dried tomato-infused olive oil that had started the meal. But the grilled focaccia was tough and the cold slab of pork just wasn't up to the standards of the rest of the meal - maybe closer to room temperature the flavors would have come out more? That was followed with crisp duck confit, which, like the croquettes, was delicious. We ended with a chocolate tart and added an extra glass of red wine onto our date night package. The waiter had chosen a zinfandel he thought would pair nicely, but we realized we had inhaled the tart without stopping for a sip. Oops! Props for the service here too (though they were sadly deserted and had little else to do other than attend to our needs) We had mentioned we were only in Asheville for a short visit, and after we left, the waiter ran out onto the sidewalk to ask where we were having breakfast - he wanted to make sure we didn't miss Sunny Point. So sweet.

Breakfast Tuesday was coffee and a "bagel"; while I was sorely tempted to head back for more huevos, we couldn't leave NC without getting some barbecue so we had to save room for lunch. Although advised by our Nova waiter to arrive before noon for the juiciest meat, we headed out to 12 Bones a little after 1. The pulled pork was yummy but I erred on the sides, choosing mac & cheese which was runny and bland, over the Chowhound-recommended corn pudding. Next time I will listen. My husband loved his jalapeno cheese grits, though, preferring them to SP's chipotle variety. At this point, we were stuffed like Christmas geese and had no room for key lime pie (sob), so it was time to leave Asheville and take up running marathons, or something.

Thanks again for the great advice and sorry this post seems to go on and on and on (this is perhaps why Mr. Coldtoes is taciturn - how can he get a word in?)

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