I was in Asheville, NC on Sunday and for dinner I tried The Left Bank, which occupies a choice spot on Patton Avenue. It bills itself as a French brasserie, and with the temperature in the teens, I was looking forward to tucking into a cassoulet or beef burgundy or anything that involved duck confit or bone marrow. Unfortunately, The Left Bank is a restaurant with an identity crisis. Despite its name, there's a disturbing paucity of bistro dishes on the menu. Instead, the menu is a hodge-podge of American, Cajun, Caribbean, and the ultimate category of culinary insecurity -- Fusion.
It did not have many customers either -- it was a Sunday night, to be sure, but they only had 6 customers during my visit. The appetizers included a dish called "award-winning" Jamaican shrimp. I ordered them, because when I think of France, I think of the Bastille, the Eiffel Tower, Les Halles, Versailles, and Jerk shrimp. The dish was adequate, but inferior to similar dishes down the street at Salsas. For my entree, I had the special -- pan-roasted salmon with lime aioli served over lump crab meat and asparagus risotto. Again, it was adequate, but at $22, far from exceptional. The salmon was a little dry and I believe they took artistic license on the risotto description. My scoop was suspiciously devoid of crab meat, lump or otherwise. In conclusion, The Left Bank isn't a bad restaurant. But it isn't a brasserie and for the price, you can do much better.
In the morning, however, I found the Paris Bakery and Cafe (301 Merrimon). As the French Marv Albert would say: Oui! This was the real thing: A modest storefront serving light and flaky brioche, croissants, tarte tatin, pastries, and bread. I had coffee, pain au chocolat, and brioche. Then the owner walked up to my table and set out a bowl of sugar-dusted beignets. It was Maison de Martin, circa 1984. Growing up, my mom used to make "instant" beignets for us before school. She would open a can of biscuits, separate and roll each biscuit until it was thin and wide, then fry and serve them to us with either powdered sugar or Steen's cane syrup. I can still feel the hot oil on my fingers.
Everything at the Paris Bakery was delicious. Total cost for breakast: Under $6. It just goes to prove the old adage: If at first you don't succeed in sating your francophilic appetite, try try again.