Just like Gin and Citrus

One of the things I love most about my city is that it has preserved an era…and completely by accident.  For such a modern, progressive, and hip city, Asheville still knows how to hold onto the good ol’ days.  Asheville is a wide-open time capsule full of hair feathers, drop-waisted dresses, Fitzgerald novels, and big band music.  It’s present even when no one’s dressed in theme and the blues horns hush for the night.  That “it” quality hangs around in the delightfully musty scents and subtly ornate ceilings of old 1920s buildings.  It’s Ashevillians’ everyday stomping grounds.

48 Biltmore Avenue is no exception.  In fact, the ceiling was the first thing I noticed upon walking into Chestnut, a restaurant and lounge here in Asheville.  There’s something so romantic about the raised cream-colored tiles, that I later learned to no surprise, are the 1924 originals.  I walked over to the bar and hopped up on the stool, going straight for the cocktail menu.  The “Saint Graham” suspiciously favors the “Gin Rickey,” Nick Gatsby’s famed favorite drink.  Gin and citrus. Just the sound of it makes me take a deeper breath.

One thing about Chestnut I must point out is that it is not themed.  That’s perhaps why it’s great.  It resurrects the lost generation organically.  No fear of finding cheesy posters of This Side of Paradise, or cocktails named something like, “Hemming My Way.”  It doesn’t exist, because there’s no need for a theme.  This place is real.  It’s relaxing; it’s smooth; it’s easy going; it’s new south delicious; it’s all Asheville.

After I devoured my fried green tomatoes, that were somehow the marriage of Grandma’s from the garden and a taste that can only be described as sassy, I chatted with manager, Ken Rethmeier.  Much like the restaurant itself, Ken is laid back, inviting, and delighted to have us.  He proudly filled us in on the ceilings, and original chestnut fixtures, and I could tell the history of the venue had become part of him as well.  When great leadership, awesome service, history, and yummy food meet, the synergy of it all just sizzles.  In this case it sizzles quietly, and refreshingly just like that first cocktail I laid eyes on.  Gin and citrus everywhere.

I was entranced by the atmosphere, clearly, so I decided to look behind the curtain.  I wanted to know what the quality was.  Where did this food come from?  When I found out it was all local, farm to table, and green, I was sold.  This truly is the Asheville poster restaurant.

I asked Rethmeier, “What’s one thing you want me to know that I don’t?  What do you want to tell me about this place?”

He replied with a grin, “it’s warm and inviting.  You can come taste local craft food and cocktails…and we’re the only place that still hand chops ice.”

Hand chopped ice.  I do believe I’ve made my case.

 

cb

Ceiling

 

Bar

Bar

 

Cocktails

Cocktails

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




6 Asheville Restaurants and Yum!

With a foodie town such as Asheville North Carolina, restaurants and eateries are popping up everywhere. Some are at easy-to-find locations, while others are off the beaten path. Here are some stops we made in the past few weeks:

asheville restaurant fig bistro biltmore village

Salmon at Fig Bistro

asheville restaurant edison at grove park

Scallops at Edison

asheville restaurant stone ridge tavern

Shrimp at Stone Ridge Tavern

asheville restaurant ruths chris biltmore village

Crab Cake, Steak & Chicken at Ruth’s Chris

sheville restaurant cantina at biltmore village

Chicken Quesadilla at the Cantina at Biltmore

asheville pizza franks roman

Pizza at Frank’s Roman




Eating My Way Through Asheville

The Corner Kitchen in Biltmore Village

Lobster Tacos in Sweet Potato Shells on Black Bean and Corn Salsa, Jicama Slaw and Chimichurri

As a college student, I have to eat on a budget. Well, I have to do pretty much everything on a budget. So, as I was trying to plan an epic Christmas present for my wonderful boyfriend, I realized that the college version of “epic” may just have to be a candy bar and socks. Luckily (or not so much), my boyfriend was in the same situation! After thinking about it for a while, we decided that rather than trying to spend too much money on items that the other may or may not even like, we would just go on a memorable date that we would both enjoy.

Well, I love food. I mean, I really love food. This is one of the many reasons I enjoy living in Asheville; I love trying new foods. Rather than just picking one restaurant out of the hundreds in the city, we decided to try five all in one night. As I said, I wanted to do something epic, and “epic” now meant that I would probably have to be rolled out of the last restaurant.

When planning the date, I wanted to hit some of Asheville’s best names, so naturally I turned to Ask Asheville and planned the adventure. Finally I narrowed my list down to the best diner, taco, sushi, tapas, and desert places in town.

My boyfriend, Jeremy, and I both run track for UNCA, and we headed out on our food excursion right after a workout, voraciously hungry. Our first stop was the Corner Kitchen, voted Diners’ Choice at Opentable.com, located in a quaint old house in the Biltmore Village. Since we didn’t know how much food we were going to eat throughout the whole evening, we decided to just go with one appetizer and, being the seafood fans we are, we went with the lobster tacos. And it was a great choice! The only problem I had with the dish was that I didn’t have 5 more plates of it. The lobster was buttery, melting in my mouth, and the savory slaw brought a little sweetness to the heat of the tacos’ sauce. That one plate assured me that I will have to go back to try the rest of the menu.

White Duck Taco in the River Arts District

Molé Roasted Duck with cranberries, apples, and lettuce

I’ve lived in Asheville for a few years now, and I thought I really knew my way around the city. Apparently, I was wrong. So, rather than driving straight to White Duck Taco – one of Asheville’s best taco eateries – I showed Jeremy all around the dark and quiet night version of the River Arts District. On purpose, obviously, we weren’t lost. But, we got there eventually. And the drive was worth it. I had never made my way to the little restaurant, but as soon as I saw the colorful chalkboard menu I knew I would be coming back multiple times. I love duck, and I love tacos, so the combination of the spicy duck combined with the sweetness of the fruit all wrapped in a tortilla was like a love song in my mouth. I was right about coming back to eat there, by the way. We came back a solid two days later.

Wasabi

Smoked Salmon Sashimi

My knowledge of downtown also is not quite as extensive as I thought, but after a couple wrong turns we made it to Wasabi, voted 2013 Best Sushi of WNC. As I said, I love trying new foods, and sushi is something that I have never really enjoyed before, so I wanted to try one more time. I love sashimi, so I got the smoked salmon so that I’d at least have something I would like.

Wasabi Downtown

Spicy salmon inside, peppered white tuna, avocado, crunchies, tobiko, scallions, and wasabi sauce

 Naturally, we got the most expensive roll on the menu, but it was well worth it. The salty, crunchy, meaty tastes swirling over my taste buds as I shoved the entire too-large piece of sushi into my mouth each time changed my view on the delicacy. Oh, and did I mention that I actually at the dish with chop sticks? This was probably my biggest accomplishment of the night. 

Social Lounge and Tapas Downtown

Hot popcorn tossed with shaved asiago and drizzled with white truffle oil

Social Lounge and Tapas is located, luckily, precisely two buildings down from Wasabi on the same street, so we made it there in great time, despite already being full. In need of some snacks, we went for the gourmet popcorn and gorged on the entire buttery plate while chatting and watching a football game.

Strada Downtown

Golden Crisp Calamari, Onions, Anahiem Peppers and Lemon served with Zesty Plum Tomato Sauce

Apparently, seafood was the theme of the evening, so we got fried calimari also, off of Strada’s menu at the bar. It is hard to go wrong with fried bits of sea creature dipped in a sweet marinara sauce, and this dish did not disappoint.

Old Europe Downtown

Creamy Coconut Cake

For our last stop of the night, we opted to go to our favorite dessert place over trying something new. Old Europe has been our spot since that awkward “friends” time before dating, and there are always at least ten desserts that I want to cram on my plate every time we go. One of my goals has been to eat every treat in the glass case, so I tried the creamy coconut cake as this is one of my favorite desserts and I haven’t tried Old Europe’s version yet. The moist cake layered with sweet and creamy coconut icing melted in my mouth so fast that I had to get another dessert.

Old Europe

Chocolate Bourbon Chestnut Cake

As full as I was, I took my Chocolate Bourbon Chestnut Cake home and thoroughly enjoyed it the night before classes started while I mourned the end of break.

An evening spent with my wonderful boyfriend eating Asheville’s finest food and touring the city is a date I will not soon forget. I do believe this will have to be a new Christmas tradition!

-Adrian

ASE Photography




Yum

vincenzos asheville nc

When I start to write I want to feel a “yumminess” start to awaken me, trying to coax a story out.  I do not sit down with a pen and look at the wall waiting for inspiration.  Instead, I breathe in my surroundings, and exhale the thing that tickles me most. When writing about my amazing city, I do it much the same way.  If something makes an impression on me, pretty soon, it’s ink spilled all over paper.

This week I could not stop thinking about Vincenzo’s Ristorente and Bistro in downtown Asheville.  The first time I ate there was ten years ago when I was only 17.  A prom date I soon regretted had taken me there, and at 17 I had no idea the taste of Northern Italy I was about to experience (nor the dose of culture).  However, I do remember when I visited the real Italy only a few months later that something in Florence took me back to that pre-prom meal, which was the only good thing my date did that May evening. 

I didn’t return for several years until one of girlfriends planned a special bachelorette evening for me the weekend before my wedding.  I wish I could remember the name of the server who flattered me when he said every man on Earth would be crying on my wedding day.  This is the kind of service women should receive everywhere in town, but I digress.  On top of the service, I noticed things I had failed to as a prom-bound teenager, and it was more than just the wine list (which of course is phenomenal).  It was the old world charm Asheville is so famous for touting on our rather young side of the pond. Certain parts of this city simply make the best eras stand still, and somehow Vincenzo’s captures more than one of them.  First of all, there was the art-deco building that the little trattoria sits in…it was one of the casualties of poverty that left us one of our many pieces of architectural art in town.  Moreover, there was a sound pulling me even closer to the jazz age…oh, that may have been the jazz music permeating out of the building.  My guess is it was, and it was a smooth, smoky, almost tangible brand of jazz.  It was the kind that ushers you right into its arms, clothing you in the cloth of a decade dedicated to music at it’s finest, where instruments and voices where explored and navigated through, only opening doors for what would later become a revolution…yeah I wore it that night, and whatever it was invaded me, and I dug it.  Still, it took me a few years to make it back again.  It was like the restaurant and I had become long lost lovers, passing in the night only ever so often…but tender are those nights we pass.

My latest venture there was just over a month ago for an old friend’s engagement party.  I couldn’t wait.  For one, I was still haunted by the ambiance, and two I wanted a reason to wear my new cocktail dress.  Really, I wanted to feel fabulous and fussed over.  We all did.

This time there was a different feel to restaurant.  It was raining outside, and we’d had some unseasonably cool weather for the last few days of August.  However, it was summer and still humid.  There was a steam floating about the streets, and an eeriness in the air.  It was a delicious eeriness however, a cozy one that made me curious.

We sat down at the picturesque table, and I noticed that vibrant drapes that didn’t take me just decades back, but centuries. The décor really looks like the Baroque Era in Europe got in a fight with 1920s America, but it works together harmoniously.  I found myself noting ideas for my own writing room.  It was yummy.

Still, I felt spooky tonight…maybe because it was later than usual, or maybe because of the cool rain.  I didn’t know. 

I asked the waiter, “tell me, is there a history to this building?”

“Ohhh yes,”  replied the waiter, “it’s said to be haunted.  During the Spanish Flu epidemic (in which Asheville lost 25% of the adult population) it was a furniture store that had its basement made into the mortuary when the hospital ran out of room.”

“Yum,”  I responded.

I don’t personally believe in ghosts, but now I had a story.  Suddenly the spirits in the basement gave this place a heartbeat.  The final puzzle piece had come for me:  the history.  That’s the bone marrow of the things I love.  I recommend Vincenzo’s to anyone.  It is a great place to eat, drink, socialize, hear music, wear a cocktail dress for sport, and soak in the deliciousness of Asheville at its finest.  It’s history, mystery, romance, and wine.  It’s the perfect date spot, or place to sit mysteriously in fedora by yourself.  Just eat there.  Do it as a group, a couple, or individual, but however you do it, give yourself to it completely and become yummy alongside of it.

Photo above: My girlfriends and I standing in front of the mood-lit table and old-fashioned windows just before I ordered the 007-Bombay with a twist.  Shaken, not stirred of course.

 

Hunting for Mussels in Asheville North Carolina

asheville mussels strada italiano

Eating mussels has not always been my favorite thing to do. I remember when I lived in Brooklyn, I would go to Sheepshead Bay on a seafood excursion and enjoy baby scallops, baked clams and more at Randazzo’s; but never mussels or oysters. Time changed, taste buds wandered a little, and I tried my first plate of mussels ever with a bottle of White Wine at Fiore’s, which is now Strada Italiano. SO GOOOOD! This was about 6 years ago and now I pretty much never miss the opportunity for a delicious dish. 

bull and beggar asheville restaurant mussels

After trying dozens of places in the Asheville area, we now have our preferred locations when we are on the hunt for mussels. Here they are:

1. Strada Italiano – this is the best dish that we have found in the area. Out of the 100 times (at least) that we have ordered mussels here, they have hit a home run just about every time. Once we believe they switched suppliers or chefs because the mussels were twice as big and the broth did not taste the same; but it was back to normal the following week.

2. Bull & Beggar – a new spot in town with a tasty menu and great place right near the Wedge Brewery. Their mussels were delicious and worth the trip to the River Arts District.

3. Bouchon – this has been a mussel hot spot for years. In addition to that, they have All You Can Eat mussels on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

4. Avenue M – they are located on the northside of town and we have experienced some great mussels at this place. When we lived out that way, we stopped by here at least once a month for a dish of mussels.

5. Junction – we had high expectations when ordering, and they were met with a delicious bowl of mussels that we devoured too quickly!

6. Mezzaluna – this restaurant is located in Hendersonville NC, about 15 minutes south of Asheville, and their mussels are so yum!