Sunday, October 21, 2018

DINING IN ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

ASHEVILLE DINING

My husband and I (along with my brother and sister-in-law) have spent the better part of the last year overseeing the renovation of a 98 year old cabin we own in western North Carolina that's been in our family for roughly 80 years.

In the course of traveling to meet with builders and make decisions etc., we have stayed and eaten in Asheville A LOT. The result is that we have come to love the city and embrace the outstanding culinary genius there.

I normally write about Atlanta area restaurants, but Asheville has been on the radar for fabulous dining for sometime now, and there are SO many spots to choose from, I thought I'd do a post that highlights a few that we've enjoyed.  Asheville is just under 3 hours from our home in Atlanta.

Asheville is different from Atlanta in many ways - there's kind of a Bohemian "grunge" factor there - and I mean that in a good way.  It's got a large art scene as well as a vibrant music community, and there are SO many breweries to visit.  Walking around downtown and stopping in stores and shops, you'll find a lot of boho looks with a multitude of rings, earrings, piercings and tattoos among the shop owners, waiters and patrons (much like Seattle, WA or Austin, TX).  It's a very hip, laid back city downtown, and the city has SO many amazing chefs that are making their mark here.

Our latest find was:

3 Boston Way
Asheville, NC  28803

The restaurant is located in Biltmore Village and is roughly 25 minutes from our cabin.  It's fall, and in Asheville, North Carolina it was busting around the shopping and dining district as well as the restaurants.


The interior or The Corner Kitchen is quaint and welcoming.  After a brief wait, we were seated within a few minutes of our reservation time.  Our server, Michelle, greeted us quickly and took our drink order.  And...I may have found a new favorite drink!  Anyone that knows me well, knows I LOVE St Germain, and bonus!  This drink has PINEAPPLE (another favorite of mine)!  BOOM!  It was so so fabulous! It was served ice cold and was so flavorful without being too sweet - loved it!

THE VANDERBILT
Organic Rain Cucumber Vodka, St. Germain, Pineapple Juice, Sage



The menu changes often and is printed every few days.  Here's the menu we were presented with on October 20, 2018:


And while we were enjoying our drinks and perusing the menu, there was a table of 3 behind us that we could hear RAVING loudly to their server about how fabulous their dinner had been.  I looked up to see one of men's plates and took a sneaky picture - I think there's probably a good chance he enjoyed his pork chop, as there was not ONE thing left on his plate but the bone! I don't think I've ever seen a plate cleared away so thoroughly - ha! ;)


After a bit we ordered a first course of soup and salad.

CORN & CRAB CHOWDER WITH FRESH CILANTRO


This creamy concoction was wonderful and not too rich - not quite hot enough, but it was yummy so we both ate it so quickly, and it didn't matter much!

BABY ARUGULA
Tossed with Toasted Walnuts, Shaved Fresh Pears, Crumbled Bleu Cheese 

This salad was exactly what I wanted - the balsamic vinaigrette was spot on, and the pears coupled with blue cheese were divine.  I would have preferred walnuts though - my salad had almonds instead.


I was wavering between the trout and the bacon and pimento cheese stuffed chicken, and Michelle suggested going with the trout (which is one of their signature staple dishes).

PECAN CRUSTED MOUNTAIN TROUT
Over Ginger Sweet Potatoes with Green Bean Salad and Bourbon Sauce


I am so glad that I chose this dish!  It's hand's down THE best trout I've ever eaten!  It was delicately prepared - moist and delicious.  It was served over a sweet potato puree with green beans.  THAT SAUCE....



My husband ordered their other "signature dish" that is always on the menu - the New York Strip.  It was again - prepared exactly as it should be and was flavorful and yummy served with mashed red potatoes and asparagus.

PEPPER GRILLED BRASSTOWN NY STRIP*
With Cheddar Smashed Potatoes, Asparagus and Horseradish Butter 



Can't say enough about this place!  We had a wonderful evening walking and shopping around the village topped off with an incredible dinner.  We WILL be back!


Other places that are a "must try" in the area that we've enjoyed are (in no particular order):










I think out of all of the above, TABLE was our favorite.  The service was absolutely incredible and each bite of each dish was amazing.  The atmosphere was elegant without being stuffy, and (unusual for a spot in downtown Asheville) it was quiet - perfect for a date night.  Oysters were killer - and the pate was to die for!  And I am still talking about their simple lettuce and herb salad - perfection.  Not to mention the trout and maybe THE best pork tenderloin I've ever tasted!  We even (and we rarely get dessert) had their bread pudding and coffee - we didn't want the night to end!

For super casual Mexican - you must go to WHITE DUCK TACO!  I recently told a friend (who frequents the city often) about it, and the next time she and her husband were there they checked it out and also couldn't believe how good it was!  They have a limited menu but each taco is fabulous.  They change a few things seasonally and only serve a few beers, wines and margaritas and sangrias, but....what they do they do amazingly well. Still talking about the Thai Chicken tacos, buffalo chicken tacos and the pork belly tacos.  OMG!

RHUBARB was our first spot that we went to a year ago.  We were staying at the Inn a Biltmore (a "thank you" gift from our daughter and new husband) last December.  It's in downtown Asheville right in the middle of all the action of the city.  We sat near the kitchen (which normally you wouldn't want, BUT here, it's fabulous to see the wood-burning oven and hustle and bustle going on).  The service was great and the food was great - more comfort food when we were there getting pork loin and a featured vegetarian dish, but on a chilly night, it was exactly what we wanted.  Great wine selection and recommendation by our waiter too.

FIG was our 2nd restaurant to visit.  We were staying in the Biltmore Village area, so it was really nice to be able to walk to the restaurant from our hotel.  It's a very small spot, but it has such a nice romantic vibe.  Our dinner was memorable, service great. Loved their salads, Bolognese and salmon.

We went to the hotspot CURATE with our "business partners" - my brother and sister-in-law a few months ago.  We wanted to celebrate our progress, and I had made a reservation here 6-7 weeks prior (as it is very hard to get in on short notice).  It's a rather loud spot, but wow!  The food is so so good.  We ordered 6 small plates to sample as a group (some help here and there from our very good server).  And we had some wine that was really great as well.  It's a restaurant that leaves an impression for sure - not exactly a spot where I'd go to have an intimate conversation, but it was such a fun evening with really great food and company.  We had a ball!

NIGHTBELL is CURATE'S sister restaurant.  On the night we dined there we were staying downtown, so we walked there easily from our hotel.  It's a strange little restaurant - you enter by walking up stairs to get to the restaurant, and the seating is very limited.  There's a bar to the right and the dining area is to the left.  We were seated at a tiny table with little ice cream parlor chairs that sat at an angle from each other - very odd and uncomfortable, especially for my 6'5" husband.  Like, CURATE, the best way to enjoy the menu is to sample a bunch of different small plates.  AND like CURATE, the food was very very good.  Our server was a bit aloof, but adequate.  Not sure we would go back though after the seating situation - we were eager to stand up and leave our spot as soon as our dinner ended.  But the oysters, deviled eggs and burger bites were killer.

CHESTNUT is another downtown Asheville staple that is a must reservation place.  Friends had said some very good things about it, so we were really looking forward to going here.  And afterward, we both agreed that the food was very good, BUT - we were seated in this odd table in the window at the front of the restaurant.  The food here is expensive, but there were people in tank tops, cut off jean shorts and flip flops.  Asheville in general is much more casual and laid back than Atlanta, but when you're paying the kind of prices like you do for entrees at Chestnut, I personally think there needs to be SOME sort of dress code.  There were tons of people that walked in with babies in strollers, running shoes with gym shorts etc. as well.  So you're not going to have a relaxing elegant dinner here.  Our server was extremely busy with other tables but competent.  We did like the food, but I'm not sure our overall experience was such that we'd go running back?  It's a shame because the food was good and The Corner Kitchen is over the top fabulous.

And RED STAG is THE restaurant at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Biltmore Village.  It's a fine dining steakhouse.  We've been there twice and had two totally opposite experiences.  The first time we went we were with my brother and had the most fun evening.  The food was outstanding, and the service was top-notch.  We gushed about every detail of the dinner and had a fabulous time.  Then, unfortunately, the second time we went we were seated near the bar, had a couple that walked in and sat next to us in running shorts and tanks with baseball caps (clearly had been exercising) along with a very loud bachelor party group of guys that had been doing a brewery pub crawl all day.  Then, to top it off, the food was sub par - my husband's overdone steak that was charred was inedible and had to be sent back.  They replaced it, but I had to sit and eat my dinner alone while they cooked another steak for my husband, and there wasn't much of an apology.  His 2nd steak arrived and then he ate it alone.  It's very steep price wise, so to not have everything be pretty perfect was a disappointment.  And mistakes happen, but when they do, I expect there to be some contrition.

Finally, CANTINA in Biltmore Village was so much fun! We walked over from the Grand Bohemian with our two labradoodle dogs and ate outside.  Our server immediately brought out water for them and took our orders.  The Mexican food was so good, and the evening couldn't have been more fun.  It's a super laid back atmosphere with great margaritas and food.

The restaurants on our radar to visit in the future are:

THE ADMIRAL

REZAZ

LIMONES

ENLO CALLE

CUCINA 24

BULL AND BEGGAR

NINE MILE

ASHEVILLE ACCOMODATIONS
We ended up staying in various hotels during the past year during the construction of our home, and there were a few that stood out, others did not.  Asheville hotels are not inexpensive, but by checking often and using sites like hotels.com etc., you CAN find deals.

*Inn at Biltmore
This hotel is one of the nicest we've ever stayed in!  It's beautifully appointed, and the rooms are spectacular, but really, what sets this hotel apart is the service (well, and the fact that it's right next to THE BILTMORE!).  Seriously though everyone at the hotel treated us like royalty.  We stayed there last December, and their fireplaces were roaring, and the Christmas decor was beautiful.  Loved the trails all around the grounds too.  The spa is odd though - great massage therapists, but it's a very small set up.  Note: Be aware that the hotel is very pricey.

*Renaissance Asheville
We stayed here one time, and that was too many.  The location is great, but that's where it ends.  It was very loud (numerous bachelorette and girls' weekend getaway groups were throughout the hotel), and it needs to be updated badly.  You still pay a premium to stay there (~$300/night is the norm), but what you get is NOT worth it.  You are paying for location only.

*AC Hotel by Marriott
This hotel is our favorite hands down!  It's located downtown and is within walking distance to everything.  The rooms are clean and well-appointed and the staff helpful.  Two negatives are that the check-in is strange since you park in a garage and have to deal with getting a luggage cart in the garage then taking it into your room oddly, and the elevators are SLOW, but other than those 2 things, it's a great hotel.  AND there's a rooftop bar that's really fun!

*Hilton Garden
We ended up staying here twice. Love the parking and check in.  The rooms are pretty sparse, but they are very clean.  It's a bit of a hike from things downtown, but we like to exercise so that wasn't a problem for us - they have a shuttle that will take you anywhere if you don't want to walk.  They also have a rooftop bar but there's usually really loud live music there, so be warned.

*Grand Bohemian
We LOVE this hotel!  Look for deals as their prices fluctuate, and you can get a great price or you can pay through the nose.  But the hotel and rooms are devine!  It's in Biltmore Village though, so you aren't downtown.  But it's a fabulous hotel and there's lots of shopping nearby (Lululemon, Lilly Pulitzer, Brooks Brothers etc.) and quite a few good restaurants too.  Love the artwork throughout the hotel that is for sale.

There's also of course the Grove Park Inn - I've never personally stayed there, so I'm not writing about it.  Great views and great spa.  Again, it's pricey, so again, look for deals as the prices change.

And my brother stayed at the Windsor Boutique Hotel and raved about it.  It's down the street from the AC Hotel.  It's beautifully appointed with a fabulous location in downtown Asheville.
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Monday, October 1, 2018

Tiny Lou's

We went with long time friends to Tiny Lou's this past Friday night prior to a Georgia Tech football game weekend.  The restaurant was on my radar, and then my adult "kids" went last weekend, and it then became a "must go-to" spot.  I lean toward anything French, and I heard the food was nothing short of spectacular, so, we went...

789 PONCE DE LEON AVENUE NE
ATLANTA, GA  30306
470-485-0085

Menu here

We entered via uber the main entrance to the Hotel Clermont (which houses Atlanta's oldest strip club, the infamous Clermont Lounge).  The name is from a dancer at the lounge from the 1950s.

We were swiftly and hospitably and directly down a wide staircase to the restaurant.  There were 4 of us, so 6:00PM was the only time that I could grab on a week's notice (other than 8:30pm, which is too late when we were going to be tailgating EARLY the next day).

Anyway, our friends met us almost immediately after we arrived and we were seated.  The place was not crowded at first but within 30 minutes the place was crowed and bustling and loud.

Our server was fantastic - he arrived promptly and took our orders.  Throughout the evening he was present but not intrusive - high energy and his excitement over the menu items was infectious.  We couldn't wait to dig in!

NOT MY HULA HOOP!
Old Fourth gin, lime cordial, St. Germain, hopped grapefruit bitters

We started with ordering drinks, and I went with this yummy concoction (but substituted vodka since I abhor gin).  It was fabulous - not too sweet and ice cold.



Rooibos-infused Bahnez mezcal, vermouths blanc & rouge, Peychaud’s bitters, Herbsaint

 The bread plates feature a dancer from the Claremont Lounge:

For starters we began with the foie gras - OMG!  Having spent time in Paris sampling foie gras, THIS one might be my favorite!  The rich creamy texture is there, but there's a twist: a blue cheese flavor that cuts through the richness.  I could've eaten the entire thing on the delicious bread all night long!

 BLACK COCOA FOIE GRAS TORCHON . . . . Rainier cherries caline, toasted brioche

MAINE DIVER SCALLOPS. Potato mousseline, charred broccolini, espelette, dark chicken jus 

I am not a scallop fan, but - the other 3 at dinner loved this dish!
 Octopus appetizer - was absolutely DELICIOUS!

Unfortunately I didn't get a description that was adequate for this dish but it was a perfectly prepared octopus.  There wasn't a bite left.
 BLUE FIN CRAB CREPE Black corn butter, tomatoes juliette, watermelon radish, watercress

LOVED this crepe!  Wow!  The photo doesn't do it justice!  We all devoured it!
 CAROLINA POULET ROUGE 
Cèpes, aligot, haricot verts, espelette

My photo is not good, but this chicken dish was killer!  And the rich mashed potato side was off the charts good!
 BLUE RIDGE TROUT ALMONDINE Haricot vert, capers, cipollini, toasted almond, almond milk, sourdough brown butter

Two of us got the trout and loved it.  Perfectly prepared fish and that brown butter!  So so good!
BUTTER BEAN & CORN FRICASSEE 

Fabulous side of expertly cooked butter beans!
Tiny Lou's outstanding Old Fashioned: 
 The Aligot (mashed potatoes) - unreal!
PAN ROASTED GROUPER Potato confit, beech mushrooms, leeks, rouille bread crumbs,
sauce bouillabaisse 

This grouper is new on the menu (taking the place of the sea bass) and I didn't have any, but my husband loved it!
CHARRED BROCCOLINI béarnaise 

Not meaning to sound like a broken record here, but this dish also - expertly prepared!  The broccolini was just cooked so it wasn't limp and the béarnaise was delish!
 ODE TO BLONDIE 
brown butter blondie, curried bananas flambe, buttermilk ice cream, hazelnut cremeaux

Had to try this dessert (and "ode" to the Clermont Lounge's most famous stripper, BLONDIE)!  The blondies were perfect but the hazelnut cremeaux was what set this dessert over the top.  It tasted like salted caramel to me (my current obsession).  So wonderful!

It was such a fun dining experience.  Cannot say enough about this restaurant.  We had a ball catching up with old friends in such a delightful Atlanta establishment.

After dinner we rode the elevator to the rooftop for an after dinner drink.  The sun had set unfortunately, BUT there are killer Atlanta views.  It was a mild weather night, and it was such a fun spot to mix and mingle.









Can't wait to find another excuse to come back to Tiny Lou's!  Top to bottom, it has catapulted to the top of my list of favorite spots to dine in Atlanta.  Loved it!