Sunday, April 14, 2019

CUCINA 24 - ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

We were in Asheville again this past weekend, and we decided to try a restaurant there that we'd not been to before: Cucina 24.  The restaurant has been on many top 10 lists, and it is located right on Wall Street in downtown Asheville.

24 Wall Street
Asheville, NC
828-254-6170

Cucina 24 had been on our radar for some time, but we either couldn't get a reservation when we wanted one or made alternate plans.  But we were excited to FINALLY be going.

We arrived for an early dinner around 6:30pm, and the place was half full.  But in no time it was bustling.  The entire bar was covered up with people eating dinner there that weren't able to get a reservation ahead of time.

We were seated at a 2 top table and presented with menus.

Our server Aubry arrived shortly thereafter and explained the menu to us.  Everything is fresh - they make their own pastas and all the vegetables come from a farm 15 minutes away.  You can order ala carte or have their tasting menu (see below) for $48 per person.  That's what we decided to go with:


And the wine menu is a little daunting in that it is entirely in Italian.  I decided that since the menu was a seasonal Spring menu, we'd go with an Italian Rose:
We sipped our rose and noshed on some thin tall breadsticks that were on the table (and were delicious btw).

Then after a bit our food began arriving.  

First up was the asparagus.  It was cooked quickly and served with a soft egg, a salsa verde made with fresh ramps (like scallions) and sautéed crunchy garlic was atop.  The dish was outstanding.
Next up was a carrot display.  I've never raved about carrots, but OMG!  These were in a brown butter (probably I'd eat absolutely ANYTHING if it's in brown butter!).  They were not over cooked, and there was an apple vinegar there that gave each bite a kick. SO GOOD!
The next nosh was a tuna crudo.  I'm not sure, but this dish might have been my favorite.  I love tuna crudo, but this one was over the top served with blood orange segments.  On top of it all was a fresh nasturtium that gave it another little level of flavor.  We were sad it was only a few bites!
The next dish was delish as well.  It was grilled bread served alongside stracciatella cheese with fresh peas and drizzled with olive oil.  The dish was topped with fresh mint.  It was the perfect Spring tribute dish!
The last of the appetizers or starters was the "salad".  It was fresh greens (assorted) with a fresh anchovy dressing (basically a mild version of a caesar dressing).  It was fresh and delicious.  We left nary a morsel!
Then came the two pasta dishes.  The first one was "little hats" or cappaletti pasta with ramps, marscapone and lemon.  The pasta was perfectly cooked al dente and the combination of flavors again = SPRING!  Fabulous!
The second pasta dish was this one below.  Two different fettuccini sized pastas with fave beans and fresh kale blossoms.  It was light and flavorful.   We loved it!
Then came our entrees.  These were the only things we had to decide on the tasting menu.  My husband went with the pork ribeye and WOW!  It was soaked in milk then served with peas, crumbled focaccia, almonds, and mint.  Fabulous!
I went with the tuna.  This dish was superb!  Perfectly seared tuna served with fresh chokeberry juice (jus) that was just "in season" - broccoli, knotweed and golden raisins.  Incredibly good.

Finally, our dessert.  I'm not one to normally be able to even fathom eating dessert but this one was perfection.  An olive oil gelato drizzled with strawberry juice.  Fresh South Carolina strawberries tossed in sugar and crunchy chocolate and hazelnut cookies.  It was just the right amount and every bite was better than the last.

We LOVED Cucina 24!  The food just is above and beyond some of the best we've had in Asheville (and that's saying A LOT).  And a note about the tasting menu: these dishes were so carefully thought out.  We left feeling full but not stuffed and miserable.  Each course was small so that you didn't get over-stuffed, but you were also able to get enough of a taste to enjoy each one.  Bravo!

I can't wait to go back!


Sunday, January 13, 2019

HAL'S "The Steakhouse"

After talking with fellow food lover friends (Jeff and Cristina), I decided it was time to try Hal's.  My husband has been several times, but somehow I have not made it there.  Here are my thoughts:



30 Old Ivy Road
Atlanta, GA 30342


(404) 261-0025

I made a reservation easily via Open Table for a Saturday night.  It was a very cold and misty/rainy evening, but we pulled up to a valet and were quickly walking in the front door.

My first thought was that the place looked smaller than I expected - compared to some large steakhouses in Atlanta.  It's MUCH more intimate than those.  You walk in and the hostess stand is to your right, and a long bar is in front of you.  In the corner by the front door is a musician area (although no one was there this night - at least when we were there).

We were seated very quickly at a nice table for two away from several large groups, which was nice.  The sound level is high - I had been warned that the place was loud.  But even though the restaurant was PACKED, it was not so loud (to me) to be uncomfortable.

Their kitchen is open, so if you snag a seat at the bar you can see the food being prepared.  And you definitely smell the aromas of the kitchen immediately upon entering the spot.  You see people in jeans and sweaters (this was in January), and others are very dressed up, so anything goes dress wise.

Another thing to note: it is very very dark in the restaurant, so some of my photos are darker than I would have preferred.  I had to use my cell phone flashlight to see the menu at times (along with numerous other diners I witnessed).

Here's the menu we were presented (along with a rather large wine menu):


 Even though they are known for their steaks, they have a pretty impressive menu of other items - especially seafood items.  And I was tempted to get their sea bass special, as it sounded incredible.  The menu/food are New Orleans inspired.  And the feel of the place is that way as well - hustling busy restaurant with people laughing and enjoying drinks and food.

 We wanted to take our time, so we ordered drinks and enjoyed those before deciding on dinner.

Dirty Martini for me!



They also brought garlic bread to nosh on with our drinks.

The drinks were out of this world - exactly what you'd expect from a great steakhouse---ice cold and with fresh hand-stuffed blue cheese olives.  One of my all time favorite drinks (if served properly!)...

We started our meal with Canadian oysters on the half shell.  They were fresh and delicious and nicely presented.


We decided on our next course, and began by sharing a chopped salad.  It was outstanding!  They brought us two, so we didn't have to share one plate, and there wasn't a bit of either salad left.  LOVED the blue cheese!

For our main course we both went with steak.  I chose their classic 12 ounce filet mignon and my husband went with a special bone-in filet.  Both were very very good.  I couldn't even come close to finishing mine, but - steak salad for lunch the next day was devine!

My filet:


My husband's bone-in filet (not a great picture coming from my side of the table, but the steak was delicious and perfectly cooked):

We went with their brussels sprouts, charred with bacon, as a side and were very glad we did.  I could've eaten the entire plate as my entree!  They were THAT good!  My photo doesn't do them justice...

And we had a bottle of wine with dinner (and they re-corked what we couldn't drink, so we could bring it home).  I was so excited that they had one of my favorite Malbec's on their list.  It didn't disappoint!  I first had this Malbec on a flight home from Italy on Delta Airlines with my daughter.  We were so enthralled with it! Better (maybe) than all the wine we tasted in Italy!

Susana Balbo Malbec, 2015




And, ahem, for blogging purposes ONLY, we sampled their toffee bread pudding.  OMG!  It was to die for!



So, all in all we had a wonderful date night at Hal's.

I'm so glad that I finally went there.  Our server, Scott, was one of the best there is, and the food was just outstanding.  It does get very very crowded and rather loud (I can only imagine when they have a musician there as well), but we had a great time.  It's not dressy or stuffy and the food is the star.  Note however: It IS pricey (see below for the bill), but top to bottom we were treated royally and served expertly prepared and delicious food.





Tuesday, January 1, 2019

AMELIA/FERNANDINA BEACH DINING

I am in Amelia and Fernandina Beach fairly regularly and love trying the dining scene there.  I had been to Lagniappe once before, right after it opened, and it was not a stellar visit.  My husband and I had both heard great things about it, but we had perhaps an off night.  The service was a bit smug, and we both went with what their daily specials were - not a good move.  We actually couldn't stand the food - I had salmon prepared if I remember correctly in a Thai manner wrapped in leaves.  It was terrible. My husband went with a surf and turf, and the ribeye was all fat.  We barely touched our food.  The wine however was superb - a Domaine Delaporte Sancerre (my favorite actually).

SO - why am I writing this blog post you ask?  Well, we AGAIN, have been hearing how wonderful the restaurant is, and now my husband has someone who works for him who is friends with the owners and has said very nice things about them, and so we decided to give it a try again.

Well - we are glad we did!  I'm happy to report that we had a lovely evening there about a week ago.



4810 First Coast Highway
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034

So first of all, Lagniappe is pronounced LAN-YAPP.  When you enter the restaurant, you a taken aback a bit, because it is a very inviting, modern, hip space (it's located by a Harris Teeter grocery store).  It's loud and crowded (both visits), and the bar is jammed.

But we were greeted with enthusiasm and shown to our seats (which also were markedly better than the last time as well).

We were determined not to order the specials, so we went with what was recommended and popular.


Tuna Tartare

This appetizer was out of this world.  Fresh tuna served atop crispy squares - loads of contrasting flavors.  We loved this dish!

My husband wanted a burger.  Sometimes it just is what you need/want after a lot of meals with long lists of ingredients.  This burger did not disappoint.  We both loved it.  Perfectly prepared to his liking.  The side of potato salad was a nice alternative to fries.

Double cheeseburger - Classically made.

I went with their cobb salad.  It's served with delicious fresh greens, and a lot of different ingredients than are usually in a cobb.  Loved the country ham and the okra and good pickles.  It was a beautifully prepared salad.

L'cobb
Country ham, roast turkey, bacon, blue cheese, green goddess dressing


We totally enjoyed our 2nd visit to Lagniappe!  We even had the same server as last time, and we liked him!  The food was the star though - we didn't get off the menu items, but what they do well, they do very well.

Excited to have another place to run to when I'm on the island.  It IS loud, so I can see that someone with hearing issues might struggle.  But the atmosphere is fun and at least this visit the food was fabulous.

ASHEVILLE DINING: THE ADMIRAL

I was nearby over NYE for a wedding, and I made sure to squeeze in an evening for another meal in Asheville.  THIS visit, the destination was:



West Asheville
400 Haywood Road
Asheville, NC 28806


There's limited parking, so you have to drive around a little to snag a spot.  The outside of the restaurant is nondescript: concrete block building with a few lights - very easy to miss.  Then when you enter, there is outside seating (not going to happen in December in NC!), and you pass through the front door into one room - that's the entire restaurant.  It's very casual and on the dark side.The hostess checked our reservation and seated us in a booth quickly.

 We began our evening by perusing the latest menu (which changes often we were told):
 It took awhile, but our server finally came and greeted us and took our drink orders.  The drinks were fine - good, not great.

The restaurant at 6:00pm (the ONLY time I could get with 4 weeks of planning) was jam-packed.

We decided we'd go with a sampling of small plates, and the dishes would be coming out as they were prepared.

OWL BAKERY BREAD: CHARRED BUTTER OF OLIVE OIL

 
The bread was very good - and we were hungry, so it helped take away hunger pangs.

Next up:

SCALLOP CRUDO: POTATO CHIPS, COUNTRY HAM, PINE OIL
This dish^^^ was AMAZING!  We absolutely loved it!  So many combinations of flavors from the creamy scallops to the salty/crisp potato chips with a tangy sauce.  So so good.

Then our next dish arrived:

GOAT CHEESE TART: FRISE, PICKLED RED ONIONS, WALNUT
This dish was just OK.  The frise was ridiculously good, but the goat cheese tart was cold and hard.  I didn't love it.

The beef tartare was fabulous!  The creamy egg yolk was nice and the cheddar with pickled onions and cornichons - such a great combination of flavors!

BEEF TARTARE: EGG YOLK, CHEDDAR, CORNICHONS, CHILE AIOLI, PICKLED RED ONION, BREAD


We also sampled the smoked capicola.  It tasted good but it wasn't a home run.

SMOKED CAPICOLA: BROCCOLI, FRIED GARLIC, WHIPPED CURDS
We wanted something crunchy and healthy, so we went with the radicchio small plate.  It was delish!! The crunchy radicchio with the creamy goat cheese schmeer on the bottom was to die for!

 RADICCHIO: GOAT CHEESE MOUSSE, PEANUT, ORANGE, PICKLED FENNEL

THEN, the next dish arrived! OMG!  My husband and I were fighting for the last bite here.  Who fights over CAULIFLOWER???  The description doesn't do it justice!  Much like the scallop crudo, there was such a great combination of flavors.  I can't describe it adequately - just am saying that if you go, you MUST order this dish - SO great!

 CAULIFLOWER: CAROLINA GOLD RICE, TUMERIC, CARROT GREENS

Our final dish was the shrimp dish.  It was good (albeit a little heavy handed with the garlic).  But the presentation wasn't the best.  You can't even tell that there are shrimp on the plate in my photo.  But the dish was good; I especially liked the leek, and the shrimp was cooked perfectly.

 SHRIMP: CHARRED GARLIC, LEEK, BREAD CRUMBS, CHILI OIL

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at The Admiral.  It IS a bit loud, so I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a romantic date night spot?  And the service was good, but it wasn't outstanding.  It felt like the workers know that they've got a great spot and therefore they don't really need to sell the food or the restaurant to you.  Our waiter was knowledgable and friendly enough but not particularly attentive.

Having said all that I'd love to go back and try more dishes - perhaps with friends or with family members.  It's a lively fun spot with some very very good food.  We had a great evening!