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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Bite of Asheville: Small Plate Crawl 2012

As promised, here's news from my Asheville Small Plate Crawl Adventure last night.

Get a load of that view of Asheville, North Carolina!  I've never been to the Grove Park Inn, so when I saw that three of the Inn's restaurants were participating in the crawl, I made it my first stop.  The place is magnificent. The 40,000 sq. foot Arts and Crafts style hotel and spa was built in 1912.  It took 11 months and 27 days to complete construction and workers were paid $1 a day and lived in giant circus like tents on the grounds while it was constructed.  Old photos and historical information line many of the hallways.   I'm a sucker for the history of these old places and stopped frequently to read, but my dinner buddy prodded me along. Seven restaurants in 4 hours?  Mission impossible.  

Stop numero uno: Blue Ridge Dining Room
We ordered three small plates: Bacon Wrapped Pork Shoulder with Collard Green Pudding and Carolina BBQ Fluid gel (2);  Spiced Crusted Tuna with Red Vein Sorrel, Olive Powder, Crispy Potato, Haricot Vert and Lemon Jam (1); and Roasted Pear with Red Quinoa, Cranberry and Blue cheese Crostini.

My number one mission at these crawls is to try new things.  Who could pass on something called Collard Green Pudding or Olive Powder?  The Pudding had the flavor of perfectly cooked greens but in a pureed form. The powder immediately burst with flavor when it touched my tongue.  What an amazing thing! I'm Googling it this morning to see if it can be ordered or how it is made.  Intriguing.  If you have a source or insight, please pass it along.  Thanks.

Aside from the olive powder, we weren't impressed with the spiced tuna dish because the bitterness of the lemon jam actually hurt the tuna instead of adding to it and clashed with the olive, we thought. But we did enjoy the lemon with the beans. The Carolina BBQ Fluid gel looked like ketchup on the plate, but was a cool surprise. It reminded me of grandmother's homemade ketchup with an afterkick of spice and went very well with the pork shoulder.

The view stole the show. I sipped on my Acrobat Pinot Gris and watched the sun fall behind the blue mountain line.

I had a very tight schedule laid out and seven restaurants to hit before 9pm, but we decided to abandon my plans and try the Horizons restaurant while we were already at the Inn.  We ordered Wild Boar Croquettes with Hendersonville Apple Butter and Chicken Fried Veal Sweetbreads (aka random parts) with Potato Puree, Biscuit Crumble and Honey Mustard Veal Reduction. The dishes were good, but not impressive, but the dining experience was fancy and wonderful.  As we paid our check the waiter brought a single red rose for each of us and a sliver of delightful handmade chocolate.

Next stop: downtown Asheville.

Zambra at 85 Walnut Street was our favorite restaurant of the evening.  The tapas restaurant specializes in food from Spain and North Africa... with a twist. We ordered Seared Scallops with Tobiko, Country Ham, and Wasabi-Honey Mustard (4) and Smoked Trout Stuffed Piquillo with Saffron Mantequilla (5).   Off of the small plate menu we ordered a Mixed Green Salad with Chevre, a beautifully smooth Cashew Raspberry Cheesecake (6) and a Chipotle Martini (think margarita with a spicy finish).  The flavors in the scallop dish were spectacular.  You know I am not a fan of goat products, but the green apple and nuts and creamy chevre on the salad was a heavenly combination. How could a simple salad be so wonderful?  That's the magic of good food.

We ended our evening, by running into Chai Pani with a few minutes to spare before they closed.  The staff was very nice and welcomed us on in to a table.  This restaurant serves Indian Street Food.   Yes, I wondered what that meant too, so I asked.  Apparently the fare we see at most Indian restaurants here is not what people eat everyday in India, so the owner opened this place... a real taste of India. There are beautiful pictures of the people and the country all around... a very casual but quaint atmosphere.

We ordered four things from the crawl menu (7, 8) but were not swept away by anything.  Again, you know I am not a fan of goat and my girlfriend grew up eating lamb... we both swore the Tandoori Lamb Burger was actually a goat burger.  Not a fan.  The other food was okay, but we were disappointed we had to end our crawl experience on this note.

We decided on the way home that the Hendersonville Crawl is way more fun, because most of the restaurants are closer together and the restaurant staff actually assist crawlers with getting out faster so you can make it to more places. So sadly out of 31 restaurants, I made it to 4... but sampled a bit of Asheville I've never tasted before.

*ps: I lost my picture mojo last night.  I'll do better next time!  Check out the Asheville Crawl site or Carolina Epicurean for a complete wrap-up of the event.

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