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sorrento in Asheville - worst of all time?

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We've been looking for decent Italian in Asheville and tried Sorrento - based on a smattering of positive comments here. I'd be curious to know from people who've been around for awhile if the place has gone dramatically downhill or....I don't know what other explanation there could be, actually.

The place had a fun/funny/kitschy decor and the one young guy who appeared to be running things solo were the two appealing aspects (comments on here have referred to an older couple who supposedly own the restaurant - but they were nowhere to be seen).

The "house wine" was clearly cut with a substantial amount of water as it barely tasted of wine at all. & after being told to "help yourselves" to some from the carafe on the table, it showed up on the check at $4.50 per glass (which is admittedly affordable for wine by the glass, but only if it actually IS wine).

The "complementary antipasto" consisted of a small tuft of canned tuna (and not a quality grade, either - no albacore here), some crunchy potato salad, canned green beans and a pair of meatballs that I was too terrified to try, but my husband says they tasted like your basic hamburger balls with a sauce of Ragu. At this point I was already very afraid of what was to come, but it was like watching a train wreck and we couldn't bear to tear ourselves away.

The bread was thin slices of baguette with an herb butter that to me had the waxy taste of a butter/margarine blend. The green salad consisted of supermarket quality baby greens and a dressing that was too sweet to use and had that fresh-out-of-the-bottle taste.

We both had pasta. We took the waiter's recommendation as to choice of sauce for the ravioli. It was a goopy, brie-flavored concoction. The shrimp and asparagus primavera was barely better, with a few undercooked shrimp over spaghetti and halved cherry tomatoes. Both had no seasoning, and both plate rims were dusted with paprika (in an attempt to disguise the lack of even a sprinkling of fresh parsley, maybe?).

This, for both of us, was the worst restaurant meal we've ever eaten, but I just have to know if any of the chowhounders on here have tried it recently and can shed some light on what's going on. Could this one waiter have been preparing the food too (as he claimed, but we thought he must be joking) and just desperately microwaving things back there? Was this a one night aberration where everyone called in sick at the last minute or has something happened to the place lately? Or is the current standard of Italian food in Asheville so low, that this is what passes for "good"? As my husband said, "If Tony Soprano wandered in here for a meal while taking his kid to look at area colleges, he would have put in a call to have the place burned to the ground for giving Italian food a bad reputation."

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  1. thanks for the comprehensive review. Last time I was there I felt things were a bit sketchy but it has probably been a year since I have eaten there. sorry you had such a bad experience!

    1. Yes and no. Most of what you described aligns with my one experience at Sorrento's. Very weird Lady (owner I think) was the hostess who forgot she hadn't seated us, and could not grasp that I was not part of another party who walked in at the same time I did.

      Did you miss out on the piano player? Another retro treat.

      Antipasto was weird, but hey, it's free. Wine was homeade (like homemade by your aunt, not homemade by a Rothchild), but hey, it's free (our's really was free...they didn't say help yourself, they said first glass is free, afterwards there is a charge)

      Our entrees were OK. I would not classify them as the worst Italian I've ever had, so yes...there is some horrid Italian being served in this area.

      All in all, our experinece as Sorrento's was much better than yours. The weirdness, kitchiness, friendlyness (waiter and ancient piano player), and ridiculously low bill made us enjoy ourselves, and it was certainly not the worst restaurant experience I ever had. I've had food no better and been given a $80 bill a few times.

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      1. re: danna

        Too bad - there was no piano player.
        Also wasn't so cheap for us. I saw an online menu before we went that seemed very affordable, but entree prices were all about $5 more on the actual restaurant menu. Nothing is free, of course, though maybe your perspective is more generous, but as the price of the antipasto (and wine if you are lucky enough to get it "free") is figured into the price of the entree, you are just overpaying for what you get there. If it wasn't all so awful it would be fine.
        BUT I agree with you that it was so crazy that we are still amused and constantly joking about it- and maybe that makes it worth it one time.
        Anyway, thanks for sharing your experiences - it's interesting to unravel more aspects of the mystery.