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Good place to treat someone to in Asheville area?

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moglia Jul 6, 2007 08:18 AM

A family friend of my fiancee's has been good enough to let us use their house for our wedding and reception, so we'd like to treat them to a night out as part of our gift to them. These are folks who are not "foodies" and are pretty open-minded eaters, but would probably draw the line at foie gras or steak tartare... A good wine list, or more accurately a helpful staff who could guide one through a good wine list would be a plus. So we're looking to spend about $150-200 on a gift certificate for two people in the Asheville/Hendo area. Any thoughts? Thanks!

  1. m
    moglia Jul 26, 2007 08:33 AM

    Now that the wedding and post-wedding stuff is out of the way I finally have a chance to report back. As it happened, we were far busier than anticipated the last few weeks (I knew this getting married thing would be time consuming, but wow...) so we didn't have a chance to do any sampling before the wedding; consequently we abandoned the GC idea and went in a different direction in that department.

    When we did have some spare time a few of us went for a leisurely dinner at Zambra, and I'll definitely make a point of returning the next time we're in the area. One of the first impressions made was that they had a varied menu, but not one with an overwhelming amount of choices which seems to be a mistake many tapas places make.

    Started with sangria which was quite nice, hints of grapefruit peel and cinnamon. Bread, cheese plate, and grilled chickpeas to begin. The chickpeas were the standout of the night - still firm and not overcooked, a bit of smoke, nice lemon and olive oil accents. This description really doesn't do the dish justice...

    There were two more rounds of food after this. Standouts were the hazelnut-crusted trout which had great contrasts of flavor and texture; good firm, meaty albondigas; a dish of grilled baby eggplant, bacon, candied lemon zest and heirloom tomatoes - another great exercise in contrasts.

    The one low point was the bluefish and rice croquettes, which was unbalanced if favor of greasiness. Everything else was quite nice if not as memorable as the above. Good presentations with a lot of eye appeal, helpful staff and good pacing in the delivery of dishes. Even if I wasn't able to complete my original mission I'm grateful to the Southern 'hounds for pointing us here!

    1. e
      Eric Panic Jul 11, 2007 12:20 PM

      Here are a few thoughts concerning the Grove Park Inn and other options.

      The views and the settings are spectacular. There is typically live entertainment in the Great Hall every night and a singer in the Blue Ridge Dining Room on weekends. However, the primary focus at the GPI is its rooms division and development of million dollar condos and a butt-ugly building downtown. As such, the restaurants suffer from neglect - not that the current management team would know how to run a great restaurant anyway. The food is average at best and way overpriced. A service charge is added to the check (except for Horizons) and some servers take advantage of the guaranteed “tip”.

      The best restaurant I’ve been to this year was FIG in Biltmore. The food was very fresh and of high quality, nicely prepared, and steaming hot when delivered to our table. Service was very good as well. The wine list, while slightly limited, had several interesting options (there are a couple of very good small vineyard Burgundy’s). It was refreshing to see a wine list without the same old same olds. On the down side, the dining room is incredibly small. The last time we were there, a guest at a nearby table made an off-color remark that was easily heard by everyone in the dining room and probably the dishwasher in the kitchen.

      Another option would be the Market Place on Wall Street. Some on this board feel that is too traditional or “tired” (I know, the chocolate lava cake is so 1998); however, I’ve always had a good experience there. The Market Place may not be as adventuresome as some of the restaurants here in town, but the food I’ve had was always well prepared and the service good. The wine list is much more extensive than Fig’s. JMHO

      1. m
        moglia Jul 9, 2007 01:24 PM

        Thanks for all the info; this has been quite helpful. We're hoping to a hit a few of these spots for lunch in our spare time this week before making a final decision. Will be sure to report back on our experiences.

        1. m
          mark Jul 9, 2007 07:00 AM

          you might try carmels...

          http://www.carmelsofasheville.com/

          the food is good and prepared well, but not challenging. my take on it is that it's a place for tourists who don't want to go out of their comfort zone (and don't mind spending too much for what they're getting) and downtown-dwelling yuppies who want a gentrified-city experience (instead of a true asheville experience). to me, the biggest plus is that it's downtown in the grove arcade (not to be confused with grove park inn/gpi), so there's lots to do before/after and good people-watching.

          if carmel's wine list isn't up to par, there's a wine bar, sante, at the other end of the arcade that is reasonably priced for before/after dinner drinks, and the staff is very helpful.

          3 Replies
          1. re: mark
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            miss piggy Jul 9, 2007 12:19 PM

            I second Rezaz or Fig in Biltmore Village.

            This is a lot of money to spend...why are we giving recs for places with only so-so food??

            I did not think Carmel's was good...at all. Granted I was there for lunch, but I thought it was pretty awful. I have never been to GPI, but that seems like a heck of a lot of money to pay for food that is below par, especially when there are so many other Asheville restaurants that are going to give you great food, wine and service. Zambra is great, but may not be the best place for people not willing to go out on a limb and try a lot of new food (it's tapas).

            1. re: miss piggy
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              fredb2548 Jul 9, 2007 12:44 PM

              Gabrielle's at Richmond Hill Inn is an excellent place for a great meal. On consecutive night recently we ate at Grove Park Inn and Gabrielle's, and much preferred Gabrielle's. We ate rack of lamb at each, and several other comparative dishes. Gabrielle's is not cheap, but for about half the cost of Grove Park, you can have a fine meal. By the way, we've eaten at Gabrielle's a number of times and have always enjoyed it there. Good wine list also,

              1. re: miss piggy
                m
                mark Jul 10, 2007 05:59 AM

                i'm simply trying to address the op's desires. he (my apologies if "he" is a she) wants a place for "... folks who are not 'foodies' and are pretty open-minded eaters, but would probably draw the line at foie gras or steak tartar." as you note regarding zambra, and to my mind rezaz and fig (& maybe gabrielle's - i haven't been there in a very long time), fall into the same category; it might be too much/too "ethnic" for unadventurous eaters. none of those places, to me, are particularly daunting, but then i don't consider steak tartar and foie gras to be particularly exotic foods. they aren't daily eats for me, but i've had both often enough that they've become rather banal. to me, walrus stew or a whale steak are exotic. so, i figure if the op's guests are going to be challenged by things like that, then they're probably slightly evolved meat-and-potato types (said tongue-in-cheek, no offense intended).

                so, i suggested carmel's as an alternative. the food is not challenging. it's no worse than the gpi, and far cheaper. i did fail to clarify in my original response that when i wrote "the food is good and prepared well" that that is the concensus of less chowish friends, but who still like food, who have been there. plus, to me at least, it's a better location. yes, the gpi is pretty (at least the original, non-corporate part of it is), but after taking in a few views, there's little to do there (unless one wants to pay exorbitant rates for a slap-and-dash in the spa, or one plays golf). carmel's is at least in a more vibrant location.

                my thinking, although i did not spell it out, was that a small gift certificate to sante and a bigger one to carmel's could combine for a nice night out for people who don't want to be challenged by their food. one could probably get both gcs without exceeding the bottom end of the op's stated price range.

                just trying to provide some other options for the op who is not looking for places for chowhounds to dine. i would not suggest carmel's under any other circumstances.

            2. c
              catsailor Jul 6, 2007 06:50 PM

              Zambras, Rezaz and Fig if wine is important. Stay away from GPI Value to cost ratio is just not there, but great place to stay. All pf those I mention has a reasonable (cost) to excellent wine list (Zambras is great if ;you love spanish wines). If you want to go on service Gabrielles, although I've heard some less than stellar reviews regearding service lately (haven't been there in 18 mos.).

              1. danna Jul 6, 2007 11:04 AM

                I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Grove Park Inn, maybe. I am not partial to the food there. I have had one lunch that was so bad, with cheap ingredients that I thought showed a general contempt for any possiblity that the diner had any taste in food, that I have never tried another lunch or dinner. Poor service with a bad attitude, to boot. Wine by the glass list so limited and overpriced that I gave up and had a beer on the patio recently. Breakfasts are bountiful, and not bad...that's my choice for a meal at GPI.

                HOWEVER - most of my non-foodie friends like the food just fine at the Grove Park, and of course everybody, including me, loves the atmosphere and view. They have a steak-house type menu on the spectacular terrace (Chops at the Sunset Terrace), and an extra-expensive restaurant called Horizons that would definitely eat up your $200 for two.

                A g.c. from Grove Park would give your friends the choice of all three restaurants/meals, and even a spa treatment or golf if they chose one of the less expensive dining options.

                (But if it were me, I'd want my g.c. to be Zambra or Fig...both good food with interesting wine lists)

                3 Replies
                1. re: danna
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                  leahinsc Jul 6, 2007 12:21 PM

                  I would have to agree with Danna. A gift certificate to GPI would give them all sorts of options from buffet to fine dining. Also, many locals, especially those of a certain age, "save" GPI for special occasions so it would be seen as a treat. Otherwise I'd say Richmond Hill Inn.

                  1. re: leahinsc
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                    moglia Jul 6, 2007 02:15 PM

                    Thanks for the info guys, I'll check out GPI when I'm in the area next week. Zambra, Fig and Richmond Hill Inn were also mentioned, can someone provide more info on these?

                    1. re: moglia
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                      leahinsc Jul 6, 2007 04:54 PM

                      Zambra is Mediterranean inspired, tapas and larger plates, very interesting interior, sort of a Moroccan cave feel. Fig is one of my favorites. It's in Biltmore Village - small place - French inspired cuisine and Richmond Hill is just outside of downtown and has an Inn and fine dining restaurant. It and Horizons at the GPI and maybe one of the Biltmore Estate restaurants are the "4 diamond" Asheville restaurants.

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