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Feb 20, 2008 05:43 AM

Food in Asheville, present & future

What's your general impression of restaurants in Asheville overall? What else would you like to see here? My own impressions.

We have great Indian food. Mela hooked me. Fresh spicing, not afraid to make it hot... My only problem is the loud, clattering, open dining room when they get busy - distracts me from fully enjoying the food. But the food is so good.... I would proudly take someone from out-of-town there.

We have at least one real, good bakery. The loaves from City Bakery have the right crust, the right texture.

We have great markets and farmer's markets. It could be argued that the food you get in an Asheville home is better than anything you get in a restaurant.

We have perhaps one-too-many.... sushi places, Thai places, "New American" places with minimalist names (Fig, Table, etc), and vaguely French winebar-brasserie-bistro thingies.
I have no problem with any of those things, but we have too many, possibly at the expense of some basics....

We need a place serving a great steak / a great steakhouse... I asked for suggestions in another thread. I appreciate those who responded, but overall, the results were depressing. A steak is such a basic, satisfying thing. I find our lack of a great steak/steakhouse a little surprising and embarrassing.

We need authentic Italian. I read the recent thread on this. It could be argued that authentic Italian is impossible outside Italy, because Italians are charmingly dogmatic about their regional ingredients/combinations. But a place making an attempt at regional Italian would be great. Tuscan simplicity / Tuscan grills are fine but they are getting old. There are other regions in Italy. I would personally love to see a Roman restaurant. Roman food is bold and gutsy, befitting the center of the world empire. Some signs of an authentic Italian place: The food comes out in courses. Everything is not served at once. There is a simple but good house wine available that is not expensive. The salad is served last, never at the beginning.

We need real Chinese, any region of China is fine, and/or a dum sum place. There will be no buffet available at this place, at any time of the week. Small dishes of goodness will come out and everybody will take this or that and put it on their plate, family style.

A place serving consistently great pizza. Not some stoned guy in the back throwing this or that on your pizza (although there is definately a time and a place for that), but real authentic pizza. What about a Neapolitan pizza oven bringing out the real thing? Or real new York pizza: ya know, thin, lots of cheese, greasy.

A place serving a consistently great burger. Some may disagree with this. But let me know.

These are not complicated, avant garde, daring restaurant concepts. These are basics. We can't call ourselves a real food city without at least some of these basics. It strikes me that Asheville jumps on trends that are several years old (Thai, New American Minimal), and then 20 restauranteurs want to do it. I wonder if they don't think they'll make money with the basics, because I think they will. I think people would go nuts for a dim sum place, for instance.

What are your impressions? What do you like that we have, and what do you want?

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  1. We definitely need great Asian (Vietnamese/Korean) for sure -as well as Ethiopian!!!

    I think Noodle Shop is the best downtown option for non Japanese but it can be hit or miss. I can say the Dan Dan noodle is always ON!

    Marco's is GREAT pizza ( I lived in Italy, did the Napolitano pizza pilgrimage) and if you haven't been there yet go NOW.

    I'm Veg but I hear Jack of the Wood actually has the best burger in town....

    Good post BP.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jbyoga

      Thanks yoga. Vietnamese would be great. One of my favorites. All those fragrant herbs. And I like the concept: everybody takes what they want and puts it in their bowl, their own combination. Perfect for Asheville - a Vietnamese place would have no problem being successful here.

      I love Marco's. My pizza complaint might have been a little persnickety.

      You lived in Italy. Do you eat much Italian here in Asheville?

      1. re: Budget Palate

        I haven't yet found great Italian - not to say there isn't any lurking somewhere...wanting to try Nona Mia and Sugo from reading posts...I'll report when I do. Ciao!

    2. I would love noting more than some good Chinese or Vietnamese. I would pay overpriced prices for it too. Found nothing so far.

      I've found most of the new American places here to be overpriced and overrated. I've eaten at restaurants with the same concept, five times as good and at the same or lesser prices. One is in a town much smaller than this one. If I'm paying james beard nominee or winner prices (for the most part) I want a james beard nominee or winner. Sorry, but I'm just not buying these places.

      I like city bakery, but have you had a loaf from farm and sparrow? He's got these great tangy, chewy and crunchy loafs with sesame seeds, mixed seeds and herbs. This man is a master of his craft and his bread is outrageously good and stands it own. They've got it at the co-op - find out what day they get it fresh and get it then. You won't be sorry.

      2 Replies
      1. re: charlottecooks

        Interesting observations about the new american places here.

        Good Chinese or Vietnamese... yeah, it's like a hole in the soul of our dining scene.

        Thanks for the farm and sparrow suggestion.

        1. re: charlottecooks

          The fellow who has Farm & Sparrow knows his stuff. I helped get him set up for a demo at a local NF store & spent some time chatting. He moved down here for the opportunuty to open it. Bread was quite good & he was really open to tasters input.

        2. My thoughts on your thoughts :

          Bakery - yes, Asheville and it environs are blessed. Not only City Bakery, but Flat Rock Village Bakery, Annies in Slyva, Wild Flour in Saluda (soon to be Tryon).

          LOVE Asheville tailgate markets, and I'm so unhappy that the one on Sat afternoon at Green Life is no more. There's no love for those of us who can only shop Asheville on Sat p.m.

          Steak doesn't thrill me and the kind of steakhouse you described in the other thread is some place I never want to go. I apologize for being part of the reason you're having a hard time finding your steak nirvana.

          Burger: it would have to be a place that grinds it's own, so they can cook it rare (per DHEC) A medium burger can never be good. I feel strongly about this ;-)

          Italian - Oh Lord, I wish there was good Italian in Asheville...or anywhere closer than Al Di La in Charleston for that matter. I had such high hopes when Hector opened Modesto, and although I've had some excellent meals there...I've had a few average ones too, and one stinker. Then I had high hopes for Sugo, and it let me down as well. My prefered place for pasta and pizza is WEst First in H'ville, but it's still not exactly what I think of as an "Italian Restaurant".

          8 Replies
          1. re: danna

            Great suggestions on bread from you and others.

            I appreciate all the replies in the threads. Without lively discussions about food, Chow would be boring. Your suggestion of Grove Park for a steak was appreciated. I like going up to Grove Park and soaking up the atmosphere. It is a grand old hotel with an incredible view. I am definately going to try the steak the next time I'm there. I only meant that it was "depressing" not to have, well, a steakhouse proper. Although it might be coming soon. And my notion of a steakhouse is definately odd, no doubt. Actually, I saw in another thread, someone said that Bouchon has a good steak and they are affordable too.

            In total agreement about the burger. A place that grinds own meat would be great and would appeal to Asheville folks, I think. Medium-rare for me. Actually, medium itself might be ok but they're not even cooking it medium.... always medium-well or beyond. You can beg them, please don't overcook my burger, and it will come out overdone anyway. That's a problem everywhere, not just Asheville.

            Hector has an exuberant creativity that makes his food so appealing. But authentic Italian food is uncompromising and dogmatic. It essentially says, "We've been figuring out the best combinations of food for thousands of years and we have found what works best." It says, "Our palate is going to educate your palate." And it has influenced the whole world. But it remains essentially undemocratic, un-American. "This is the way you do it. You have to know what the rules are before you break them." I don't mind this, I have learned much from stripping it all down and trying the ancient, tried-and-true combinations before experimenting.

            I am not surprised that Hector is not doing all-the-way authentic Italian -- he can't, it's just not him. What we like about Hector is that creativity. If he were to do authentic Italian he would have to repress much of that, and follow the regional Italian palate. He can't, he won't, he shouldn't. Salsa in its heyday was a phenomenon. Hector has been a gift to the Asheville food scene.

            1. re: Budget Palate

              I agree 100% regarding Hector and Italian Food. I visualize him reading Hazen's Essentials of Italian Cooking and throwing it at a wall.

              The next time I make a wretched mess of an Italian staple, I'm going to tell myself it's because Italian food is undemocratic and un-American.

            2. re: danna

              Danna, have you tried any of the Italian places in H'ville (besides West 1st - which we love too!)

              such as......
              La Riserva (loved it, but pricey),
              Mona Lisa (decent depending on what you get),
              a new place on Washington (can't remember the name, but I think it's now open - next to Sinbad), or
              Potenza (didn't care for it).

              I feel like I'm forgetting one???...
              anyway, just curious what your take is on those........

              1. re: Scirocco

                Only Potenza, and , as you say, I didn't care for it. We walked in the new place next to Sinbad last Saturday at lunchtime (damn West first for closing at 2:00) and looked at the menu, but weren't super impressed. The lunch menu was mostly sandwiches and the 4 pastas offered didn't jump out at me. We left and went to One Love. Later, we looked at the La Riserva menu...we'll have to try that next , thanks for the tip. Have you been there for lunch? brunch?

                Also, on our walking tour of menus, we looked at a place just below Potenza....I think it's Latin.... called....hmmmm....I you know what I mean? Have you tried it? Sorry so vague.

                1. re: danna

                  we went to La Riserva for dinner not too long after it opened and really loved it. They weren't open yet for lunch or brunch at that point, so haven't tried that yet. Don't know if you ever went to Sparacino's, but it's the same chef, David Sparacino.

                  Good to know about that place next to Sinbad. I had high hopes. Might check the dinner menu (do they serve dinner yet?) and see if it's any more interesting. And why isn't West First open for lunch during the week??!! Sometimes Flat Rock Bakery seems too far away...

                  Am wondering if you mean Never Blue near Potenza? It's a few storefronts south (119 S. Main). If so, have only had dessert and coffee so far, but the dessert was amazing! (and I'm a dessert snob) The interior is very interesting/artsy. Some great tile work. The lunch menu looked great (Mexican/Latin flavors, but plenty of choices for the non-Latin lover). Prices were about $8 - $9, but you can get a few tapas items and some smaller sized salads for $4 - $5 (I have the menu in front of me - lol!). I hear they are opening for dinner at some point down the road. In the summer, they're going to have a patio type area - some inside (with a large garage door opening) and some outside (I would assume). The day we went, we had just eaten lunch at Umi (which we also love), so didn't have room to eat more at Never Blue, but we will definitely go back. It's gotten good feedback around town.

                  sorry to have gotten off-topic for A'ville!!! :-(

                  1. re: Scirocco

                    I have a question, as well as some thoughts on the tailgate markets. On any given Wednesday or Saturday, there are at least 5 or 6 very small tailgate markets set up at the same time, scattered around Asheville, many of them within just a few miles of each other, not to mention several others within 10-15 miles or so (Black Mountain, Hendersonville). Asheville and the surrounding area is not that big - why not just have one big one and have it be really fantastic? I have never understood that. I think it is really stupid, actually. I love farmer's markets but the ones here are si small and never seem to have much of a selection. From what I undersatnd the biggets one is the one downtown at the co-op, but I've never seen more than 10-12 vendors there, and many of them are just flowers and art or soaps or veggies. We moved here from New Mexico and the Santa Fe Farmer's Market on Saturdays was so great - tons of vendors, a huge selection, and the growers came from miles and miles to share their amazing food. It seems like Asheville could have a world-class market if there weren't so many piddly little spin-off markets. Can anyone explain this? My only afterthought would be that it's the same vendors set up at all of the locations. But certainly that is not the case?

                    1. re: miss piggy

                      There has been a lot of bizaare childishness between EF & Greenlife and to a certain extent FBCo-op. It has also extended to some long term patrons of these places. It excelerated greatly once Greenlife opened. Tied into it has been a desire by differing neighborhoods for their own farmers market. Many of the farmers I know find it a difficult situation. Farming takes time, trying to do multiple markets is exhausting. CSA involvement may be their best personal solution. If you have not gone on the annual farm tours - do so. Great experience & you might learn first hand about the craziness of the farmers market situation.

                      1. re: miss piggy

                        good news for you looking for tail-gate markets. In the Spring a new large all encompassing tailgate farmer's market will be opening behind City Hall in an area on the right as you head towards Biltmore Ave that houses city municipal works.