Mixing it Up
Asheville's blend of Biltmore gentility and Birkenstock casualness produces a terrific food scene. There are exceptional fine dining restaurants, ethnic eateries, homey cafes, and more vegetarian venues than you can shake an organic carrot stick at. Seems there's a restaurant for every taste.
Softly lit, stylish Zambra serves tapas (Spanish-style appetizers) with flair. Pairing diverse ingredients results in a Spain-meets-the South melding of flavors that are subtle, not hot. The fabulous plate of Spanish cheeses, for example, includes a state fair-worthy spiced-fruit chutney. Shellfish-laden Paella Zambra, however, is pure Spain and purely delicious. Order several items to share--they're generous enough for two. 85 Walnut Street; (828) 232-1060.
Sunny Point Cafe & Bakery
I made a pilgrimage to this place in west Asheville to try The Breakfast Salad. The dish comes piled high with organic field greens dressed with Maple Dijon Vinaigrette and topped with an egg, maple-black pepper bacon, tomatoes, and roasted potatoes. The fluffy homemade biscuit on the side makes a good thing even better. Having all your favorite breakfast items served as a salad assuages any guilt. Brilliant. Other great choices are the organic Cornmeal Hotcakes and huevos rancheros. 626 Haywood Road; (828) 252-0055.
Flying Frog Cafe
Chef Vijay Shastri blends his Indian-German heritage and love of French food into a flavorful stew at his family's restaurant. The soup du jour at Flying Frog was simple and exquisite--a meltingly tender, sweet cornmeal dumpling submerged in chicken broth seasoned with chili, garlic, and cilantro. The special of Scorpionfish On Blue Potato Pancake showcases the unusual and delicious fish, while Lamb Korma Zaffrani offers tender lamb chunks in a rich but not overpowering saffron-tomato-curry cream sauce. This dish is comfort itself. 1 Battery Park Avenue; (828) 254-9411.
Even standard dishes enjoy a touch of grace here. At lunch, Cool Grilled Chicken Salad is lavender-marinated, while red onion confit and Havarti cheese spark a roast beef sandwich. They offer a seasonal soup and a soup of the day. Don't pass up the Black Mountain Cheesecake for dessert. 3 Boston Way, Historic Biltmore Village; (828) 274-2439.
The Market Place
For 25 years, chef and owner Mark Rosenstein has been delighting diners with inventive dishes made from fresh, local ingredients and changing the menu seasonally. I loved Poached Pear Salad With Stilton cheese, Curried Walnuts, Watercress, and Port Wine Vinaigrette, but a heavy hand with the orange zest in Shrimp Bisque With Orange Zest struck a sour note. The exceptional stuffed Oven Roasted Carolina Trout finds a harmonious home on a bed of Potato Galette with Sage Butter, while Wood Grilled Tenderloin and Roesti Potatoes are surrounded by a beefy red wine (bordelaise) sauce. Wine pairings are suggested for each item. When you order, your server will ask if you'd like a dessert soufflé--say yes. 20 Wall Street; (828) 252-4162.