A Foodie Tour of the South...Part 2.

Having spent most of the first half of our trip to Asheville in a food induced coma, I began to wonder how I could ever return home to the Chili's and Outback's of the world. In just two nights, I had become spoiled beyond belief, and there were still four amazing dinners to come. It was clear that this was sure to get more difficult, as I had saved the highest rated restaurants in Asheville for the last two nights of our trip.

As if we had not consumed enough wine already, day three began with a tour of the Biltmore Winery, followed by a bit of tasting. Knowing we were in for a full day at the Estate, followed by another meal fit for Mr. Vanderbilt himself, I decided to limit my tasting to only about ten of the twenty-five wines from which to choose. We decided to take a couple bottles home, and it will be interesting to see if they make it the year we pledged to let them age in our rack. And yes, I'm aware that the words "ten" and "limit" don't exactly go together...


We toured the Biltmore Estate in the afternoon, and went back for their Candlelight Christmas at night. The house is beautiful, especially in the evening, as the crowds in the afternoon took away from the experience a bit. We were joined by my mother-in-law for the day, and after a full bout of touring, it was time for the main event of the day, which was dinner at The Corner Kitchen.

When I began planning our trip, I had run across an article about The Corner Kitchen, and their hosting of President Obama on his recent trip to Asheville. After checking out their menu and reading the reviews on TripAdvisor, it didn't take me long to decide that if it was good enough for the President, then it was good enough for us. And given that they were ranked #2 in Asheville on TripAdvisor, they were well within my top 25 requirement for dining...

Before we were even in the front door, dinner was already off to a good start, as their was a nice sign on the menu board which read "All Bottles of Wine 1/2 Price Tonight." Suddenly, my budget for wine had just doubled, and I was anxious to get to our table and crack open the list. I landed on the Stags Leap cabernet which I had enjoyed once before at home, but it's price is usually prohibitive when I've seen it dining out. The server poured me the customary first taste, and it was clear that this was going to be a great night...

Sticking with my desire to try new things, I started with a cup of the corn and crab chowder. As a guy that would usually order just about anything over soup, this in and of itself was a departure from the norm. It was a great start, and the warmth was appreciated given that I was sitting next to a window who's seal had failed allowing a trickle of the 20 degree air inside.

Next I moved on to my appetizer of Smoked Salmon Julienne with Crisp Potatoes. This dish without a doubt made my evening, and rivaled some awesome creations for the best thing I had all trip. The best way I could describe it is a combination of smoked salmon with KC Masterpiece barbecue potato chips. It may sound terrible, but it was amazing, and given my love of smoked salmon, I enjoyed it thoroughly..

My one regret from the experience at Corner Kitchen was my selection for the main. I was feeling a bit carnivorous that evening, and opted for the sliced filet mignon and whipped mashed. Am I complaining about filet mignon? Absolutely. The reason is simple really...it was boring. For a brief moment when ordering I reverted back to "Steak and Potatoes Deej," and failed to take advantage of a prime opportunity to explore. Don't get me wrong, the dish was fantastic and went great with the wine I had selected, but as I looked around the table I definitely had a bout of "Entree Envy," especially my mother-in-law's "3 Meat Meatloaf" which from the bit I tasted was awesome...

After reentering our food induced coma, it was time for perhaps the biggest decision of the evening...dessert. I usually have a pretty easy time choosing dessert, as most of the time there is only one, maybe two, options on the menu that sound appealing. The problem we encountered at Corner Kitchen, was that no less than a half dozen options sounded amazing. So the solution was quite easy really.....we all chose one and the three of us shared a bit of each. Needless to say, the combination of cheesecake, flour-less espresso cake, and key lime tart was the perfect end to what had been a perfect day spent with family...
For the last day of our time in Asheville, we decided to hang around the Biltmore Village area which surrounded our hotel. We would be driving to Savannah the following morning, and I figured it would be good to squeeze in a bit of rest, given the busy day we had prior at the Estate. We meandered around the little shops in the Village, but since that's only fun for about an hour, we soon found ourselves back in the hotel lobby, playing many hands of gin rummy by the fire place.

Our final restaurant for dinner in Asheville was a small place called Fig Bistro, conveniently located a short walk from the Grand Bohemian. Fig was about the easiest choice I made in planning our meals, as it's #1 rank on TripAdvisor was hard to resist. In addition, their menu was also quite intriguing, with choices ranging from Vietnamese Pho to Shrimp and Grits.

The first thing that struck me about Fig was it's size, as it was a surprisingly small area, featuring less than a dozen tables. They made more with less by using very minimalist tables and chairs, which helped to overcome the cramped feeling that might otherwise be a problem in such a small restaurant. It was clear from the beginning, that rather than relying on dining room design to enhance the guest experience, Fig was content letting their food do the talking...

I started off the meal with shrimp served with butternut puree and granny smith apples. While I'm really not much on apples, the sweetness of their flavor paired with the shrimp and puree was awesome. And with the customary pairing of a great bottle of wine, Fig was off to a great start.

For my main, I did something I almost never do in a restaurant...I ordered the special. Most of the time, I tend to tune out the servers as they go through that night's offerings, as by that time I've usually already decided on some other boring dish of most likely beef and potatoes. However, there was something about the flounder served atop collard greens and mushrooms that pulled at my tastebuds. Not that my tastebuds had any idea what collard greens or mushrooms tasted like... Without a doubt, it was the finest dish I had in Asheville, and solidified my desire to move beyond the kiddie menu.

If one can believe that food can teach, well, there was certainly much learned about myself in that dish. It was clear to me in that moment, that for years I had denied myself the opportunity to enjoy many amazing dishes, simply because I was afraid to venture out of my comfort zone. The only thing I love more than fine dining is fine hotels, but most of my experiences in award winning restaurants have been quite boring. Why? Because the only thing I know about those restaurants is who serves the best crabcake and filet mignon. It's now my belief that these unimaginative dishes are on the menu simply to satify the large number of equally unimaginative guests, and I have no desire to be part of that lot any longer.

When people would ask about our plans for vacation in Asheville, I proudly told them that we were taking a bit of a "foodie tour" of the best restaurants in town. However, it took actually going on the trip for me to realize that up until that point, I really wasn't a foodie at all. I hardly expected any sort of life changing experience in Asheville, and while I'm sure I'll have plenty of filet mignon in the future, it will likely be my last choice, as opposed to my first.

With our time in Asheville complete, it was time to set off to Savannah, where I was certain many more culinary delights awaited. I lowered my expectations, as I assumed there was no way our dining choices in Savannah could match what we had experienced over the last four days.

You know what they say when you assume....

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej
Corner Kitchen on Urbanspoon
Fig Bistro on Urbanspoon