I ate a lot of great and wonderful things in the first month of 2020, so many that when it came to showing you the best of the month, I had to break it up into two parts! Here’s part one, which includes a super-fancy dinner, tour bites, gator tail, and more!
GETTING CUTE at CULTURA
Above and Below: Dawn and I stopped into Cultura one night, and holy fuck we love this place. I gave them two Food Fan Awards for 2019’s Best Use of Fungus, and Best Pickled Stuff, and BAM, they did it again right out of the gate in January 2020. First of all, they are one of two restaurants in Asheville that I know of who provide their guests with an amuse bouche, which I lerv vrry merch, and this one was literally the tinniest, cutest motherfucking mushrooms I have ever seen in my liiiiife! I squee’d until I died, and then I ate them and they tasted as cute as they looked. The rest of the food we ate was also exemplary, and yes it did involved ferments!
Am I kidding, or is this shit cute? And when Dawn and I each ate our own little serving of it, we just looked at each other, like, “Are you fucking serious?”
BLOOD! Sausage. In a can. So cute, so tasty. At the top of this age is a board that Dawn and I ordered to share. It came with ferments, pork rinds, green stuff, fresh lime, and two cans of yummy. Above and below are the contents of the cans. I love the playful presentation and plating at Cultura. It’s some of the best in town. Hmmm… note to self, add “Best Plating” category to Food fan Awards this year.
The other can contained some of the tastiest bread I’d ever had! Something called Kubenah, which is a “pull-apart” bread that originated among the small Jewish population of Yemen. It’s usually cooked over night, and served warm, as this was, and it should have a really nice crusty bottom, with moist, delicate, slaty, oily goodness inside, as this did. I loved it!
They always bring you some cotton candy at the end of the meal at Cultura, which is tasty and also very fun. I give extra points for fun. As long as it actually fun fun, and not some cringe-worthy awk-fest type of fun. The fun at Cultura is just fun enough to be actually fun. Knowmsayin’?
Cultura is located at 147 Coxe Ave, Asheville, NC.
DINNER at VUE 1913
I don’t know if you know, but the fancy restaurant at the Grove Park Inn is really fucking good. I sometimes forget that, and they sometimes remind me, by inviting me up for a special meal on the house. This year Dawn and I celebrated 15 years of un-wedded bliss (try it sometimes, losers!) with a two night stay at the GPI, with dinner at Vue 1913 being one of the highlights. So, yes, they saw us coming a mile away and rolled out the red carpet, and comped us this meal, but you know I don’t blow smoke for free food, and I’m telling you straight-up: This meal fucking rocked. Dawn agreed, and that actually carries more weight than my opinion. Dawn is harsh, Yo. What you see in the pics might be smaller portions, as they were part of an 8 course, fixed menu prepared just for us, but the chef told us that most of this is either already on the menu, or would be soon.
Even Dawn liked this deviled egg, and she famously doesn’t like deviled eggs, I famously do,and I just about lost my damn mind over this one. Yeah, your eyes are working, that’s caviar, Betches. And that golden, hairy looking stuff is called “garlic root” and, fuck yes, it was the coup d’grace. Very delicate and crispy, with a mild flavor of garlic. Order these when you go.
These are teeny tiny balls of wagyu beef tartare, each wearing a jaunty cap made from a fucking truffle slice. Plus itty bitty creamy fritters. These things were SO GOOOOD! I was dying. DIE-ING! Best tartare ever. No shit.
Above is a very light and delicious vanilla poached pear salad, with pecans and blue cheese. Usually pears are poached in wine, and that can be a bit much, but these were very mildly poached in some kind of vanilla stuff, and again, best ever. No shit. The blue cheese was also somewhat mild, and very creamy, Dawn doesn’t generally like blues, and she really liked this one, especially with the pears and pecans.
In the middle of the menu was a strawberry sorbet to cleanse our palates. It was great. Very fresh, not too sweet, not overly strawberried-out, and the micro greens on top packed a wee, but powerful punch of extra freshness and flavor. As an intermezzo, it was perfect! On to the next course!
The chef seemed a little… I don’t know… almost, I don’t wanna say, embarrassed to be bringing us sea bass, and I wasn’t sure why, but he seemed to be saying that it was sort of a standard hotel restaurant dish, but I was all, like, fuckin’ aye, Man, bring it on! Love me sea bass, and Jimminy Crickets, Yo, this shit was cooked, like, oh mah gawd. Crispy on the outside, tender, flaky, and moist on the inside, the flavor of the fish was mild of course, so the micros, oil, and mascarpone risotto provided most of the punch, and it was fabulous. I could have eaten ten more.
Lamb can be a real hit-or-miss protein for me. Sometimes it’s too tough or too fatty for me. Sometimes it’s just lamby as fuck. When I saw it was on the fixed menu, I was feeling kinda like, whatever. Then it arrived, it looked fan-frickin’-tastic, and boy howdy, was it good! Charred black on the outside, warm, red, and juicy on the inside. And so tender it cut with a fork. There was, like, a demi-glace under it, and some cardamom “soil” on the plate as well, which was crunchy and a little bit sweet, which went well with the fresh mint leaves that were also on top, It was served with asparagus, which was simple, but done very well, and some small potato croquettes, which were gratuitous, but tasty.
There was fucking foie gras for dessert, Yo.
The fanciest meals have foie for dessert. Now, typically, Dawn and i don’t eat foie gras, but there it was, so we ate it, and man-oh-man-oh-manischewitz, it was so good! Gah! Fatty AF, richer than Richie Rich, it melted in my mouth, and tricked my brain into thinking I was someone fancy. Good lord. It came on a parsnip biscuit, with sauternes caviar, and a wee little fresh green thing. UI was actually too full to truly enjoy the biscuit, but the wine boba balls were fun and fantastically delicious with the warm, melting, foie. This dessert might send me to Hell, but whatevs. What’s done is done.
This entire meal was fabulous from beginning to end, and i highly recommend it to you for your next night out. It’s on the spendy side, but the food, atmosphere, service, and view are all outstanding!
Vue 1913 is located in the Omni Grove Park Inn at 290 Macon Ave, Asheville, NC.
FOOD TOUR FOOD!
We get a lot of amazing bites on Food Tours, but I don’t always get a chance to take pictures, And even when I do, they don’t always come out good. Paddy, on the other hand, has a phone chock FULL o’ fabulous Food Tour pictures that he never posts. Paddy! . __ . Here’s just three of the fantastic food samps we got from our partners in the month of January.
DAPHNE AT TWISTED LAUREL
Chef Tom LaFaucci from Daphne at Twisted Laurel busted out this seafood medley on grits with demi-glace just for the tour. It has a perfectly cooked scallop, a whole shrimp, and even some lobster tail. It was insanely good. Chef Tom has been making me so happy lately. There’s more from him in part 2 of this list!
Daphne at Twisted Laurel is located at 130 College St, Asheville, NC.
NOBLE – THE GREENHOUSE
Chef Mike Archberger over at Noble – The Greenhouse has been serving us his lamb meatballs on yogurt sauce lately, and wow, they are so tasty and good! On the spicy side, with what seem like Moroccan flavors to me, the meat is just right, with a great texture, and tons of comfort cooked in. This one is on the menu so go in and try it! Greenhouse is my 2019 Best new Restaurant award winner, and I’d like for y’all to go eat your way around their menu, because I think you’ll love it as much as I do!
Noble – The Greenhouse is located at 49 Rankin Ave, Asheville, NC.
STORM RHUM BAR
One of my all-time favorite chefs and people in this city is Chef Jay Medford, who owns the Underground Cafe and now, Storm Rhum Bar as well, The two venues are quite different from the other, but each is excellent! Below is a bite that Chef Jay served us at Storm on one of my Night Tours (which I highly recommend for locals, BTW!) that blew everyone’s mind it was so good, and different, and kind of daring, but executed so deftly, that it seemed like a no-brainer once all the flavors and textures came together on my palate. Jesus fuck, I love the way this guy thinks and cooks. What you see is a pan-fried trout cheek, with asian eggplants, a deep fried lotus root chip, micros, a pickled grape, and fuck, I don;t remember what those sauces were, but hohhhhly moly. My tour patrons talked about his one several times throughout the rest of the tour. Go see Jay at Storm Rhum Bar. He’s doing great things!
Storm Rhum Bar is located at 125 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC.
BRUNCH AT STORM
Well, as long as I’m talkin’ about Jay…
I ate brunch for the first time in foreversies a few weeks ago, because I just had to try the gator ‘n’ grits with Spam featured at Storm. I had my expectations set on “hi, my name is Stu, and I only ate gator once before and it royally sucked, but I trust this chef to cook anything and make it delicious.” That’s an actual setting, and I wasn’t wrong. This dish was fucking delicious. So delicious. Good lort. The texture of the gator tail was great, the batter on the outside was really flavorful and hardy, the grits were creamy and warm and comforting, the sauce, with its tomato base, okra, and Spam pieces was close-you-eyes good, and the micro-greens on top provided that little extra kick of fresh flavor. This dish was the perfect combination of Southern goodness, creativity, adventure, and Chef Jay’s special ability to go “trashy” and make it all good all the way through. It was too much food to polish-off in one sitting, so I took half home, and devoured every molecule later. It reheated nicely in the ol’ toaster oven.
A dish so nice, I’m showing it twice. Sometimes I can’t decide between two pictures, and since this is my blog, I don’t have to! Yay autonomy!
Storm Rhum Bar is located at 125 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC.
I guess someone owns the term “pop tart,” but, y’know what? Fuck those people. Pop tarts pretty much suck now anyways. Maybe they always did, and little-kid me just didn’t know it at the time, but it seems like corporate food has gotten a hell of a lot weirder since when I was coming up. My parents worried about too much sugar. Now days it seems like sugar is almost the healthy alternative to whatever bullshit chemicals and processed goop is inside of commercial sweets… yadda yadda… grimble grumble… I’m old! Give me all natural, house made Sunny Tarts from Sunshine Sammies over those commercial factory produced shart tarts any ol’ day of the week!
I picked-up this box of two peanut butter and jelly SunnyTarts after work one day. They were meant to be for me to eat in the morning time. They didn’t survive past 10pm. Their passing was mourned by absolutely no one. These fuckin’ things are irresistible. Flaky, and doughy, and sweet, but not too insanely sweet, they are made from real-deal, wholesome, actual ingredients that are not from Dow Chemical company, but come from local farms and stuff. Here’s what they fucking look like inside…
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?
Sunshine Sammies is located at 99 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC.
Is there anything better in this world than a fresh hot Hole doughnut? I don’t fuckin’ think so. Dawn can’t eat too many deep fried things, and Hole is too far for me to walk to on my own, so I don’t get there as often as I want to. Although if it was closer to FFHQ, I might be going there more often than I should! If you already know about Hole, I have nothing new to tell you, because it is exactly the same as it ever was, which means that it’s insanely good! Doughnuts fried to order, Betches. That’s kind of all you need to know. Dawn makes an annual pilgrimage / exception to the no-deep-fried-things rule to eat one Hole doughnut every year in January, and we always get the toasted almond. It is pure heaven, with a hole in the middle, and crunchy, salty, sweet, nutty, roasty-toasty, awesomeness on top.
Hole Doughnuts is located at 168 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC.
This post was getting hella long, and I know that my own scroll-tention span keeps getting shorter and shorter, so I decided to split this month’s best of list up into two parts for ya.
Read the Best of January Part 2 HERE!
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Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.