Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Carolina B&B and Zambra, Asheville NC

After leaving the Blue Ridge Parkway, we made our way quickly to Ashville and then into the historic Montford District just north of I-240, easily finding the Carolina B&B a few short blocks from downtown in the middle of a neighborhood of glorious turn of the century and Edwardian era homes. The house is a beautiful 1901 Arts and Crafts- (Craftsman-) style building with a mustard yellow pebbledash finish, dark 12-over-1 windows, twin chimneys, a hipped roof, and a hipped front porch that runs the width of the front of the house. Twin shed dormers on the second floor and a third in the attic give the front façade a lot of character.

Arts and Crafts-Style Carolina B&B

We Stayed in the Cottage out Back
The house is on a fairly large property, a good acre by the looks of it, and other than the obligatory swath of green lawn out front, is surrounded by gardens with mature trees, especially out back. Some of the flowers were just coming into bloom, especially the rhododendrons and Siberian iris. The wooded back lot is home to a lot of birds. Each morning we were escorted to the car by Catbirds and a pair of Carolina Wrens were constantly on or around the cottage, trilling and chirping, often toting mouthfuls of nesting materials.

Garden Fronting the Cottage

Catawba Rhododendron

Siberian Iris

Violets and Buttercups Outside the Cottage
After a brief welcome by James and Susan Murray, James gave us the nickel tour and showed us to our room out back: Ann had booked the cottage behind the house for our 3-day stay. We arrived about 5pm and James told us that they do hors d'oeuvres and wine each afternoon at 5:30 in the front parlor. We got unpacked into the spacious and nicely appointed cottage with just barely enough time for a brief shower before arriving for a glass of wine at 6:00.

We found the cocktail table in the parlor set with mixed hors d'oeuvres and a bottle each of a Biltmore red and white wine. Ann and I opted for the red which wasn't at all bad, though it was varietally vague. Kudos to the Murrays for serving the "local" wine, but a little shame to Biltmore for using California grapes to make their wine. They don't try to hide it (see the "American" appellation on the label), but they sure hope people mistake it for North Carolina wine. I'm not in the winery business and I don't have their debt to service, so I shouldn't really criticize, but somehow this strikes me as a little dishonest. Biltmore is not alone. Plenty of Virginia wineries do it too and I'm not happy about that either.

Each Night at 5:30, They Offer "Local" Wine

And Put on a Spread of Hors d'Oeuvres
Earlier in the mountains, the weather had been cold and rainy, but it cleared as we came slightly north and east to Asheville. By cocktail hour in Asheville, the weather was so nice that all the cocktail hour guests congregated on the deep front porch that runs the full width of the house. Ann and I claimed the swing at the end of the porch, where just next to us, song sparrows were apparently nesting in a shrub. They kept up their (at times deafeningly) loud calls all during our time in the swing. The hors d'oeuvres looked wonderful but I never got around to trying them, trying to save room for dinner in less than an hour.

Given that the B&B is a short walk from downtown, we left on foot at 6:45pm for our 7:00pm reservation at Zambra, a tapas restaurant. Two blocks from the B&B, my flip flops blew out and though I didn't step on a pop top on the way back to change shoes, walking barefoot on the sharp gravel of the driveway back to the cottage was no fun at all.

I'm afraid at this point I was in a bad mood and we were going to be late for our reservation. We took the car into downtown to get there as quickly as possible and made several tours around the blocks near the restaurant in a hopeless quest to find parking before I gave up and dropped Ann off at the restaurant. Several more passes through downtown yielded nothing so I once again gave up and drove back towards the B&B, finally finding parking on a side street about halfway back on the far side of I-240.

On my 10-minute walk to the restaurant, I finally saw why there was no parking, as I threaded my way through a packed eclectic crowd in front of the US Cellular Center. The Alabama Shakes were playing that evening and the concert crowd had nabbed all available parking.

I was fit to be tied at this point, hungry, tired, and exasperated with the parking situation, when I joined Ann in the restaurant, a funky, half underground space on a side street. The restaurant is pretty dark, so I had a bit of a time finding Ann, who had already chosen a nice bottle of great bottle of Hacienda Monasterio Ribera Del Duero, a modern Bordeaux blend. The Spanish section of the wine list is pretty nice and I wish I had more time to explore it. Ann started with the house take on a Moscow Mule that she really enjoyed. I do wish that we had better stemware from which to drink our wine.

A Modern Bordeaux Blend from Ribera del Duero

The lighting was so dark, the restaurant being mostly below ground, that we only got a couple of photos while there was a touch of daylight. Overall the food was good, but not exciting. Our server did suggest that we try a dish whose description did nothing for us, but which turned out to be so good that we ordered two plates of it: Grilled Watercress on Grilled Bread with Romesco. Something about grilling the watercress gave it a delicious smokiness that when coupled with a little crunchy salt yielded a novel and delicious treat.

Among the other dishes we ate were pomegranate-braised pork spring rolls, calamari and arugula, scallops on grits, beef heart taco, patatas bravas. None of these dishes was really memorable. The calamari and arugula wasn't all that successful and the patatas bravas, a staple of tapas restaurants worldwide, were downright boring with no spicy sauce.

Calamari and Arugula

Scallops and Grits

Grilled Watercress
After dinner, we walked around the corner to The Vault for drinks and then we headed back to the B&B for the evening. I was ready for bed after a long, long day of driving, hiking, and dining.

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