Thursday, April 28, 2016

Out on the Town, Asheville NC

After our late lunch at HomeGrown at which I only ate a fun watercress salad to save room for dinner, we went back to the B&B to rest, shower, and get ready for Happy Hour on the front porch. Back to the swing, we stayed for a serenade by the Song Sparrows and a glass of wine before heading downtown to celebrate our final night in Asheville and our final true night of vacation before heading to Virginia Beach to watch Carter perform in his concert.

The night before, Neil had suggested to us that before we went to Rhubarb for dinner, we should go to the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar in the Grove Arcade for a little pre-game. It sounded kind of strange and he mentioned nothing about dogs (dogs?) but he seemed rather insistent that we would like it. Being a sucker for Champagne, I figured it might be worth a stop to have a glass of bubbly before dinner, but I was wholly unprepared for the ridiculously eclectically cool experience that is this bastion of hip urbanity in downtown Asheville.

I was kind of stunned (Screw that. I was totally stunned) when I walked in the door. Think upscale smoking room meets library meets swank bar meets hipster coffee shop with gay queen over-the-top attitude. Blacks, reds, luxurious leatherclad furnishings, warm and eclectic lighting, nooks and crannies, marble and brass: it's all way, way too much to take in at a glance. Think exposed industrial hip-warehouse HVAC, throwback schoolhouse lighting, red railinged mezzanine overlooking oriental-motif carpets, moosehead on the wall, leatherbound books, heavy drapes, grandfather clock, espresso bar, and dogs, dogs, dogs. Can you even wrap your head around all this?

Ever Seen This in a Bookstore?

This Explains it All. Not Really.
As I was standing in the entry trying to take things in, letting my eyes adjust from being outside in the sunlight, and generally trying to avoid Mary Poppins scolding me ("Close your mouth please, Ed. We are not a codfish."), Ann spied dogs, abruptly left me, and made a bee-line directly for the dogs. You now know where I rank on Ann's hierarchy, somewhere way south of dogs.

Dogs in a Bookstore?
Meanwhile, I spied this lovely collection of sparklers on the bar counter and made my way to a stool where I started to go through the wonderfully curated list of Champagnes and other wines.

So Many Choices
After her dog fix, Annie finally joined me at the bar for what turned out to be two glasses each of Jacques Copinet brut. I didn't know Copinet, but I do now. It's really good grower Champagne.

Dogs and Champagne? Annie's in Love!

Marble Bar, Engraved Stemware, $$$$

Really Nice Champagne
We reluctantly had to get going to make our 8:00 reservation at Rhubarb a couple blocks away. When we got there, Ann asked the hostess if we could sit outside and she predicted a 15-20 minute wait for a table, so we sat at the bar until about 8:25 waiting for a table to clear. The first thing that I noticed was real fruit, real eggs, and a collection of bitters on the bar, a clear indicator that this was a serious bar making serious cocktails.

Ann was looking for something different and not sweet so the bartender suggested a Rhubarb Collins made from vodka and house-made strawberry-rhubarb soda. I took a chance on the bartender and ordered a Crusta, an old cocktail that is the forerunner of the modern-day Sidecar. The bartender had never heard of it before so I ran him through it. Aside from the garnish, which should be a wide strip of lemon rind, it was perfect and so superbly balanced. I complimented him on the fine work and tipped accordingly. It is so hard to find a quality bar where we live. Rhubarb has an excellent bar.

Crusta Cocktail
We finally got seated outside in perfect weather and watched the street performers on Biltmore Avenue while we were waiting for our menus and the wine list.

Enjoying the Street Show
Chef John Fleer is widely known for doing creative food and we were really looking forward to sampling his menu. As we like to do, when we don't do tastings, we like to sample several small plates to get a broader perspective on a chef and the kitchen.

The Rhubarb Menu

Some of the Street Performers
My first order of business, while Ann decided what we were going to order, was to find a bottle of wine. The list is quite a bit smaller than I might have imagined a list for a restaurant of this caliber would be, but it seemed to be fairly carefully curated with some interesting wines, though it seemed weighted to French wines especially on the red side. I didn't spend much time on the list because almost immediately I spotted a Barbaresco from a producer with a good reputation. The only question in my mind was that it was a 2001 vintage, and though Barbaresco certainly wants and can take that kind of age, it's always a crapshoot about how it has been stored. I needn't have worried about that: from first whiff of it's lavish perfume of raspberries, tea, tar, roses, violets, and dried leaves to the final sip with it's lip-smacking acidity, the bottle was stellar.

2001 Sori Paitin Barbaresco, So Good!
Fried hominy with chile and lime was outstanding. I want more, more, more. Think ancho-lime Doritos for grown ups.

Fried Hominy! Amazing!
The goat cheese burrata was tender and really well made. The beet, strawberry, and basil garnishes didn't do a lot for me, however. Some Benton's ham and ramp pesto (to put a Southern drawl on prosciutto and pesto) would have been awesome.

Goat Cheese Burrata
The rabbit-leek rillettes sounded better than they actually were, being melted to the point where they were runny as you can see in the photo. The house-made "sel-tines" were outstanding.

Rabbit Leek Rillettes
Beef belly! What a great concept! I look forward to trying it myself. The result was really beefy and intense in flavor, though a bit lean for me. I would have loved a slice with more fat. The farrotto on which it sat was a loser, being overcooked to mushy blandness.

Beef Belly with Saffron Farrotto
We ordered a cheese plate and asked our server to pick some of her local favorites. Since the cheese plate ended up coming last, it made a great dessert and accompaniment to the last drops of Barbaresco. I couldn't really tell you the names now, but the plainest looking of the bunch on the far right turned out to be the most awesome. I think it was Castanet from Three Graces Dairy in Marshall NC.

Local Cheeses for Dessert
After dinner, as we walked back through downtown to the B&B across I-240, we got to further experience the street life of this eclectic and vibrant town, taking in the various street musicians, artists, and characters. And sadly our arrival back at the B&B pretty much concludes the story of our stay in Asheville. It's wonderful place to visit though it's a little too big for us to want to live there.

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