Asheville food tours like Eating Asheville are so popular, the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association (AIR) member restaurants got in on the fun with their own food tours during Food Blog Forum’s recent Asheville conference.
Forum participants broke into small groups which were led by an A-list of who’s who in the Asheville food scene: local food bloggers, a local dietician, and reps from Explore Asheville (the Convention and Visitors Bureau} & AIR.
What a wonderful walk through downtown Asheville to the restaurants below. Chefs were ready for us with small tastes that showcased their food and drink.
As a local food writer who has been to many Asheville restaurants, I wanted to go along to see what the chefs would put together for a tour like this.
Result? I got to know one of the chefs better, tasted new items not yet on the menu at one spot, learned some amazing facts about sourcing at another spot, and had a blast getting to know our guides and the other food bloggers on the tour.
Chef Fleer works in the definition of an “open kitchen”. If you like to watch the action, sit at the counter!
Chef plated and served Rhubarb Glazed Duck Confit on Chili and Rosemary Braised Tuscan Kale, Watermelon Rind Pickle Salad. “This dish features many of the important elements of Rhubarb’s new mountain cuisine: Local produce, the preservation of the season’s bounty, and the unique and the direct interaction of those principles with our wood-fired oven. And, of course, there is the never-ending quest to employ rhubarb as an ingredient in as many ways as possible.”
The dish was served with a fresh and light Rhubarb Shandy (not pictured), adapted to accompany the duck confit with a splash of Banyuls–a wine from the home of duck confit in the southwest of France.
Chestnut, already one of my favorites, impressed me again.
Executive Chef Joe Mitchell hit it out of the park with this Green Grape & Tomato Gaspacho – a refreshing summer soup topped with sour cream (optional), Made with yellow onion, green tomato, green grapes, celery, green peppers, jalapeno, cucumbers, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, salt and white pepper, Tabasco and sugar.
One of the bloggers in our group is a mixologist and cocktail instructor. She requested the accompanying Ginger Mint Limeade mocktail – muddled mint, housemade ginger syrup & fresh squeezed lime juice – be turned into a cocktail. We all loved it, virgin or not!
The fun presentation of this Risotto Cakes on Lobster Ragout – pear shaped, breaded & fried with Fontina cheese & served with tomato essence – led to some interesting conversation. I love Chestnut’s “tomato essence”. It’s light, but at the same time, rich in tomato flavor. Crispy outside, soft and creamy inside, I also loved the Breaded and fried Risotto.
Chef/Owner Mike Moore served “delicious food and drink rooted in the nostalgia of our heritage and our past.”
He’s getting quite the reputation for his fried chicken. I can never get enough! Happily, he chose to serve: Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Giblet Gravy, Chopped Egg with Pimento & Mac & Cheese with House Tasso Ham.
Chef/Co-owner Katie Button is on fire (figuratively speaking). Her credits include: a semi-finalist for James Beard’s “Rising Star Chef” Award and nominated for Food & Wine’s “People’s Choice Best New Chef” in both 2012 and 2013. She also won the Robb Report Culinary Master Competition, and in January 2013 she earned a StarChefs.com Rising Stars Award and the Golden Whisk from Women Chefs and Restaurateurs.
And just announced, Katie will be one of the hosts of a new Spanish television show, The World’s Best Chefs.
All that could easily go to a girl’s head. Quickly. But, believe it or not, Chef Katie Button was on hand this evening, acting as server for our group.
Not your mama’s Deviled Egg: warm corn sabayon, smoked trout gravlax, trout roe. This is their version of a deviled egg using trout from Sunburst trout farms and served in an egg cup.
Steak Tartare: hand cut, smoked horseradish cream. Served in a brick pastry cone, they use Brasstown Beef NY Strip for the tartare.
Caesar Salad: jicama taco, parmesan crisps, classic caesar dressing, and a premium spanish anchovy. A classic served bite size in a crisp refreshing jicama taco. Re-read that last part – “in a crisp refreshing jicama taco”. That’s right, this taco was not served in a tortilla, but a very thin slice of jicama. Wow! Way to take a taco up a notch, Chef Katie!
We tasted an experimental drink, not on the menu yet. Fingers crossed they add it to the lineup. I won’t post makeup of the drink, just in case it doesn’t end up on the menu. I will say it was creative and tasty.
Petits Fours: “key lime pie” – candy cupcake with coconut and key lime sorbet and a graham cracker crumb “s’more” smoked marshmallow dipped in chocolate with maldon salt and a graham cracker crumb.
More Nightbell info and photos here.
The Lobster Trap
Chef Mike McCarty decided to keep it simple and fresh with this Fresh Maine Lobster Roll made with Fresh sweet Maine Lobster chilled and served on a brioche bun. Also available lightly dressed with a remoulade sauce upon request.
Did I mention “fresh”? Before this evening, I hadn’t realized that all Lobster Trap lobsters are shipped directly from Maine daily. Most, if not all, are from a particular captain they know personally, and his boat. They’ve been working with this same captain for many years.
Holding tanks are involved, keeping the lobsters in good condition before they are cooked within the “72 hours of being caught” goal.
We were getting pretty full. A few of us had decided to just take a bite and leave it at that. Didn’t happen. Every plate was cleaned before we left for our last stop!
Chef Adam Bannasch served us one of the prettiest dishes of the evening – Sunburst Farms Trout Ceviche with market fruits & vegetables and avocado-poppy yogurt. The trout was “lightly cooked” in citrus juices. For garnishes, chef relies on what’s fresh at the local farmers’ market each day. A smear of whipped avocado mixed with yogurt not only tasted terrific with the trout, it also added to the “prettiness” factor.
More Zambra info and photos here.