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Zambra

Posted by eemilla on July 26, 2009

I love eating at Zambra; the ambiance is malleable.  If you sit at one of the banquette tables, it is cozy and romantic and exotic and possibly private (depending on how busy they are), but the open dining area works well for parties too (tapas are so conducive to sharing).  Either way you should order a bottle of wine because the cocktails are pricey (albeit creative and tasty).  While the expansiveness of the wine list can be intimidating, Zambra has plenty of under $30 selections scattered throughout the higher and much higher priced wines.  For me I like wine, and with all the wines to choose from I have no desire to spend much more than $30 a bottle at a restaurant especially knowing full well that the mark up is so high (e.g., The Marketplace and the $30 2006 Carro Tinto I drank retails for about $10).  However, a restaurant cannot hope to win a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence without a pricey wine list.

For a picky eater like myself, Zambra poses a special challenge in that I cannot order the same item (or items) repeatedly because their menu changes nightly, and they run specials on top of the nightly refreshed menu.  On our visit last week we shared the cheese plate, fried panko encrusted tofu with garam masala, an arugula salad (I didn’t write it down so I only remember that it had some nuts, berries, and cheese), seasoned chickpeas (roasted red peppers, spinach, and my first preserved lemons) and a mushroom and edamame saute with sweet potato wontons; my honey had a flesh fest with pork belly, lamb tacos, and sesame encrusted scallops.

I enjoyed all of dishes I sampled (although I did not interfere with the flesh fest).  Other than a sodium overload with the mushroom saute all of the tapas were delicious, and even the super salty saute was edible unlike the duck confit from our last visit a while back.  The preserved lemons were quite a shock with their strong bitter briny lemon flavor, but they balanced with the chickpeas.  For beauty and presentation, the scallops win hands down; he received three large diver scallops crusted with sesame and panko framing bright green avocado slices, which were wonderfully ripe and creamy.

Our service left a bit to be desired; he had difficulty opening the wine bottle, which isn’t too bad in and of itself but  to increase leverage he actually put the bottle between his knees.  I find it strange that an Award of Excellence winner would have skipped the wine service training.  When I inquired about the cheese on the cheese plate, he searched in his book for the answer, and the only answer we received was goat, sheep, and cow.  Fortunately, we did not have any other questions regarding the menu, and Zambra has ample support staff or good team ethic because while our server was gone for long stretches our food and water seemed to arrive in a timely fashion.

A gift certificate from my husband’s most wonderful employer brought us to Zambra along with my desire to drink absinthe again (especially after the MountainX write up and video), but I had forgotten about the $15 price tag.  I guess I’ll have to create a special occasion in which to visit Zambra again and drink my absinthe.

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4 Responses to “Zambra”

  1. forthrightfattie said

    That’s pretty funny about the server putting the wine between his knees–nothing says classy like huffing and puffing to get the wine open!

  2. Peter said

    Thanks for the nice review. I’ll have to get on my servers about the cheese selections. They are supposed to know that. Sorry about the wine service as well. We do try to be pretty relaxed here as to not be pretentious. That might be a bit much. Glad the rest of your experience was positive.

  3. Beth said

    I always enjoy your restaurant reviews even though, to be perfectly honest, I’m not familiar with a lot of the dishes (and even some of the ingredients) you mention. (We eat pretty plain out here at the Doublewide Ranch!)
    Good writing.

  4. I’ve only been to Zambra once but had a great time. There’s something about the place … or maybe it’s the tapas and the idea of savoring bites of things while visiting and sipping a cocktail or wine. It’s relaxing and slow and fun! Had to laugh at your server … it seems typical of the relaxed, casual atmosphere of Asheville … even in “ritzy” places, the people are down to earth.

    This post has made me hungry. :)

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