A Night on the Town
Posted by eemilla on December 8, 2009
As a precursor to our weekend getaway, we decided to enjoy a local night out. Our first stop was Thirsty Monk South for the Cold Mountain Cask tasting. We arrived about ten minutes before the posted start, and we nabbed the last table (with the comfy wingback chairs). Minutes later it was standing room only but not packed to the gills. Knowing that dinner would be later in the evening, we enjoyed some food which also killed the wait time on the cask. About once a week I crave their soft pretzels dipped into the searing Lusty Monk mustard so I went with that, and my husband was struck by a passing Cuban sandwich special. The sandwich, which was almost as thick as one from Frank’s NY Deli with ham and 12 Bones barbeque, was generous by itself, but it also came with a large portion of potatoes seasoned with Lusty Monk mustard. As for the main attraction, I didn’t enjoy it. I was hoping for something denser and more mature, but it frankly just tasted a bit flat.
From the Monk South, we drove up a mountain in Fairview to enjoy an hour at Shoji. The building is nice and inviting, but I was so glad to be there on a Thursday night. The shower is communal (only two heads), and when someone else entered the dressing/shower room I crossed my fingers hoping she was a staff member or wouldn’t shower until I was wrapped in my robe. Fortunately, she was there for a massage so she didn’t shower, or maybe she was just as modest as I am. My husband and I were then shown the sauna and cold plunge before being escorted to our private tub. The tubs and the surroundings are nice, and the view was fine (although not much different from any number of free around Asheville views). The last time I was in a hot tub with chlorinated water was at my parents’ in laws house years ago when they were local so I was surprised at the smell. Hot Springs has spoiled me (even if the setting is much more rustic); after getting out of that water my skin feels soft and silky, but after about forty-five minutes divided between the sauna, a cold plunge, and our tub we were both ready to rinse the stench of chlorine off our skin and get some lotion from the car. All of the staff I encountered were very friendly (both making the reservation and handling our visit), and I have heard good things about their massages. For our next hot tub soak we will drive to Hot Springs for its better experience and value.
For dinner we decided to hit The Admiral, and I must express huge thanks to Hanna Rachel Raskin’s “Reservations for None” in the Mountain Xpress for recommending reservations. There was a party of twenty or so along with a full bar and several four tops, and when I called in to make the reservation I was told a two top could be squeezed in either early or late so I made an 8:45 reservation, and we were seated a few minutes after arriving. The bar itself in the epitome of a dive bar, with ugly ceiling tiles, a beat up floor, odd tables, and wretched curtains and lamps straight from a yard sale. The menu, however, could easily be something from any number of high end places, like Reza’s.
The menu changes daily and is composed of small plates, large plates, and desserts. We started with a classic pear and arugula salad with a hunk of Humboldt Fog and a half dozen raw oysters with a light cucumber dressing. I had anticipated the cucumber component to be a salad or on the side, but it was inside the shells. While I enjoyed the dish, I prefer to season my raw oysters at the table. The Humboldt Fog reminded me of a delicious cross between brie and bleu (it is actually a chevre with an ash coating). For the next course, my honey ordered the duck breast and the foie gras. I shared a few bites of the foie gras with him, but it is just not something that appeals to my palate any longer. He enjoyed both dishes, and their presentation and portions were reasonable. I finished with a dense and delicious chocolate torte. The chocolate was so wonderfully rich that it overpowered the Gran Marnier the menu promised, but I rounded out the meal with a glass of GranMa on the rocks so it worked out. Speaking of the drinks, I ordered a glass of Sapphire up with a twist, and I received a towering pour that wasn’t overly shaken and watered down; the best part about the drink was the cost: $6!
The service was slow for most of the meal, but once the dining room thinned out it improved greatly. I believe they only had four or five front of house people (a host, a bartender, and maybe two servers) so it seems the service could be improved with maybe a buser/food runner to keep the water full and the food moving. For an Asheville dining spot, the vegetarian offerings were weak. The small plates consisted of butternut squash soup, a caesar variation, and my arugula salad, but the large plates didn’t offer one option. As the menu changes so often, maybe our visit was a fluke. Overall, our visit was enjoyable.