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Archive for December, 2008

Biltmore and Bone Fish

Posted by eemilla on December 31, 2008

Yesterday we were tourists in our town; I had two gift certificates to places that I do not find particularly appealing so we used them both in one fell swoop.  I must say that I did enjoy my time at the Biltmore House more than I had anticipated.  The gardens and greenhouse really are lovely, even in winter (although it felt like spring); we took some great pictures from both, and I almost want to buy a season pass so we can meander through the vast acreage with the dog and throughout all the seasons.  The house is massive and excessive.  The website and the winery, however, take the cake for being wretched. 

It is true that the site warns that entrance to the house may be restricted to timed entries on busy days, but there is no indication that one can obtain this timed reservation prior to entering the estate.  Apparently, one can call ahead and reserve the time.  We had three hours to kill on the grounds before we could enter the house; it would have been nice to know this before we left our the second half of our lunch (from Frank’s NY Deli) in the car (accessible via shuttle van).  However, everything worked out as it took about two and a half hours to explore the gardens and the conservatory, including a leisurely walk through the azalea gardens to the bass pond and its waterfall.  We returned via the woodland trail, and I do recommend it for its privacy and serenity; we saw two small groups on the entire half mile loop compared to never losing site of another group on the azalea garden trail which is a bit longer at one-third a mile.  On the azalea trail the plants are identified, and there are several amazing specimens.

We chose to end the night at the winery because I wanted to take the free guided tours at either three or six, and due to our three hour wait, the three o’clock tour was not an option.  However, unbeknownst to us, one must register for the complimentary guided tour.  I have not been able to locate this anywhere on their website, and I was rather annoyed to learn it at the winery’s entrance.  So we decided to complete the self-guided tour and end with (hopefully) a sample of their sparkling wine as we have had their other wines at various times, and neither of us have been impressed.  The self guided tour includes an uninformative initial video, which I believe is to help kill time before the tasting.  The tour proceeds to two more videos situated in front of vats and the sparkling wine (although it was called the champagne) bottling room; after the first video we skipped these.  The end of the tour is the wait to enter the tasting room in the dark, dank stone corridors below the tasting room.  After twenty or so minutes of waiting with little movement in the line, we decided their sparkling wine couldn’t be that much better than their other varieties so we proceeded up the line to the exit through the tasting room.  This was the biggest annoyance of our winery tour.  Although a large number of people were crammed into the dank corridors below, the room had ample space for the queue to form.  Even if the end of the day wasn’t as wonderful as the afternoon, our tickets were free.

The next stop in corporate hospitality was Bonefish Grill; again, this was courtesy of another gift card.  As the card was not sufficient to cover a full meal, the plan was to dine on two appetizers and each have a drink.  Not surprisingly, the menu hadn’t really changed since we last used a gift card a few years ago.  My husband deviated from his usual spicy shrimp appetizer and ordered the diablo shrimp fettucine that surprisingly contained a good number of shrimp as well as pasta; he was able to make this two meals.  My ahi tuna appetizer was pretty tasty, but it was also disconcertingly cold.  I love sushi and rare fish, so my issue with the temperature was that the menu states seared.  While the fish had been cooked and coated with sesame seeds, it had also obviously been stored in the cooler.  I do not eat at buffets, and I do not like to think my dish was completely prepared ahead and then not heated a bit so I could pretend it was prepared for me.  Otherwise, our service was pretty mediocre.  We arrived around nine (an hour and thirty minutes prior to closing), and the bar area that is first come first served was reasonably full.  We ate in the area serviced by the hostess, and there were a steady flow of five or so other tables during the course of our meal as well as two other servers working our area.  Maybe our server was new and did not have his flow down, or maybe he was first cut and focusing on his sidework, but whatever the reason everything from bread to drinks arrived terribly slow.

 

Bonefish Urban Spoon

Bonefish Urban Spoon

 

 

Here’s to eating and shopping local!

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There’s No Place Like Home

Posted by eemilla on December 29, 2008

I love my husband’s family; they are really hospitable, kind, fun, and loving, but there is nothing better than sleeping in one’s very own bed surrounded by kitties who have missed you.  All of the four legged babies seem clingy; they are milling about my legs and resting at my feet in shifts.  

We got to see all of his aunts (which we haven’t since his grandmother died over two years ago), and on his father’s side I met two cousins that he hasn’t seen in twelve years.  His family keeps spreading west, so we now have four reasons to visit Texas.  Double shame on us for leaving the camera at home!

Being on the coast, I was reminded of how I love mountains and cooler temperatures, especially lower humidity.  The little coastal town his parents live in is much like Asheville in that tourism and the medical industry are major facets of the economy as well being more progressive and left of center than the surrounding county; however, Asheville is so wonderfully eccentric and funky.  Ahh, Asheville how I love thee, sidewalks to nowhere and all!

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Laura Reed and Deep Pocket saved my birthday!

Posted by eemilla on December 24, 2008

Many kudos to Laura Reed and Deep Pocket for throwing an absolutely awesome show last Friday at the Orange Peel.  They absolutely rocked and grooved.  I feel the urge to ramble so I will leave it at that, except that I am going to scrimp and cut back on drinking so that I can buy some of their music.

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Laughing Seed Cafe

Posted by eemilla on December 19, 2008

In the interest of full disclosure, my husband does work at Laughing Seed Cafe.  However, I can say without an ounce of bias that their soysage is so delicious that anyone, including avowed carnivores, will absolutely love it.  Although it has been years since I have had any sausage, I solemnly pledge their soysage patties taste better than Jimmy Dean.  The best part about that is you can actually eat a Laughing Seed soysage patty knowing that it doesn’t contain any nasty artificial franken-food.  Being such a fan of brunch and those soysage patties (which only appear at brunch), I think brunch is the absolute best meal to try at Laughing Seed.  You can enjoy a Bloody Mary or a Dark and Stormy (my hands down favorite drink on their drink menu), and of course, you can have whatever Green Man Ale is on tap (I recommend the gold or Belgian gold, or Imperial Stout).  If you go for lunch or dinner in lieu of the brunch, do not miss out on the pakoras or the fresh cut french fries.  I love their Asian Fusion salad which helps make up for the fried pakoras.  However, skipping dessert is not an option.  Even if you have to forgo beer, do not leave without dessert.  I could never live without cheese; however, the vegan desserts are heavenly.  Recently, they had a vegan chocolate peanut pie that left nothing to be desired as far as creamy chocolaty divinity.  Those looking for more healthful desserts can always have a smoothie from the smoothie menu.

Although the menu is paramount, Laughing Seed must be complimented on their beautiful ambiance.  The best place to sit is the atrium like area that overlooks Patton Avenue; unfortunately, most of these tables are for four or more, but if they are not on a wait, you should definitely ask to sit there.  A huge skylight is defused by a large plant that rests on a huge, hanging platform.  The hostess stand has a nice water feature that also enhances the two tops in the bar area.  The front tables get to look out onto Wall Street, especially in colder weather with the patio out of commission.  

Just like Frank’s NY Deli, this is another awesome local business that provides health care to its employees; Joan and Joe really care about their employes, and I am quite happy with my husband working with them.  They show their love by throwing not one but two wicked awesome employee parties a year.

Laughing Seed Cafe is a true gem of the Asheville restaurant scene.

 

Laughing Seed Urban Spoon

Laughing Seed Urban Spoon

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Frank’s NY Deli

Posted by eemilla on December 18, 2008

 

Franks PortoBrie Sandwich

Franks PortoBrie Sandwich

 

Frank’s NY Deli has been open for over two years, and it is within walking distance of both work and home (although I would love some sidewalks when walking from work).  I love their grilled veggie sandwiches as well as their vinegary cucumber and tomato salad, although I must confess the special pesto pasta salad is far superior (if less healthy).  If you are looking for nice fresh dessert you can be angelic and order the fresh fruit salad, but the cookies, pies, and cakes are really great too.  In the summer months, Frank puts out a great Key Lime pie, and even if it has the graham cracker crust that I don’t really like, it is peerless in this area.  And as a dedicated consumer of Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie, I have searched this area high and low to no avail (until Frank’s appeared that is).

Although they stopped doing breakfast, you can still purchase quiche either by the slice or whole.  Once you try all of the sandwiches you can move on to daily specials (I have seen tapenade and avocados as featured ingredients) or the salads.  For road trips, we purchase two of Frank’s Favorites then pick our sides for a picnic on the road.  We also do this when we go skiing.  If you can’t make it to Frank’s for lunch, you can always brown bag it by buying some in-house bread and Boar’s Head cold cuts to build it yourself beforehand.  Back when I used to eat cold cuts, I fell in love with Boar’s Head, and for the dollar they are the best deal; just price shop Ingle’s cold cuts then buy yours at Frank’s.  My honey cannot eat an entire meatball sub in one sitting, and when he couples a side salad with the club he is sure to have a midnight snack.

Unfortunately, there is no eat in (if the weather is nice you can eat outside on the bistro tables or in the side yard picnic tables), but the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming with as many chairs as the space allows and tables full of magazines.  Barbara handles the counter for lunch, and she has a great memory for regulars and their families.  Frank is usually busy making bread, salads, cookies, or some other prep while Brian and Brian pump out the sandwiches.  During lunch it is best to call it in, as many a business will order a large batch of sandwiches for employees; additionally, the crew doesn’t refuse special orders so each sandwich is built upon order with whatever changes may have been requested.

For our wedding shower, we ordered a cold cut tray that came with a big center of anti-pasta (roasted red peppers, olives, pepperocinis) as well as cheese.  Additionally the neighborhood Super Bowl party always has a tray of either cold cuts or sandwiches.  Frank’s sells bulk portions of their sides: red potato or Idaho potato salad, red cabbage or traditional cole slaw, macaroni salad, fruit salad, or tomato cucumber salad.  You can call or visit for the full catering menu.

 

Franks NY Deli Urban Spoon Link

Frank's NY Deli Urban Spoon Link

 

Thanks to Ash for a great idea to help boost deserving local businesses.

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No free parking

Posted by eemilla on December 17, 2008

The December 10-16 MountainXpress has an article about the predatory towing in Asheville, and Jason Sanford could not have picked a worse parking lot for this story.  I walk past the parking lot in question on Walnut fairly frequently, and their signs are not inconspicuous or missing.  Additionally, the “victim” ate dinner at Zambra; out of extra concern for their patrons, the staff has at least one notice on the door warning people not to park in the lot beside the restaurant.  The second reason this is a poor example is the proximity of not one but two large parking decks.  The lot from which the “victims” were towed is adjacent to the Civic Center deck and across the street from the entrance to the Rankin deck.  The story then mentions that the “victim” quickly found the phone number for the towing company on a sign warning people not to use the lot. 

The problem with downtown parking is that one may have walk more than a few feet from the car to the destination.  Another issue is that the parking is not free, but honestly, is it too much to charge one dollar for twenty-four hours of parking (if the exit occurs after 7pm)?  If a couple goes to Zambra and The Bier Garden it should be fairly easy to drop at least one hundred dollars, so please spare me the complaints about downtown parking and predatory towing.

The city completed a study that does indicate the need for more parking downtown during the week, but the weekends have many more spaces available (although the core downtown stays pretty full).  It would be much nicer and forward thinking to have more use of public transit and existing lots.  What if businesses opened up their lots outside of their business hours?  The city should either incentivize those businesses by allowing them a portion of the revenue garnered from meters or an additional tax should be levied on those businesses that would prefer not to open their lots.  The hours available should a two to three hour window before and after the business hours of the location to be sure the employees of the business were able to park unhindered.

Another way to highlight our current public transit service would be the use of park and ride lots for downtown employees who might live outside of the bus service.  The local hotels should get involved too by encouraging their guests to either use the public transit or operate shuttles so they can spare their customers the hassle of having a designated driver, parking downtown, or getting lost.  Since everyone seems to agree that downtown parking is an issue, surely downtown businesses would be glad to forge partnerships with the hotels to share the cost of the shuttle.

Finally I have to gripe about the permit only spaces that line South Market behind the French Broad Food Coop and along Aston between Church St and Coxe.  I do not drive by these spots during the week, but every Saturday I drive by to find them all empty.  The signs warn that a permit is required Monday through Saturday from 8am-6pm; it seems the city should stop offering the Saturday option unless more revenue is collected which would help alleviate the core downtown issue for those willing to hoof it a few blocks.

If my vehicle were unjustly towed, I must confess I would not have the $150 plus dollars required to free it, and I do agree with the article that there should be regulation about how much can be charged in the event of a tow as well as varying the accepted payment methods.  How outrageous to charge the $25 storage fee when the vehicle was recovered in what appears to be less than an hour.

Happy bus riding and walking!

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One Car Household Week Fifteen!

Posted by eemilla on December 12, 2008

Although I have not mentioned the one car situation in a while, we are still going strong.  I even managed to enjoy my walk home as it wasn’t raining while I was walking, and I ran into the dog’s godmother.  However, our first major annoyance has occurred.  We have a bed frame that we used when we first moved in together; this bed frame is from my father-in-law’s family. He wants it back at some point, and we would love to free up that space. The hitch lies in the fact that our car doesn’t have a hitch, and it is going to be about $400 to install it and rent a one way trailer large enough to haul the bed.  Sure we know some people with SUVs, but they all have the raised sedan versions.  Also neither of us has bothered to learn how to drive a manual transmission to take advantage of the pick up truck we could have at our disposal; my honey says he could drive a stick for a short time and with extenuating circumstances, but I don’t think nine hours one way counts as short.  The cost of the rental vehicle is pretty much the cost of adding the tow hitch.  Ugh!  If only we had done this last year like I begged when we were a two car household equipped with a tow hitch.  So hopefully things will work out; maybe I’ll learn to drive stick this weekend.

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Good Food and Great Music

Posted by eemilla on December 9, 2008

The Mountain Xpress Best of Showcase was a great time between the food samples and the live entertainment.

The Trainwreks kicked it all off, and everyone that wasn’t eating or waiting in line was getting down. I can’t wait to see them again when they are the main event as it seemed they may have been a bit less rowdy than they would prefer to be due to the kids in the crowd. Stephanie’s ID reminded me of why I like rock/pop, and I will definitely buy their new CD in the spring.

Asheville Aerial Arts  were actually the highlight of the event.  It was stunning to watch the performer twist and contort herself on the silk bands; her physical prowess was breathtaking, and as with all great athletes she made the effort seem minimal.  She supported herself by her arms with no leg support at one point, and at another she created a seat out of the silk.  All of her movements were controlled and graceful, and I was terribly envious of her skill.  The flowing silks, the height, the music and  the awestruck faces of the crowd created this magical ambience in which she wove a spell that seemed to end much too soon.  This is the first time I have been able to catch a performance even though I tried to catch them at TriNumeral, and I hope to be able to find out about their next event rather than stumble upon it as I did this time.

Laughing Seed, Doc Chey’s, and Jersey Mike’s brought enough food to feed the hungry masses, but when we passed through the line at not much after six Wasbai’s space contained some dishes of soy sauce; I did not see The Lobster Trap or Apollo Flame.  Being the picky discerning eater that I am, I only sampled Doc Chey’s cold peanut noodles and two of Laughing Seed’s three pizzas.  The Laughing Seed took the time to label all of their items and detail the ingredients; Doc Chey had a staffer serving their food, and she answered any questions that arose.  The best overall was Laughing Seed’s soltice pizza that had their delicious seitan soyage and butternut squash among other toppings that I cannot recall.  This was heavily my favorite over their Florentine pizza, of which I mistakenly picked up the vegan slice.  It had really strong onions and I think broccoli, but alas, all the $3 Pisgah pales I imbibed before nine have left my memory a bit hazy.

Since I had not found enough food to sate my appetite (I danced a bunch during The Trainwreks!), we strolled up the street to Kanpai Sushi Thai.  Our service was fast as it should have been in the not too full cafe space, and the food was tasty.  I feel like both my tuna tataki and hanada roll were seasoned with a heavy hand, and being in a sushi restaurant on Sunday in the mountains, it turned me off just a bit.  The avocado promised on the menu with the hanada was fairly skimp on the 10.95 roll, and the overabundance of sriracha hardly made up for the missing avocado.  The salmon and tuna on the roll were sufficient in portion, but again the burning hot chile sauce blunted my tongue so I was not able to appreciate their taste.  The tuna tataki portion was certainly fair, and I was able to take the sourness down a notch with the shredded daikon; however, the dressing was so sour and sharp that I suspected it of covering up older or less than wonderful fish.  On a repeat visit (I have a three strikes rule unless the food, price, and service are all unbearable),  I will revisit each of these dishes.  On the upside, my honey thought the Thai seafood dumplings were a steal at five dollars; I believe he received six plump dumplings (again, maybe because we visited on the day before the new seafood order)?  I did not have enough time to reasonably peruse their sake selection, but I did glance my Ingles favorite, Sho Chiku Bai (I saw the organic nama but I cannot recall if I saw the ginjo and/or the nigori).

 

Kanpai Sushi Urban Spoon

Kanpai Sushi Urban Spoon

 

 

Overall we had a fantastic time enjoying the food and the performances; I look forward to next year’s Best Of Showcase.

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Lentil Tapenade Egg Salad Sandwich

Posted by eemilla on December 7, 2008

We eat a good bit of lentils, and sometimes rather than add the leftovers to another stir fry or make burrito filling I like to make some lentil tapenade. By adding lentils to tapenade you can greatly reduce the food cost for tapenade but still enjoy the great taste of the classic olive spread.

Another benefit to adding lentils is to cover up the taste of less than stellar olives; not that I recommend purchasing the less than stellar olives, but sometimes the grocery store doesn’t stock enough of the good pitted olives so one might have to purchase the super salty pitted ones or pit the olives at home (which I am too lazy to do).

Unfortunately, I didn’t have as many leftover lentils as I needed to tone down the olives so I hard boiled some eggs and turned the lentil tapenade into a mayo-free egg salad. The eggs’ blandness took up the olives’ overabundance of salt, and overall it was a nice light dinner when I threw it on some good hearty bread.

 

 Lentil Tapenade (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

1 c. cooked lentils

1 c. pitted olives (I ususally use Kalamata)

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

3 tbs. drained capers

3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil

3 tbs. lemon juice or brandy/cognac/white wine

2 tps. dried thyme

salt and pepper to taste

  • Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until all are combined; the spread will be coarse, but it should be spreadable
  • Serve with crusty bread, fresh vegetables, or as a sandwich spread

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Go see live music!

Posted by eemilla on December 6, 2008

Other than the festivals in May and August, Bele Chere, one Downtown After Five, and a poor sound quality Barrel House Mamas show, I haven’t seen as much live music this year as I have really wanted; however, the next two weeks will help cure this drought.  Sunday, we are going to the 2008 Best of Showcase at The Orange Peel; I am looking forward to grooving to Stephanie’s ID and the Trainwreks.  I know my honey will be getting rowdy after football and the good live music, but alas I will be driving us home due to no bus service and the thirty some dollars a cab ride from downtown to our house would cost.

Then just twelve days later, we will be back at the Orange Peel to catch Laura Reed and Deep Pocket at the Winter SOULtise with Josh Phillips Folk Festival.  It’s my birthday so I don’t have to worry about driving, and I think we might do dinner at Green Tea!  Although I guess Kanpai might be a better walkable destination.

Whoo-hooo!  December is looking good.

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