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Archive for December, 2009

Ringing in 2010!

Posted by eemilla on December 31, 2009

Don’t worry, we’re going to pop the magnum at the neighbors after we stroll down (hoping it won’t be raining), and for brunch we’ll enjoy French toast and PJ before my husband joins my brothers in chopping some wood.  Happy, happy 2010!

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Iannucci’s

Posted by eemilla on December 31, 2009

*******Update*******

Back in October, I thought Hendersonville Epicurean had stated their second location was already open so when I heard the hostess/cashier talking to the applicant I assumed a third location was in the works.  Thanks to Hendersonville Epicurean for inquiring!  Also in good news for those further south, Mike Iannucci is keeping his fingers crossed for an opening very soon.

After Thirsty Monk suggested that I try the tiramisu at Iannucci’s, I put them back on the radar.  I work within walking distance of the flagship location (a second location recently opened in Hendersonville, and it sounded like they may be opening a third location locally), albeit it dangerous with almost no sidewalks walking distance; however, I was without a book so I ran to the library and grabbed something to read with lunch.  The two servers were sharing hostess, buser, and cashier duties (when I worked there earlier in the decade Sundays meant servers also shared dishwashing duties), and I was sat in a roomy booth far from the door; although I should note their foyer provides a buffer to those tables close to the door and appears to offer overflow seating as well.  Being on my lunch break I didn’t really peruse their alcohol list, but if memory serves they have cheap domestic drafts (Killians is the only one I would drink).  I stuck with water, and I ordered the sesame breadsticks with marinara.  I received butter instead, and I don’t recall if I was charged for the sauce or not.  I have been secretly craving sesame encrusted bread; I don’t think the craving will resurface anytime soon, and if it does I don’t think I count on Iannucci’s to cure it.  For my lunch proper, I ordered the eggplant sub, but frankly the menu should read stromboli not sub.  I expected a hoagie roll with eggplant and cheese and possibly some greasy, nasty bagged potato chips and a pickle.  For $6.25 I received a huge stromboli full of thinly sliced and breaded eggplant and cheese and marinara.  If I had paid a bit of attention I’m certain I could’ve made three light meals out of it (I ate my small leftover portion later in the week and was quite satiated even without the assistance of breadsticks and dessert).  As the tiramisu was the impetus for this visit I had to try it, and I ordered a cannoli for my coworker.  I didn’t try the cannoli, but it was rather large and served with slivered almonds; she rated it higher than the Fresh Market’s version.  My tiramisu was fine, but it wasn’t anything special; with its $3.50 price tag, though, I can imagine it will work just fine for meeting my tiramisu needs until I make my own perfect one.

The service was attentive (aside from the missing sauce), and I was actually quite impressed until the cashier (who ended up being the server who hadn’t waited on me) spent several minutes talking to a job applicant after she had started to ring me up.  It wasn’t terribly busy, but they had a flow with many customers seeming to be regulars.

Iannuci’s doesn’t make me nearly as happy as Nona Mia, but its prices and proximity are perfect.

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Reduce your tax liability with Brother Wolf!

Posted by eemilla on December 30, 2009

From a Brother Wolf Animal Rescue email:

Because you cared.

For animal rescuers, there’s no better feeling than to be able to say “Yes, we can help.” To a family who can’t keep their pet because of financial, medical, or housing issues; to a caring person who found an abused, abandoned or lost animal;to a shelter worker who wants to give one special dog or cat another chance. There’s only one way we can do all of this: with the support of friends like you!

This year, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue has made amazing strides.With your help, we have…

– Found homes for 212 CATS and 556 DOGS,almost triple the number from 2008. Among them, a black lab puppy named Zax rescued from a high-kill shelter, shown in this video meeting his new family!
Transported over 75 puppies to rescues in the northeast
– Assisted local families in spaying and neutering over 150 pets and promoted trap-neuter-return of feral cats
– Opened our no-kill shelter Pet Soup to house dogs and cats awaiting a foster or permanent home and to operate our Thrift and Gift Shop
Brother Wolf Animal Rescue is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We are volunteer run and exist solely on the help of our wonderful supporters! When a sick, injured, or special needs pet comes along who requires a little extra TLC, we rely on your gift to give that dog or cat every chance for a healthy, happy life.


We can’t do it without you.

Your 2009 tax-deductible gift can do so much….

$25… PROVIDES TESTING FOR HEARTWORM OR FELINE LEUKEMIA
$55… WILL SPAY OR NEUTER ONE CAT OR DOG
$75… HELPS OFFSET WELLNESS EXAMINATION AND PRE-ADOPTION FEES
$100… COVERS AVERAGE FOOD AND BOARDING COSTS
$500… CURES A DOG INFECTED WITH HEARTWORMS
$800… PAYS FOR LIFESAVING TREATMENT OF A PUPPY SICK WITH PARVO

As a special thank you gift for your donation of $20 or more, we’ll send you a copy of our tights & tails 2010 calendar, a gorgeous collection of images by photographer Laura Grant featuring some special Brother Wolf pets and the lovely ladies of Asheville’s own Bombs Away Cabaret.

Don’t forget to donate before December 31stand get your tax-deduction for this year!

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Mela

Posted by eemilla on December 23, 2009

Despite the snow, my mom was determined to celebrate our family’s December birthdays Monday night.  Due to all the various and sundry idiosyncrasies of our eleven member party, we struggled to find a restaurant that would work.  The last outing was at Zambra, but it was deemed too costly even though everyone could have found something to eat there.  Bouchon was my choice, but just like last year they were too crowded.  The forty-five minute wait wouldn’t have been an issue by itself, but they don’t accept reservations even for large tables, and they don’t have adequate accommodations for waiting patrons (the entire space is tiny so tables rather than waiting area gets priority).

With everyone parked around Bouchon, we walked down the street to Mela where they afforded much more space for waiting.  My brother miscounted our eleven top, so we had to commandeer another table to make enough room.  Our server dropped by and announced rather than take a drink order she would just bring everyone water.  We took a while to get settled because my grandfather and uncle were none too enthusiastic about eating Indian food, but by the end of the night they had quieted their grumblings.  I must confess I shared their reluctance to dine at Mela, but mainly because I had made a big pot of chole dal on Saturday and had plans to eat it for lunch over the next few days.

After much review and questioning and explaining (by members of the party not our server), everyone found a dish.  The kitchen kindly reduced the spices mentioned in my grandmother’s chicken (although both chicken dishes including the off the rack one came out about five minutes after the rest of parties), and overall, the food was enjoyed by all.  My uncle and cousin both ate the lamb kabobs, and they were a bit overcooked.  The pakoras and samosas were enjoyed by everyone; I especially enjoyed the spice of the cilantro sauce and the sour edge of the tamarind sauce.  I ordered the baingan bharta (roasted eggplant served in a tomato and onion sauce); the rice served on the side was cooked perfectly, but I missed the eggplant taste and texture in the main dish.  It was a bit spicier than I wanted, but when I added the raita I had no problem devouring it (aside from the three massive, hard tomato wedges).  The garlic naan was fairly greasy, but it was also delightfully garlicky (I didn’t try the goat cheese naan).  The table was too crowded and long for me to be able to try everyone’s dishes, but what wasn’t eaten on site was carried off in to-go boxes.

My main complaint with Mela was our server’s obnoxious and pushy up-selling and my really bad dark and stormy.  My husband and brother ordered two appetizers and some naan to share with the table, and she questions if five orders will be enough; they corrected her to the two garlic and one goat cheese they had requested.  At the other end of the table, she attempts the same thing with my mom, but my mom wasn’t forceful enough in her correction so the server repeated how the two orders of garlic naan my mother ordered would be insufficient to feed the table, not twice, but three times (with my mom refusing each time).  I finally injected that we had ordered enough food to share with the table.  When my uncle received his lamb kabobs, which are an appetizer that he chose to have as his entree, he complained that he had not ordered rice and didn’t want it, but the server said it was included with the dish.  When the bill came it was obviously not included with the dish.  As I didn’t pay the bill, I have no idea how much I was charged for my dark and stormy, but I received a rocks class with dark rum and something not nearly gingery enough to be the stormy (I assume it was ginger ale from the soda gun).  I only ordered the drink after seeing ginger beer on the menu; if they had no intention of using the ginger beer someone should have let me know.  Otherwise the service was okay; she mostly kept the water and other drinks filled, and the buser kept excess dishes off the table.

While the food was tasty, I do not share the amazement of other locals, and I don’t anticipate returning anytime soon due to the unprofessional service.  Asheville has many, many great restaurants so I don’t see any point in settling.

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I love snow!

Posted by eemilla on December 18, 2009

Our dog loves snow too!

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Mayfel’s

Posted by eemilla on December 14, 2009

To celebrate my little brother’s graduation, we ate lunch beforehand.  With two vegetarians in the party, it was decided that downtown Asheville would be better than Black Mountain (the ceremony was at Montreat).  Much like many a downtown restaurant in which space is at a premium, Mayfel’s doesn’t have much room to wait, and it seems to pretty much always have a wait.  Fortunately, our wait was promised to be ten minutes, but we were set before my brother could park the car.  The atmosphere is Southern kitschy and energetic, with copper wire spirals holding blackbirds and Mardi Gras masks and bright walls adorned with serving platters.

In lieu of the Bloody Mary bar, I started with Bell’s Porter ($3.50 which is a reasonable price for a good bottled beer), but for the sake of appearances I only enjoyed one.  My main course was the eggplant panini which consisted of eggplant (without any breading!), red onion, goat cheese, and tomato on a crusty sourdough bread and served with choice of white fries, sweet potato fries, and coleslaw (I believe the third was coleslaw).  The sandwich was a thick portion, and I received plenty of fries.  I requested white fries, but I received sweet potato fries; my grandmother pointed this out, and our server said the kitchen already had the correction working.  It also comes with sweet pickles, which my mom applauded.  Mayfel’s won her over when she asked about the grits before ordering the Blue Plate; their grits are yellow stone ground grits made with heavy cream and butter (two of my mom’s favorite ingredients for pretty much any dish).  Our server mentioned that many customers don’t like their grits, thanks to people not eating real grits.  My mom and my Nanny Goose raised us on real Southern food, and I still love my grits (even if I cook them with veggie stock and water); but I despise that Cracker restaurant which serves tripe (like instant grits) in the guise of Southern food.  Everyone’s portion was hearty, and we all cleared our plates (I took half of my sandwich to go).  My brother’s shrimp and grits was a large bowl of grits with several good sized shrimp topping it, and his girlfriend had a large plate of huevos rancheros with plenty of beans on the side.   Bravo to Mayfel’s for letting my ever fussy grandmother picnic (her religious convictions prevent her from spending money on her sabbath).

Although the weather prevented it, they also offer outdoor seating with a great view of Pritchard Park as well as a late night patio where one can enjoy drinks and live music (I don’t know if you can get to the patio from the main dining area, but the patio entrance is off of Wall Street).

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Pomodoros South

Posted by eemilla on December 13, 2009

We ate at Pomodoros on a slow weeknight, and  I have been hesitant to post this review considering how few quality, local options we have on the south side.  The place was mostly empty, aside from a really subdued large party in  the other half of the restaurant, and I believe someone may have been at the bar.  After we had received our drinks, another table was set in the booth directly behind us, which irked me because of the number of empty tables.  Aside from that, the service was prompt and attentive without any hovering.

My reluctance is the food.  While it is not bad, I really feel pretty much everything on their menu could come down a few dollars in order to make the price match the quality.  The saving grace of the meal was the appetizer special: sweet potato gnocchi.  The gnocchi were delightfully fluffy, and the portion was good.  They were served over a small bed of lightly sauteed spinach with a light garlic olive oil sauce.  Our visit was partially encouraged by their $39.99 four course menu, but we couldn’t turn down the appetizer so we opted out.  My roasted eggplant entree came with a salad so I opted for the caesar.  The romaine was okay, but the dressing was sweet.  When I asked about it, the manager said they make it in house with honey to make it a signature dressing.  I would expect them to make the dressing in house based on the image they are presenting; my issue, however, is the menu states a classic caesar dressing not Pomodoros signature caesar dressing.  We were also served warm bread and olive oil; the bread was crusty with soft interior.

Our entrees were good portions, and my roasted eggplant had a neat presentation with the fried leeks exploding from the eggplant base.  The ravioli my husband ordered was fine, but the asparagus were terribly bitter and somewhat overcooked (serves us right for ordering a dish served with spring vegetables at the beginning of winter).  He also felt it was oversauced, but he enjoyed pesto cream sauce itself as well as the ravioli.  My sauce was again too sweet; it tasted like ketchup with smoke flavor added which brought to mind barbeque sauce.  The menu states there were portobellas and feta, but I don’t recall either.  Fortunately, the eggplant was served as a whole half piece so I could enjoy the dish while mostly avoiding the sauce.  If I had liked the sauce the eggplant’s tough skin would have been a hinderance rather than a benefit.

Since the appetizer was so enjoyable, I decided to give dessert a try.  I opted for tiramisu as I will not stop searching for a La Caterina Trattoria replacement until I have found one.  While Pomodoros doesn’t come close, it does a good job.  The chocolate sauce on the plate tasted like Hershey’s saccharin concoction (even though it is purportedly house made), but fortunately the cake and cheese didn’t share that flavor.  I still wanted some bitterness from either the cocoa powder topping or preferably from lady fingers soaked in strong espresso.

The beer and wine prices are fairly steep; I didn’t feel impelled to order a liquor drink based on the beer and wine prices and the “martini” menu, and with a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, the wine has to be prestigious and dear.  My husband convinced me to split a pitcher of beer as the pitcher seemed to offer the only reasonably priced option.  It may have been a fluke of a small pitcher (although it looked like a normal sized pitcher), but we were only able to get three pours out of the pitcher.  Normally one should be able to pour four pints from a pitcher of beer.  Neither the server nor the manager addressed my complaint about the pitcher so I don’t know if it is a fluke, but when one does the math it seems intentional.  A pitcher of Gaelic is $13.65, and the pint is $4.65 a pint.  I’d be interested to see how a server would handle a party ordering a pitcher and requesting four glasses.

Nona Mia remains Asheville’s best Italian restaurant in both quality of food and price, but Pomodoros does offer a better tiramisu.

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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.

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Biltmore Park a haven for local businesses?

Posted by eemilla on December 1, 2009

After spending a few days in the land of fried and breaded, I was a bit irked to read Jason Sanford’s “South Asheville Rising” touting Biltmore Park as a model for bringing local businesses to chain ridden South Asheville, especially since the accompanying photo was of a chain restaurant.  While Biltmore Park’s new addition has brought in some arguably higher quality chains (e.g., 131 Main and Travinia), they are still chains (albeit more regional than national).  We have not found a good reason to eat at any of these restaurants (aside from Brixx, thanks to its bogo special), and their menus (especially PF Chang’s) really aren’t offering anything to bring us in.  I did appreciate that the article was bookended with paragraphs on local businesses (12 Bones, Tupelo Honey Cafe, and The Thirsty Monk), and Mr Sanford did include a few examples of local businesses that are moving into the square (with the omission of Sensibilities and Perks which have been there a few years).

On the bright side Biltmore Park does have sidewalks and an enviable greenway that connects the neighborhood to the local schools and their playing fields as well as the South Buncombe Library, and even though it is currently pretty devoid of trees, it is far and away superior to Tunnel Rd II (i.e., Airport Rd).  Further improvements to draw people in (although I don’t always get the feeling that Biltmore Park wants locals hanging out in their town square) would be music, a beer festival, or at the very least bus service (which the Transit Master Plan does mention).

Admittedly I do shop at Ingles, Target, Pet Supplies Plus, and Earth Fare on a regular basis (with an occasional trip to Marshall’s, Best Buy, and Michael’s).  I do not despise chains because they are chains, but rather because they are not as good for the local economy as local businesses, and they very often don’t treat their employees as individuals.  I do despise the homogenization they inflict, and I cannot express how irritated I get every time I drive down Tunnel Rd II when I see the idiotic building orientation of Carrabas, Chilis, Cracker Barrel, and Lonestar.  Rather than site the buildings with the seating facing the mountain view, customers dine with a lovely view of the parking lot.  I understand that they didn’t want an ugly blank wall facing the street, but surely someone could’ve thought for a minute what a waste of the view their designs were.   I also detest the market saturation and the horrendous architecture.  Although their new location is only a few miles away, MalWart decided to completely abandon their hideous monstrosity on Hendersonville Rd for their new even more massive structure on Tunnel Rd II.  Ingles provides an even more disgusting example of waste; their new Hendersonville Rd store (the one across from Earth Fare not the one across from Biltmore Forest or in Fletcher) was built yards away from the previous one.

Tonight we’re dining at Pomodoros for the first time a several years (the first time at their new location), and we’ll swill some fine beers from Monk South at Pint Night and Cask Night later this week.  Keep those local businesses in mind when buying gifts!

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