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.