This week was tapas week for James and me. It wasn’t intentional, it just turned out that way. There has been a lot of buzz around Asheville’s newest tapas bar, King James Public House, which just opened on Charlotte Street. Peter Slamp, part owner of one of our favorite restaurants, Zambra, has partnered with Chef Steven Goff to create this attractive bar and eating house. So when friends of ours suggested a walk in the snow from our Asheville Bed and Breakfast around the neighborhood and ending up at the King James we jumped at the opportunity.
Walking in the door we were greeted by our friend, Josh Bailey. Josh wears many hats here in Asheville. We met him leading an Eating Asheville Food Tour but he is also a bar manager at Zambra which explains his presence at the King James! In spite of the snow and bitter cold the bar was already quite full. We were lucky to get a table, by the time we left it was standing room only. With its beautiful dark wood bar and brick walls the room manages to feel like an English pub while the large front windows keep it light and warm.
Our intentions were just to meet up for a drink but there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to taste at least a little of what was on offer. Everyone chose one dish to share. Abby picked small jar of duck pate along with another jar of grapefruit jam served with a crusty bruschetta. The pate was smooth and rich, as it should be. It melted on your tongue. My choice was duck wings, served with a slightly spicy sweet hoisin sauce based glaze. They were delicious. The glaze had just a touch of Chinese five spice in it which lifted the duck flavor instead of hiding it. Our friends chose a grilled Caesar salad topped with a poached egg. Some people think bacon makes anything better but for my money it’s a poached egg. I’m definitely heading back there to have that salad for lunch sometime soon! But the best of the best was the Brussels Sprouts. I am generally not a fan of sprouts but Asheville chefs are working on converting me. These were thinly sliced and quick fried then mixed with some other sprouts which had been roasted. We were all fighting over them!
As if this weren’t enough, Peter brought over some shots of Jameson Irish Whiskey along with pickle juice chasers to welcome us to the bar. He called it an Irish Remedy although it is also known as a “pickle-back”. Abby says she loves to go out with innkeepers–they always score something special!
Later this same week, James and I returned late from a trip to Charlotte and rather than cook we decided to go to Curate, a highly regarded Spanish Tapas Bar on Biltmore Avenue. This was actually our second visit to Curate. We had tried the restaurant shortly after it opened and found it to be expensive and somewhat pretentious. Rave reviews from our guests and its continued success led us to try it again. What a change! This time the restaurant glowed with cheer and we were warmly welcomed. Looking at the middle-of-winter crowded room made me comment to James that one of the good things about the winter slow period was that it was possible to get into some of Asheville’s more popular restaurants without feeling like you were lucky to be noticed.
I take it all back. Curate is wonderful. Once you get past the Spanish menu and read the dish descriptions you will find lots to tempt. This time it was me who ordered the Brussels Sprouts and I am so glad I did. They were roasted with cauliflower and raisins and served with a yogurt mousse. The trick was that the mousse was warm so it was actually more like a foam. It was so good that we ordered it again. Another favorite of mine were baked fire-roasted red peppers stuffed with goats cheese and served with fresh pesto sauce. Abby ordered chorizo wrapped in potato chips which was another surprise: we thought the chips would be crushed and made into some kind of batter but they were home-made chips which were wrapped around the sausage and then fried. So good.
What a great week: a lovely walk in the snow and two new restaurants to rave about. Now I just need to update our recommended restaurant list!