Escape to the Big City: 36 hours in Asheville

Escape to the Big City: 36 hours in Asheville

I should escape to Asheville more often.  It is about 5 times as large (population of around 87,000 compared to 18,000) and feels like a big city compared to Boone. But mostly it feels bigger to me because it has lots more great restaurants!  While there are a handful of restaurants in this area that consistently make good on the promise of wonderful food, there were as many within walking distance of my hotel in Asheville.

As the conference at which I was presenting a paper was at the Renaissance Asheville, I stayed there and was very pleased with the location.  I hadn’t had time for the kind of dining research I enjoy doing before traveling so I did a quick Yelp search on the first evening to see what might be within easy walking distance.  To my delight, I discovered that Cúrate, a tapas bar at which I’d shared several good meals, was only a few blocks away so I strolled on over.  At 7ish on a Thursday evening, a couple would likely need a reservation but my hope that a lone diner could find a seat at the bar without a wait was realized.  In the past, I’d dined at a table and ordered Sangria or a beer.  Sitting at the bar though, it was clear that a cocktail was the way to go.  I’m crushing on bourbon drinks these days — Cúrate’s Old Fashioned did not disappoint.  I befriended the traveling salesman sitting next to me, a self-proclaimed foodie who, it turned out, had grown up in Biloxi, the next town over from my hometown Pascagoula on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  His father had run Austin’s Style Center in Pascagoula in the seventies.  I think my mom’s purple hot pants suit came from there.  We’d each eaten a Cúrate a few times so shared our thoughts on what we’d enjoyed in the past and picked out some new items on the menu.  My ongoing obsession with charcuterie meant that I had no choice but to start with the tabla de jamón, a lovely selection of Spanish cured meats including jamón serrano fermín, jamón ibérico fermín and jamón ibérico de bellota. Delicioso. My dining companion then convinced me to try the pulpo a la gallega, a warm octopus dish served with yukon gold potato purée.  I finished with an old favorite, berenjenas la taberna —  wild mountain honey drizzled fried eggplant.  Better than dessert.  Great meal, fine company, with a lovely glass or two Prino Finca  Villacreces — what more could a solo diner want?

French Broad Chocolate

French Broad Chocolates

On Friday, I had plans to go with my lovely friend Brenda to hear some music at the Altamont later in the evening. With time to kill after the conference and despite the storm clouds brewing overhead, I went wandering around the area, making stops at French Broad Chocolates and the Asheville Wine Market.  Boone and Blowing Rock both have nice little wine stores, but nothing with the selection, including some great deals, of this place. Then the bottom fell out of those storm clouds. I slogged through the rain with my bags of wine and chocolates, ducking into every available doorway, and made my way back down the street to Rhubarb.  My friend Elizabeth at my1stwordwaschocolate had recommended Rhubarb and Yelp concurred.  Again, a reservation would likely be need for a party of two or more but the Chef’s bar was an excellent option for an early dinner for one.

Enjoying an Old Fashioned at Rhubarb's Chef's Bar

Enjoying an Old Fashioned at Rhubarb’s Chef’s Bar

Indulging my two preoccupations, I immediately ordered an Old Fashioned and Rhubarb’s chacuterie plate, the House Cure, along with their Preserved Plate of pickled vegetables.  Pickles, pig and whiskey — a divine combination.

Charcuterie at Rhubarb

Charcuterie at Rhubarb

The bar was quiet so I entertained myself idly chatting up the kitchen staff and watching them prep for the dinner rush while I dried out from the drenching.

I was intrigued by the name of this dish — LG Pack Square Cheese — so had to order it. It turns out that LG is  short for Looking Glass Creamery and Pack Square is their creamy brie style cheese.  I thought that it would somehow resemble a fancy grilled cheese sandwich.

LG Pack Square Cheese

LG Pack Square Cheese

The warm cheese, served with apples, pickled kumquats and a sweet vinaigrette, was a dainty little treat which in no way resembled a grilled cheese.  I finished my glass of wine — a Monticello Vineyards Cab — and savored a small piece from my chocolate stash.  It was a pretty close to perfect rainy Spring evening.

My final meal of the trip was Saturday morning brunch at Limones, a low-key restaurant with jazzed up traditional Mexican food, recommended by my friend Rebecca. Everyone else in the restaurant was enjoying a cocktail so I ordered up a Blood Orange Margarita made with Herradura Silver Tequila and Grand Marnier.  It was, ummm, very refreshing. Limones Huevos Rancheros April 2015

After my series of small plates over the last couple of days, I decided to dive in and order a big plate of Huevos Rancheros. I loved that my perfectly fried sunny side up eggs were served with all kinds of goodies on the side — guacamole and sour cream, salsa, a little slaw, some black beans, and fried potatoes.  I did not have a hangover, but if I had, this would have been the cure.

I’m up for another trip sometime soon.

Makin’ Bacon

This post is a bit of an experiment — can I pull content, recipes, photos, etc. of my favorite posts on Another Marvelous Meal and plonk them down here?  The answer appears to be yes.

Homemade bacon…  not something you made in a 1970s home economics class, but how hard could it be?  Answer: ridiculously easy.
Making bacon is one of those things I likely never would have tried had it not been for 2011’s Charcutepalooza Challenge and the charcuterie bible,  Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.
I cut my big slab of locally-sourced pork belly  into three pieces (one 2 pound piece and two 3 pound pieces) so I would be able to fit each into a regular 1-gallon zip-lock and ultimately, into my Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker.  I stashed the 2 pound chunk in the freezer for a future project (Bahn Mi!).
I mixed up a cure for the bacon using my pink salt and Ruhlman’s basic cure:

Ruhlman’s Basic Cure

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound kosher salt
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 2 ounces pink salt
Directions:
Whisk together the salts and the sugar.
For one of the 3-pound pieces of pork belly, I made a sweeter cure by adding 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar to 1/4 cup of the salt mixture. Then, I dredged the pork belly in the cure and bagged it in the zip-lock, squeezing out the extra air.
For the other 3-pound slab, I made a savory cure by adding 3 crushed bay leaves, 5 smashed cloves of garlic, and a tablespoons of crushed black peppercorns to 1/4 cup of the salt mixture. After dredging the pork belly in the cure, I bagged it in a separate zip-lock and squeezed out the extra air.
The two bags then spent a week in the fridge. I flipped the bags daily to redistribute the cure.  After 7 days, I rested.  Not really — I took  the chunks of pork belly out and rinsed off the cure. Then I fired up the smoker, using whatever I had on hand — 3-4 pounds of mesquite-flavored charcoal along with some hickory chunks and chips and smoked the bacon on a very low heat — around 125 degrees — for about 7 hours.
Sweet bacon:
Savory bacon:

This isn’t necessarily the kind of bacon you want to slice thin and fry up for Sunday morning breakfast — although that will work.  This is special bacon.

Cut it into thick lardons and serve it withsalad with lardons and soft eggsartisinal greens and soft  eggs.

Or make a lovely hash with sweet potatoes and apple.

Next up: Irish bacon.

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