review


Asheville has a new hotel/restaurant/bar. The Bohemian  Hotel opened a couple of months back, across from the entrance to the Biltmore Estate. It opened in times leaner than I think the owners had planned on. That said, they’ve done a good job bringing the bar and the restaurant in line with the current economic setting. We headed back tonight for my second and the Amateur Cocktail Spouse’s first visit.

The  Bar

The Bar

I booked our reservation through Open Table, not much of an accomplishment as they had open spots and welcomed walk-ins. There is a good laid-back vibe that gels with the local attitudes. We got they a bit early so we could hang out at the bar. Lynn had a nice gin-elderflower-grapefruit cocktail while I had my sights set on a Manhattan. I was still thinking about those cherry infused rye Manhattans from July 4th. The bar staff has done a good job coming up with some unique mixes. One involved cherry infused Jim Beam. With Manhattans on my mind, I asked if they could make one using the cherry whiskey. The bartender didn’t blink. A truely great drink was prepared and consumed. She left out the bitters, but that was  not a significant distraction from enjoying the drink, the ambiance and the present company. If I can do it anonymously, I’ll drop off a bottle of Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters on my next visit.

My Manhattan - consumed

My Manhattan - consumed

Dinner followed with two melting filets and a nice bottle of Domaine Serene Evenstad (06). The wine list is well selected, leaning toward value, and priced appropriately with a reasonable mark up over retail – not the all-to-common confiscatory 200 to 300 percent markup that seems to be the norm nowadays. One quibble was the escargot apetizer (Where did the escar-go?).

A fun and enjoyable night. Give me week or two to get some proper bitters to the bartenders, then go and enjoy a Jim Beam cherry Manhattan.

Take this review with a grain of salt. I like Mela. I like the food (and its price), I like the environment and I like the wine list (not exhaustive, but some good matches for food that is hard to pair with wine). A great place to go and hang out, and yes, to see and be seen. Our latest visit was a week or so back. In my role as self-appointed cocktail maven, I decided to eat at the bar. The bar is a nice place to sit, we were by the window. The back bar is fun to look at. They have about 80 different bottles to pour from and seemed to reach for the good stuff for the drinks we watched be prepared. I ordered off the cocktail menu rather than try an old standard. Once again, my review is based on that one drink – the Ginger Mojito. It seemed appropriate for the place and the food that was coming. I like ginger, and putting some in a Mojito seemed like a neat idea. The problem was, the ginger flavor came by way of a spoonful of ground ginger stirred into the drink. It turns the drink into a muddy mess. Ginger root is very fibrous. Bits of it got trapped in my teeth and between my cheeks and gums. I watched the same addition to another drink served up in a martini glass. I didn’t look to see if that one was finished.

I was sitting there thinking how easy it would have been to use a ginger syrup as the sweetener, or even ginger ale in place of the club soda. What I got wasn’t very enjoyable.

One postive benefit – after thinking of ways to improve the drink, I decided that simply criticizing someone doesn’t cut it. I need to be consturctive. Watch this space. For every drink I have that I don’t like, I’m going to take some time and try to make it on my own. I want to see if I can tweak the recipe to make it worth drinking again.

Next stop, The Flying Frog’s Grand Marnier Cosmo

It’s always a pleasure to find a bar with good drinks. All the better still when you see the bartender get into the drink and make you something you’re going to like. Most of the time you don’t get that. More often you get a combination of things poured up quickly and sent out. Not something to complain about if it’s Happy Hour and the drinks are priced for slamming.

 

Earlier on this blog, I went on and on about Cucina 24 and the Capital Grille (Charlotte). Unfortunately, I can’t do the same for our latest local addition, The Rankin V@ult Cocktail Lounge. We wandered in the other night with pretty high hopes, I mean, it says “Cocktail Lounge” in the name right? I only had one drink and can’t condemn a place over one drink. The trouble is, I didn’t want another. The space is nice, not overly plush. Asheville is a laid back place and I think anyone would feel comfortable in the seating area. The back bar has a nice display of better bottles, maybe 40 or so all together. The cocktail menu had a good mix of drinks. My drink, the Ruby Bliss ($8), looks like a local creation. It’s listed as a Martini, but really its a gin sour with some pomegranate for color served in a Martini glass (which doesn’t make it a Martini). It was hot outside and I like me a gin sour, so it seemed like a good combination. My inner snob started to come out as I watched my drink begin with a large pour of Arsitocrat Gin. Not that there’s anything wrong with the bottom shelf stuff, just don’t hide it behind the bar where I can’t see it until you pick it up and start putting it in my drink. Maybe the bottle of Hedrick’s on display was empty. Later, I was a little surprised to see their on-line menu indicate that Bombay would be used in the drink. Of course there is a disclaimer that the menu is “subject to change.”

 

My second complaint is minor, and maybe not what someone else would think is a fault: the cocktail glass was huge, maybe one of those 9 ouncers. It takes a lot to fill one of those, which I guess explains the use of a gin that cost less per bottle than the drink it’s used in. Last minor points, too much citrus, not enough red stuff. It tasted, and looked, like pink lemonade and was out of balance. Also, it looked like a Cosmo which made me self conscious while it sat next to me. Lucy Brennan’s beet infused vodka Ruby is deep ruby red. A better name for my drink would be a Pink Bliss. Don’t get me wrong, I drank the whole thing, it was our first stop after all. I probably drank it a little too fast to get rid of it and thereby end my embarrassment at selecting a drink with more appeal for the ladies. That was my fault not their’s.

 

I can’t criticize the people that run the place. It takes a lot to get a new business off the ground and running. More than I could do, and something to be admired and supported. They have an upcoming benefit for our local Habitat for Humanity chapter. They must be good people. But look, if you call yourself a Cocktail Lounge, you’re going to get guys like me (i.e. a cocktail geek) who are looking for the cocktail scene. Maybe the person mixing was new. I’m sure I’ll find my way back sometime, but I’ll limit myself to a G & T or some other drink that doesn’t require much active bartender intervention. Maybe I’ll just get a beer.

 

At our next stop I got a Negroni, on the rocks. I slouched in my chair and tried to look tougher. It was outdoors so I kept my sunglasses on.

Cucina 24

The week before our beach trip was a week without kids. They were off with the grandparents. That gave Lynn and I the chance to check out some spots around town that were new to us. Our first night was a visit to the Frog Bar (for a nice Sidecar, sugar rim glass included) and then Sante! Nice experience at both. Thursday night we showed up at Cucina 24 without a reservation. Fortunately, there were high tables available in the bar area. A quick check of the bottles behind the bar and I spotted something that looked promising: Fee Brothers bitters! A bar with these is a bar that could shake up cocktails. Lynn ordered a glass of white wine while I opted for a Gimlet. What a treat – ice cold, well proportioned and served in a chilled cocktail glass. The bartender (and General Manager) Brian Candee came by to take our second round order. The cocktail menu has several drinks unique to Cucina. I was tempted, but when I mentioned a Negroni, I think Brian’s eyes lit up. He described his construction of the drink and offered that he used an artisanal Vermouth. I was sold. Again, well proportioned and balanced. Served on the rocks (at my request). Best one I’ve ever had.

While I choose to drink my dinner that night, Lynn went for an order of Bucatini Carbonara. Quite good (I sampled liberally). Further conversation with Brian turned up that he makes his sour mix fresh daily – “Six lemons and six limes.” Was it possible? Had I died and found a little piece of cocktail heaven? He really cares about what goes in the glass. The obvious attention to the small details at the bar are hopefully an indication of attention paid to other aspects of the restaurant. This one’s a keeper. We’ll be back. Maybe with a reservation, or maybe we’ll just hang at the bar.

Three out of three olives
(Need a graphic for that one)