I drove up to Asheville, NC to visit my cousin for a night recently, driving two and half hours into the Blue Ridge Mountains via I-85, I-74 West and I-26 East.
After checking out the high altitude view from her porch in the River Arts District, we set out to spend the evening downtown. Unlike the gleaming office towers of Charlotte, the historic storefronts of Asheville make it easy to envision how the city looked decades ago. According to http://www.discoverasheville.com, “Asheville skipped the urban renewal process that stripped the character from many downtowns. Today, its rich architectural legacy with its mix of Art Deco, Beaux Arts and Neoclassical styles is the perfect backdrop to the city’s edgy energy.” Edgy energy indeed, we spotted a topless woman sitting unfazed by the double takes of passerby.
We first checked availability at Cúrate, a Spanish restaurant featured in Southern Living and earning raves for its tapas. After adding our name to the wait list, we wandered a few blocks away for a cocktail at MG Road – the bar and lounge of Indian restaurant Chai Pani. I sipped on the Sage Advice cocktail, a crisp blend of lemon grass infused Tito’s Vodka, sage, soda and lime. We watched the color streaked sky turn dark from our comfortable perch, as trolleys cruised down the cobblestone street.
We managed to get a table at Cúrate before the kitchen closed, devouring gambas al ajillo (sauteed shrimp and sliced garlic), pincho moruno (lamb skewers marinated in moorish spices) and espinacas a la catalana (sauteed spinach with apples, raisins and roasted pine nuts). The dishes reminded me of my college semester abroad in Sevilla (but with more flavor and less grease). Cúrate chef Katie Button trained at elBulli in Spain, widely considered the best restaurant in the world until it closed in 2011.
I couldn’t believe it had been about three years since my last trip to Asheville – such an easy drive from Charlotte to find eclectic culture and cuisine in a striking setting. We’ve celebrated a few big milestones in the city – my husband and I got engaged while staying at the Biltmore Inn at the Biltmore Estate, and headed back for our “babymoon” at The Grove Park Inn a few years later. As I took in the last mountain views heading back home, I vowed to make another trip much sooner.