Saturday, April 15, 2006

Best of Downtown Asheville: We're Up and Running Again

If you're in downtown Asheville heading south down the hill on Biltmore, turn left on Eagle just before the Fine Arts Theater pictured above, and Limone's will be on the right. Regardless of your culinary preferences, I'm convinced that Limone's self-proclaimed "Mexican & California" cuisine is the overall best bet for dining in a compact area that's been described as a "cultural blend of Appalachia and Haight Street."

In typical fashion, I opted for several appetizers rather than an entree. That was after first sipping a blood orange margarita as good as you'll find anywhere and then dipping my bread into a tapenade to die for---more on that later. Next came ceviche, made with the freshest available saltwater fish. I should have asked, but didn't, and assume today's was snapper or flounder. Marinated in lime juice with red onions, cilantro, and avocado, it came with homemade tortilla chips on the side. Nothing unusual about such a mix, but preparations vary. Some work, some don't. This one worked particularly well. After the seviche, I enjoyed crisp fried calamari dusted with New Mexican chili powder. With it was a remoulade of which lime and cilantro were the definitive ingredients. To my mind calamari doesn't get any better. And finally, having requested my salad last, Limone's Caesar arrived adorned with pumpkin seeds in addition to the obligatory anchovy fillets and Asiago cheese, and with a dressing enhanced with a poblano pepper-lime emulsion. Can't say I've ever enjoyed a Caesar Salad more.

One entree was Sweet Pepper Lamb ragout with fettucine pasta, ratatouille, shaved Asiago cheese, and habenero-tomato sauce. Another was Seared Duck Breast with celery root puree, piloncillo and juniper berry sauce, sugar snap peas, and mango-papaya salsa. Vegetarians could select Artichoke Ravioli with Japanese eggplant, braised squash, basil, tomatoes, and mascarpone cheese. And there were others.

Although Limone's is relatively new, it's not like I was the first to discover it. The hour was late---for Asheville--- around 9 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, and Limone's was packed.

As for that tapenade: On this busy evening I was only comfortable asking one recipe, and this was it. My nice waitress kindly obliged and came back with the ingredients written down on the back of a business card. Proportions, which she described as arbitrary, were not given.I look forward to attempting to recreate it. A temprorary dearth of blood oranges in Baltimore is all that's held me back. Here's the list. I suspect it should be quite easy to come up with the right mix.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Balsamic vinegar
Blood Orange Juice
Crushed Toasted Hazelnuts

My next meal worthy of mention was in Meridian Mississippi.