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At Asheville’s The Admiral, There Be Food Here

March 22, 2013

While visiting the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, we quickly came to find out that the food served on the Estate – at least the meal we sampled at the Bistro – wasn’t particularly special, though not particularly bad either.
It was enough however to set our minds on leaving the vast Estate and to head back into town to try our luck at what we were told was the most popular restaurant in town, The Admiral.
Getting reservations at the place is impossible – the New York Times and Zagat both favor it – but it is apparently possible to try your luck dining at the bar, which we did.
As you can see above the Admiral is not much to look at from the street. It essentially looks like a reclaimed diner or dive bar. There’s a tiny parking lot out front insufficient to the amount if business the place does and a small outdoor seating area – with a fireplace – out front.

Inside, the divey vibe continues. It seems like a bit of a dank bar, with sonorous Jens Lekman-esque music wafting through the air and hipster types to greet you and behind the bar. The only thing that gives the low is that all the tables within are occupied by middle aged (or older) foodies looking for a treat. Well, turns out they’ve come to the right place.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t write about a drink but the missus was curious about their Dark & Stormy – and our enormously helpful server Russ brought over a small taste of it for her. It was terrific, loaded with tons if fresh ginger flavor. I also liked the look of it – it seemed dark and stormy. We were off to a good start so I placed myself in Russ’s hands. We ordered between us potato leek soup and Prince Edward Island mussels to start and Green Tea gnocchi and Cioppino for mains.
Turns out we were dining at an interesting moment at The Admiral. Elliott Moss, the head chef who had guided them to acclaim, had literally just left the restaurant to launch a new venture this summer and Ivan Candido had just taken over the reins.

Now I know what you’re thinking: PEI mussels in North Carolina? What’re you thinking? I’m thinking I made the right choice because I’m pretty sure they’re among the tastiest mussels I’ve ever had. A large portion of them is served in a small San Marzano tomato broth that includes a dash of PBR and – most importantly – diced chunks of glorious, smoky bacon. Wowza! The dish was inspired.

Just look at all that goodness. I could eat that all week. The smoky bacon flavor had blended beautifully with the tomato broth and mussels. It was amazing.
I should add however that one of the mussels that landed on my plate was closed up, so of courses i didn’t eat it, but I was a bit surprised it hadn’t been weeded out. All you have to do is tap the mussels before cooking – if they don’t clam up, toss em.

The missus got the potato leek soup, which was very suitable. The truffled Boursin cheese on toast it came with made for a delightful complement.

I had followed Russ’s suggestions quite happily until this point but I am afraid there was a minor misstep in selecting the Cioppino to follow the mussels. The preparation is similar, although the flavor profile different, and there was no way the milder dish could compare with the stronger, bolder flavor of the mussels. This was again served in a broth (no smoky bacon though) and again one of the mussels was tight as a drum and needed to be cast away. The dish itself was fine but redundant after the mussels. Frankly I further think though the scallops in it were deftly handled, the shrimp and swordfish chunks were not exactly dazzling. The first course had set the bar so high and this dish was similar enough it couldn’t help but come up short comparatively. Do one or the other, not both. It’s a
delicious dish that would’ve stood well on its own but paled in comparison to the mussels.

The Green Tea gnocchi were served with mushrooms and a smoked hard boiled egg. Is there nothing smoking doesn’t improve?

For dessert, we once again followed Russ’s guidance and landed on the churros. They were insanely delicious. The churros themselves were very light with a respectable crust, and flaky. They were served with berries in a cinnamon syrup and coated with coconut cinnamon sugar. You’d put a bunch on a spoon and then dunk it into the pot of spicy hot chocolate they were served with. Does that not sound amazing? Well, it was.
If you can believe this, the whole meal including four drinks was $100 before tip.
It’s easy to see why the place is so widely praised. Hopefully the new chef continues to keep up the standards while adding his own excellent flavors. I’d definitely go back.
The Admiral
400 Haywood Road
Asheville NC 28806

One Comment
  1. November 28, 2013 9:26 am

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