While searching the internet for restaurants in Asheville, a few names kept popping up - one of them was Zambras, a super-cool downtown tapas bar.
I love tapas - and I knew neither Charlie nor Tommy had experienced Spanish food, so I made reservations for 7:00, thinking that would be plenty of time to see Biltmore and get downtown. The place is so neat inside. Imagine a tapas bar with a Moorish influence - banquettes with exotic pillows, minaret-shaped doorways and rich colors. I was in heaven!
Charlie and Tommy, however, were not in heaven. It was very dark, dimly lit with candles, and all kinds of cracks were made: is the place dirty, we can't see our food, read the menu, know what we're ordering, blah, blah, blah. I was so ticked. They thought they were hilarious and I was furious. I told them they were bumpkin Philistines and if they didn't straighten up they could eat at chain restaurants (alone, I might add) for the rest of their lives.
Thankfully, our server arrived before blood could be shed. She was great, and steered us toward our choices. I wanted to try the small plates, Tommy wanted seafood paella (a full-sized entree and a 40-minute wait because they made it to order) and Charlie didn't care one way or the other, so she constructed the perfect menu plan: order a sucession of small plates, and by the time they're finished, we could share the paella. Brilliant.
Let the tapas begin! Tapas #1: grilled Tasmanian salmon w/mustard mojo and crisped leeks, served on a bed of peppered orzo. Wow! Salmon is one of my favorite things, and this was perfect. The grilled salmon with the mustard spice mix was beautiful, but I wondered how the rest of the meal would stack up against it. I mean, perfectly cooked and seasoned salmon is hard to beat. I was dying to take a pictures of the food, and even had Charlie bring the camera. But the place was so dark, I wondered what could be more annoying than flashbulbs going off while folks were trying to eat their dinner. If you could have seen all this beautiful food! Anyhoo, I digress.
Tapas #2: sesame crusted scallops - these were served on the most fantastic fennel slaw with grapefruit and avocado - a lovely combination.
Tapas #3: cornmeal crusted oysters with orange-saffron sauce served over pomegranate slaw. Okay, this is getting redundant because these were great, too. But OH MY GOSH that pomegranate slaw. I could have eaten a bowl of that alone. Flawless.
Do you see a fish and seafood trend here? There's a reason for that: the server and I picked the menu! Yee Hah! I did order some meat-centered tapas for Charlie, so just in case you thought I was insensitive...
Tapas #4: hickory nut gap farm house albondigas. This is a six-word description for: meatballs! Meatballs served in a coconut-curry sauce over chopped kale, with wood-fire grilled bread on the side. They were very good, but you know I'm not a huge meat fan. The bread, however, was another matter and I could have had a plate of that - hold the meatballs please. The meatballs - excuse me, albondigas - were a huge hit with the guys.
Tapas #5: pomegranate braised pork spring rolls served with avocado and mango dipping sauce. Again, good stuff, but not my thing, and all these plates were making my head swirl...
So we finished our small plates and poof! Out came our seafood paella! Perfectly cooked saffron rice with peas and veggies topped with mussels, squid and shrimps. Fantastic. Tommy was busy spearing all the shrimp (I guess afraid that we would leave him with nothing but squid) but it didn't matter.
At this point we were all very happy. The good thing about sharing small plates and one entree is that you have the proper level of contentment - but it was not to stay that way! No! Tommy said, "This food is so good we really shouldn't leave without trying the desserts."
So much for the perfect level of contentment. We ordered three different desserts (I know, I know, but can’t I say it’s because we could share?). Cardamom and rosewater flan, bittersweet chocolate torte with blackberry coulis and a gorgonzola tart with marinated strawberries. And we had coffee, too.
But we did not eat the mints.