Asheville offers the eclectic diner a fair share of eateries to whet any global appetite. If you should begin to hear the rhythmic, woody clapping of castanets luring you to engage in the gastronomical delicacies of the Iberian Peninsula, then rest assured you’ll find your way downtown to Zambra Tapas and Wine Bar. The interior of this subterranean restaurant beckons the sensation of an Andalusian hideaway. The Moorish accents, arches and earthy-hued alabaster walls project the feeling that you’ve traversed into a dimly lit Pasha’s den.
Pass the bar which snakes to one side of the restaurant and meander around columns into deep recesses which engage your senses in the ubiquitous allure of Spain’s patchwork past.
I have been inclined to visit Zambra as often as possible when I’m in Asheville. Most recently, a tableful of friends and I had the pleasure of experiencing a nice selection of tapas. We began our culinary expedition with cola-braised pork cheek nestled above a root vegetable puree joined by brussels gremolata and toasted hazelnuts. We found the pork cheek to be absolutely tender, as to be expected, and deliciously satisfying with just the right amount of nutty goodness. Next we ordered Moroccan rabbit pastillas with harissa, powdered sugar and almonds. Having had rabbit before, I expected some gaminess, but was pleasantly surprised to find this dish devoid of it. Shredded bits of rabbit were baked into sweetened pastries that made us want more. We then ordered the tea-smoked duck breast ssam, which was wrapped in little gem lettuce and served with a drizzle of chili sauce, chopped scallions and noodles. It was a lovely combination of moist duck meat and a slight pop of peppered spice. Next we welcomed seared scallops with a root vegetable risotto, a tangy pomegranate-onion jam and a grating of Brussel petals. The scallops were moist and sweet which paired nicely against the fruit and spice.
Among our selections, we also intermingled some vegetable based tapas including pan roasted cauliflower with marcona almonds, fried capers, radicchio and curry-sultana mojo, as well as, roasted local turnips with compressed apples, toasted peanuts, tatsoi and a yuzu emulsion. Both selections were well chosen because there was not an empty plate on the table.
To round off the experience we ordered bread pudding with cranberries for dessert. Divine is the only word that comes to mind to describe the spongy softness of this delectable finisher. The whole experience channeled my inner gypsy and if I had tambourine in hand – well…
There are heftier entrees available at Zambra, but I enjoy eating tapa-style, as it gives the diner more variety and opportunity to discover different flavor palettes. Rest assured, there is an extensive wine list with some really great selections from around the world.
Zambra Tapas and Wine Bar should be a definite stop on any visit to Asheville. They offer uncompromising food and service in a comfortable and cozy atmosphere. They are located at 85 W. Walnut Street. Visit their website at http://www.zambratapas.com. I am actually anticipating my next visit to Asheville as I have only scratched the surface of the many superb tapa offerings available at Zambra’s.