Asheville’s got game

Bored with beef? Getting sick of chicken? Craving something a bit more wild? Asheville restaurants have the adventurous omnivore covered. Xpress recently hit the town searching for a way to skirt the pedestrian meat doldrums, and here's what we found at just some of the area restaurants that serve game meats.

Bustling Bouchon: Guests flock to Bouchon for chef/owner Michel Baudouin's French comfort food, including a rather decadent braised rabbit in puff pastry. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Over at Bouchonon Lexington Avenue, chef Michel Baudouin makes "le lapin a la moutarde en cocotte" — in other words, braised rabbit in a mustard-cream sauce topped with puff pastry. The rabbit, says Baudouin, comes from Ashley Farms in Winston-Salem, but he hopes to begin sourcing it from East Fork Farms in Madison County shortly.

The reaction to his dish has been quite positive, Baudouin says. "We've been pretty surprised," he says. "We probably sell two to three cases of rabbit a week."

Baudouin says that the emphasis on local foods in WNC is probably what drives people to try something like rabbit, which is somewhat out of the ordinary — it certainly won't appear on the McDonald's menu any time soon. "The whole farm-to-table movement has opened some minds," he explains. "I don't know what it's like everywhere, but I think that Asheville's a little bit more open-minded about food than maybe some other areas." For more information, visit www.ashevillebouchon.com.

The Red Stag Grill is becoming well-known for its game selections, and it's no surprise. With a hunter's-lodge flavor to its decor and sumptuous suede-like fabrics covering a multitude of surfaces, a meat-heavy menu at the Red Stag is not exactly shocking. The restaurant, which is located inside the Grand Bohemian hotel in Biltmore Village, serves a Cervina elk tenderloin from New Zealand — which, sous chef Cardiff Creasey says, has a cleaner flavor than the domestic product. The elk is finished with a blackberry demi-glace and served with Italian-chestnut mashed potatoes and braised local greens. "The dish is wildly successful," says Creasey. "We sell it all night long, every night."

Creasey, like Baudouin, thinks that interest in the farm-to-table movement has broadened people's tastes. "People are becoming more adventurous," he says. "They're still definitely careful of what they're spending their money on — it's more about quality than whimsey these days."

Creasey moved from Florida two years ago, and is thoroughly impressed by the local-food scene here — and the way that Asheville locals hold restaurateurs accountable for procuring that food. "They expect you (as a chef) to provide local products," he says. Fortunately, he says, there are plenty to choose from. "You'd have to go all the way to Napa to find a region with the diversity, quality and abundance of local foods than this one. I'm still kind of waking up to it." For more information, visit www.bohemianhotelasheville.com

Game winner: Elk tenderloin, local greens and chestnut mashed potatoes fit the bill for diners who want something a bit different at the Red Stag Grill in the Grand Bohemian Hotel. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Brian Canipelli at Cucina 24 on Wall Streetfrequently makes use of various game meats as well, like the boar that he gets from a farm in Texas. He commonly slow cooks it into a rich ragout that he tosses with some of his handmade gnocchi, or serves it in a brasado over polenta for a rustic and rich Italian meal. Canipelli also offers a rabbit pâté that he makes using north-Georgia rabbits. When the spring menu goes into full effect, he'll braise that rabbit and serve it over house made fazzoletti — rustic pasta ribbons — with fennel pollen and castelvetrano olives. For more information, visit www.cucina24restaurant.com.

Burgermeister's on Haywood Road also went wild about a year ago, putting venison and elk burgers on the menu. Owner Chantal Saunders says that the venison burger was a fairly short-lived item, but the elk seems to have staying power.

"It's been very well-received," she says of the elk burgers, "but I think because of the higher price point, we don't sell as much as a regular burger, but that's to be expected to a certain extent."

Saunders says that the flavor profile of the elk, which is topped with a cranberry-horseradish relish and caramelized onions, is interesting to those who have never tried it before. "It's a little sweeter, a little gamier than beef," she says. "That's one of the characteristics of game meat — it really shouldn't taste like beef. It's good for it to have its own unique flavor." For more information, visit www.burgermeisters.com.

Xpress food coordinator Mackensy Lunsford can be reached at food@mountainx.com.

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