Remember Damien Cavicchi? He’s the young and talented chef that helmed the kitchen at La Caterina, then opened Clingman Cafe in the River Arts District, then sold that and opened Sugo, the short-lived Italian restaurant on Patton Avenue. That restaurant’s closing had nothing to do with the food, which was very good modern Italian, somewhat in the vein of what chef Brian Canipelli turns out at Cucina 24. Cavicchi’s menu options were perhaps a bit on the heavier side — it was certainly the place to go for hearty winter fare — think dishes like pork belly over creamy risotto and house-made pastas.
Here is former Xpress food writer Hanna Raskin’s take on the closing of the restaurant in 2008:
“Sugo Restaurant in downtown Asheville, which in just one year acquired a reputation for culinary integrity and a firm dedication to using fresh, local ingredients, has closed. … Although the Cavicchis weathered the economic downturn with good humor, enticing diners with an early-bird special advertised as a “gastronomic stimulus plan,” the forecast proved too bleak for their books. While Sugo wasn’t yet suffering when it shut down, Damien Cavicchi told the Asheville Citizen-Times the closing was ‘a judgment call.’”
Cavicchi is back, but not in quite as accessible a fashion as one might have hoped. He’s now an executive chef for Biltmore Estate, overseeing all catering. Until recently, it’s been difficult to sample his food without signing a marriage certificate or hosting a corporate event.
The good news is that Cavicchi is expanding his efforts to include the new Moveable Feast dinner series, an al fresco dining event set on the Biltmore grounds. The bad news is that you’ll likely have to wait until spring to attend such an event, but it will certainly be worth the wait if the fairly hefty price tag doesn’t bust your budget. For $120 you’ll get a half-dozen or so courses, wine pairings, a champagne toast and, in our case, a glass of limoncello served with pesche ripiene. I would say it’s worth every penny.
Cavicchi’s Moveable Feast kickoff was set on the estate’s Dry Cow Hill. Affording a great view of the mansion, the off-the-beaten-track spot is wrapped in the stunning panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains. View a slideshow of the event here.
The rustic Italian fare was exactly what one would expect from a meal served by Cavicchi and crew in a field with a few tables under a tent pressed into service as a remote kitchen.
Courses included delicate, handmade spaghetti with a soft and liquid burrata and and marinated heirloom tomatoes; oil-marinated tuna served in clever little jars accompanied by bowls of pickled baby vegetables; suckling pig; duck sausage. Most were served family style, passed around the table. As the guests got ever further into the wine, trays were often passed more slowly — or forgotten altogether — amid boisterous storytelling — a scene reminiscent of my own family table. A full and attentive service staff stood at the ready, after all, ensuring that wine glasses were rarely empty.
The food was perfect in an Italian-countryside-picnic kind of way — just right for the outdoor setting, which lent a certain informality to the occasion, uniformed servers or no. The real showstopper, though, was the view. As the day segued from golden, late-late-summer afternoon into evening, the lights inside Biltmore House came on, and the strings of bulbs hung in the old oak tree that towered over the table lit up too. We could have been served the most haphazard of food and still enjoyed it — but the fact that all the offerings were so solid (if not a bit cool after being exposed to the unseasonably chilly night air) produced a perfect evening.
Cavicchi says he hasn’t yet set dates for future events; he advises interested parties to keep an eye on Biltmore Estate’s online calendar of events for updates. To keep things fresh, the locations of the dinners will also change, Cavicchi told Xpress in an email.
“The concept is really to concentrate the guest dining experience from all angles, utilizing the property and views as an asset, which will likely lead to holding the events in lesser-known new locations around the property that guests may have not had access to in the past. This is also part of an effort to make Biltmore more food/chef/restaurant forward. There are some great culinary things happening on the estate, and we want to host events that make an impact.”