To my mother, love and food were the same — so I plumped on fried chicken and grainy fudge parceled out on TV nights. Perhaps that’s why I’ve bonded well with Asheville: It often expresses its ardor on a plate — especially around Valentine’s Day.
Originated by Romans, the day was a drunken feast: Partiers sacrificed a goat and dog, and then whipped their sweethearts with the skins, which the women embraced as a ritual helping them conceive. (Probably, but not because of the whipping.) No one’s offering that option in Asheville, but some are serving intoxicating feasts.
Lex 18 on Lexington, for instance, is throwing a Latin-inspired Valentine’s Late-Night Rendezvous, complete with live flamenco music from the Juan Benavides Trio, says Lex 18 co-owner Georgia Malki.
Seating begins at 11 p.m. While sweethearts enjoy the band, they can also sip Champagne and savor three-tiered platters of savories like after-dinner cheeses, hand-dipped fruits and chocolates created by executive chef Daniel Kaufman. Or they can dance.
White Horse Black Mountain, a music venue on Montreat Road, is offering ValenDine, an evening of feasting while dance troupe Les Femmes Mystique presents six “jazzy showgirl” solos, says Elisha Lee, the evening’s producer. Diana McCall, a chef at Lake Eden Arts Festival, opens the feast with green salad and butternut squash soup. Foothills Deli and Butchery provides beef rib braised in Pisgah Valdez stout, while Greenlight Cafe fashions a vegan nut-and-grain roastlike dish. The finale: French chocolate bistro cake.
Hearts on a plate
For Ashevilleans who feel food alone suffices as their aphrodisiac, try Rhubarb on Biltmore Avenue. Consider just the arugula salad with its satsuma oranges and batons of orange-scented panisse, a pan-fried southern French delicacy made with chickpea flour.
“The satsuma orange bursts with flavor,” says chef John Fleer.
For each of four courses there are three options. Do you crave grilled asparagus with a soft farm egg or breast of quail? Cocoa nib-dusted venison and pork? Or Looking Glass goat cheese gnudi, a creamy dumpling? This menu makes swooning easy to come by.
Chef Elliott Moss at The Thunderbird pop-up restaurant at MG Road on Wall Street offers his own play on hearty fare with lamb loin and lamb merguez sausage, seared fish, suckling pig porchetta and wood-roasted ribeye. Moss will offer two seatings for his Valentine’s Day dinner — 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. (Contact MG Road for reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
To woo with sweets, head to Karen Donatelli Cake Designs on Haywood Street. “We’ll have three spectacular desserts,” says owner and pastry chef Karen Donatelli. One, in the shape of a perfume bottle, captures chocolate mousse between chocolate top and cookie bottom. The other two — assorted chocolates and chocolate petit fours — come dressed in special valentine packaging. Call the bakery to place an order through Valentine’s Day.
For sips and sweets, Appalachian Vintner on Biltmore Avenue will pair wines with Truffle Nature Chocolates made by local chocolatier Marc Huot at a tasting 3-7 p.m. Valentine’s Day.
“One of the best wines to pair with dark chocolate is Banyuls, a dessert wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France,” says Geoff Alexander, the wine store’s co-owner. (The cost of the tasting is $5 per person. Find out more at appalachianvintner.com.)
And for lingering love, hit West End Bakery 5-7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15, for valentine desserts and drinks, plus music by Asheville-based Café String Quartet.
“The quartet contacted me wanting to do a fundraiser,” says Cathy Cleary, founder and co-owner of West End Bakery. Twenty-five percent of sales from the event will go to FEAST, a nonprofit organization also founded by Cleary that educates students about healthy foods.
Cleary promises chocolate heart cakes and truffles, and love potions will include raspberry chocolate kiss Champagne and Cupid’s arrow mimosas, plus family-friendly nonalcoholic but equally stirring options. (For details, visit westendbakery.com.)
Whatever you opt for, go hungry for fare and affection. As Fleer says, “A lot of the joy in food is in how it impacts us, and in what better way than love.”