This past week we visited Asheville, North Carolina, and I (of course) planned out our dining itinerary. The town is loaded with local restaurants and some fabulous cafes, so I had plenty to choose from. But one that peaked my interest was a well-reviewed French restaurant in the downtown area called Bouchon.
The word bouchon is used to describe a specific type of restaurant in Lyon, France serving Lyonnaise food such as duck pate, roast pork, and a number of of other deliciously fattening foods – go figure. (Thank you, google definitions!) Or as the restaurant describes themselves: French comfort foods. I’ve only had French food once before, so I checked the menu to make sure I’d have something to eat, and I found a fantastic surprise – All-You-Can-Eat Mussels for $15 served Monday-Wednesday nights!
So we headed down to Bouchon after a few lattes at the Green Sage Cafe a few blocks away, and as expected, there was a bit of a wait. The restaurant itself is quite small – long and narrow, with a few tables outdoors as well. We sat at the bar to pass the twenty-five minutes and were delighted to find they served a number of local beers brewed in Asheville. The city is, after all, tied with Portland, Oregon as Beer City, USA. The Rocket Girl lager wish refreshing and light, with very little hops. My kind of summer beer. The Pisgah (named after the nearby mountain) Brewing Co. Pale Ale was hoppy and light, for anyone into hops. (They’re not for me.)
Now, the restaurant offers small and large plates, similar to tapas portions versus entree portions. We ordered a small plate as an appetizer – the les couqilles st jacques. That would be the scallops in a gruyere béchamel, loaded with mushrooms, onions and garlic. It was creamy, cheesy and a bit sweet because of the scallops. Although it’s a small plate, the richness made it perfect for an appetizer portion.
Then it was onto the mussels. The restaurant offers five different preparations, and you can switch it up every time you order. Only two were vegetarian-friendly, but considering the huge portions (I would guess at least thirty mussels per order!), that was all I really needed. Additionally, you get an order of frites with your meal, which were served with what I would guess was house aioli for dipping. The frites are perfectly seasoned, and the aioli (that terribly tricky sauce to make) was perfectly concocted.
The Mediterranean preparation consists of white wine, tomato, saffron, garlic and pepper flakes. It’s a deliciously tomato-based broth with definite hints of garlic, rounding out the flavor. I’m not a huge tomato fan, but this wasn’t overpowering, so I liked it a lot. My favorite, however, was the Parisienne style mussels, which were simmered in white wine, garlic, thyme, onion and butter. Deliciously light but flavorful, I love that the main star here was the garlic. This classic preparation is excellent for mussel-lovers since the mild flavor allows you to still taste the mussels. My boyfriend tried the Bayou style (which is not on the online menu at the moment because it hasn’t been updated in several months), and I tried one mussel despite the broth containing andouille sausage. I really liked this one since it had a bit of spice. It was also a tomato-based broth, but the spice made the tomato less dominant than in the Mediterranean preparation.
Another great thing about this restaurant is the staff. The owner walked around, checking on the tables, sometimes speaking in french while he wore a shirt that read: PARDON MY FRENCH. He was extremely jovial and conversational with all of the customers, making sure everyone’s needs were met. Additionally, the staff worked well together, and our waiter (who was extremely attentive) also had the benefit of having attendants who helped bring food out and clear empty mussel bowls on our small table. It made the experience much more enjoyable to have our needs met so quickly.
I loved the restaurant. The atmosphere is great, albeit a bit loud from all the people, but that only adds to the ambience. The food is excellent, from what I got to try, and next time, I hope to try one of the more classic Lyonnaise specialties. This place is definitely worth checking out if you’re ever in the Asheville area.
Overall Rating: 9/10