Praise Krishna! Mela Indian Cuisine in Asheville

Why Krishna, the embodiment of love and joy? Because that’s exactly how I felt after trying Mela.

I’ve walked past Mela a hundred times in downtown Asheville, either on my way to Izzy’s Coffee Den or after eating at somewhere further up on Lexington Avenue. I’ve always wanted to go, but I guess after falling hard for Chai Pani, I felt like it was the only place to go for Indian.

I still love Chai Pani and its Indian street food, but Mela is real authentic Indian cuisine. There’s something about Indian food when made properly that just kind of leaves me in awe of the delicate alchemy involved in combining so many spices into something completely unique.

Mela is everything that is good about Indian food.

The funny thing is, I still have yet to set foot in Mela. We actually ordered our food from Valet Gourmet because I was busy working and couldn’t leave for any long period of time. The picture of Mela’s food on Valet Gourmet’s website was just too delicious to pass up.

Oddly enough, in addition to trying a new restaurant from home, I also tried something completely out of the ordinary. I’m the type of person who finds a dish and sticks to it. I don’t think it’s that I’m boring, I’m just afraid of missing even one single opportunity to eat my favorite dish. Like maybe I will never eat it again, and I wasted my chance to do so. Crazy, yes, but true.

Chickpeas are my go to Indian dish, chickpeas and masalas. And Mela had two dishes that sounded just like what I normally get. What did I get?

Not chickpeas.

Malai Kofta is a mixture of ground cashews, almonds and paneer cheese. The mixture is mashed up into little balls and them simmered in a delicious almond spice mixture. Served with basmati rice, it’s hearty, filling and has a unique, sweet yet spicy flavor.

I guess since it’s my first time ever trying malai kofta, I can’t say with certainty that this was the definition of good malai kofta, but it definitely was for me. The texture of the cooked nuts and cheese added that extra bit of heartiness that made the meal satisfying. I got that slight taste of paneer cheese, but for the most part, it’s just a total melding on flavors into one complete and satisfying bite.

As with all good Indian cooking, the flavor hit my tongue softly at first, sweet and subtle. Chewing it, more of the spices made themselves known, and it wasn’t until after the bite is finished that the real explosion happened in my mouth. It wasn’t potent or overwhelming, it was just this gradually increasing heat that peaked around a 3 or 4: just enough to make me want to drink some water to wash it down. But the lingering flavor in my mouth made me kind of hold on to it a little longer.

This meal was so delicious that I not only finished way more than my stomach wanted me to, but when I got up the next day, it was all I could think about. Our meals also came with a lovely lentil stew that was a very slightly spiced broth – maybe a bit of curry seasoning? – with ground lentils that formed a sort of powder that could be scooped off the bottom. It added heartiness and an almost nutty flavor to the stew.

Note: it’s not listed as this on the menu, but it may be called dal shorba.

Overall, I’m super impressed. Searching for photos appropriate to this post, I actually came across so many fantastic looking malai kofta images that my stomach is growling for more.

It’s a weird feeling, but for once, I’m actually happily anticipating going back – not to have my favorite dish again, but to try more of their amazing (different) concoctions.

I almost forgot, if you couldn’t tell from this rave review . . .

Recommended: Obviously

Rating (food only): 11/10

Value: 8/10. (My dish was $16 with soup, a bit higher than most Indian restaurants, but it is so very much worth it. And the leftovers!!)

Fantastic Entertainment Compensates for Uninspired Food at Jerusalem Garden – Asheville, NC

I really wanted to like Jerusalem Garden in downtown Asheville.

Really. I did.

Mediterranean and Moroccan-inspired dishes, a few doors down from the delightful Kathmandu, belly dancers, live music and seat cushions instead of chairs. What is not to love?!

Well, the food.

I guess I should add a disclaimer that my first visit to Jerusalem Garden was two nights after they offered a Groupon (which I bought) that offered $44 to spend on an appetizer and 2 entrees for $20. They were pretty busy, with a 40 minute wait and lots of reservations, but frankly, there wasn’t once when the tables were full. So I’m not sure where all these people were who reserved the tables. But in their defense, perhaps the food was lacking because they were busy with the Groupon.

That said, I will probably never return to find out. No matter how entertaining the music and belly dancer were, there was too much wrong with this place to make me come back. I ordered a Turkish blush wine, and when the waitress was bringing it to me, she actually stopped at two other tables to ask if they had ordered it. She only had 4 tables, and we were the 3rd one she asked.

We ordered our appetizer and entrees together to hurry up and get our order in. Of course, maybe we shouldn’t have rushed since literally five minutes later, our food came out. Both the entrees and the appetizer. The hummus was served with no pita, but I assumed the pita on our entree plates was for the hummus, so I dug in. It was fine. It was hummus. And that’s about all there is really to say about it. I ate more because I wanted hummus, and after all, it wasn’t bad, just nothing great.

I should mention that my boyfriend got the special: the lamb shank. He was served a huge leg of lamb with a few extra slices of lamb. He said it tasted like roast beef which he was delighted about, so perhaps the lamb shank is delicious.

My entree, the house-made (??? really?! It tastes like the boxed kind I buy at the grocery store) couscous in a tomato-herb sauce served with vegetables and the shrimp I requested, was OK at best. I was excited that they gave me an ample amount of medium sized shrimp – much more than restaurants in this price range typically serve. However, when I tasted it, I was really disappointed. The tomato sauce had little flavor, and the sauteed vegetables were no different than the fresh squash and zucchini I make at home (for about $1). And as you can infer from my commentary on the couscous, it was nothing special.

As I’m picking off the tails of my shrimp, I notice the waitress stopping at every table asking if they had ordered a side of pita, at which time I realized that was our side of pita, intended for the hummus we were served ten minutes prior alongside our entrees. She was flaky to say the least. Extremely nice, but it was really disappointing to get our food all out of order.

The entertainment was fun, and it wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t hear others talk. However, I’ve been to a few restaurants with belly dancers, and I found it a bit tacky the way they had the dancer openly dance with a basket for tips. I feel like the tips should be split with her anyway, kind of like the chefs who “perform” at Japanese hibachi restaurants.

Anyway, it’s a fun experience if you’re looking for somewhere to go and have fun. If you love this type of food, I suggest you pass because this place is quite a disappointment for anyone who regularly eats Moroccan and/or Mediterranean food.

 

Recommended: No, unless you’re just going for the belly dancing

Overall Rating: 5/10 (And that’s mostly for the entertainment)

Pricing: It’s expensive, especially considering the mediocre quality. Appetizers are around $6-$8, and salads are even more. The average entree is about $15, with vegetarian dishes being less and lamb dishes being more. The portion sizes aren’t that great, either.

Bistro-Style French at Papillote in Savannah, GA

Recommended: YES!

It is very rare that I rush home directly after eating somewhere and need to post a blog post right that very moment, but that is the case with Papillote in downtown Savannah. This quaint little cafe is located on Broughton Street between Barnard and Jefferson, and is so unassuming it is easily passed by for the plethora of restaurants clustered in City Market. However, this cafe is definitely worth a visit (or several!)

I’ve been to Papillote once before, but only got a cheese plate because they were out of most of their main dishes. (I came about 30 minutes before it closed.) The cafe has peculiar hours, but it fits with the light meal style of menu they feature. They are open Tuesday-Saturday from 10:30am until 7pm. Sunday’s hours are 12pm-5pm, and they are closed on Monday. Since everything is made fresh, they do stop preparing hot dishes a bit before closing, and the daily specials often sell out fast.

We went for a late lunch today and I finally got to try the Crab and Mango Tartine, which is served open face with a slightly tangy dressing, avocado, radish slices, and a few bits of grapefruit and tomato. I was a bit worried that for $10, I might not be getting a very large portion, but I was more than pleasantly surprised. I ended up not being able to finish my tartine, so I scooped off the crab meat, avocado, and mango and left the bread. All the sandwiches seem to come with a bit of mixed greens and house-made ginger vinaigrette, in case there wasn’t enough food to begin with.

My tartine was delicious. The lump pieces of chilled crab are well complimented by the sweet but not-overpowering mango, and it all melts together with the fresh and fatty avocado. Yep, I said fatty, and I mean it in the best possible way. I really love avocados because they are good for you (because of the fat) and add just the right amount of rich texture to dishes like this one. Even the thinly sliced radishes added to the dish, giving it just a touch of crispness. This flavors in this dish really exude a fresh, summer taste.

My boyfriend tried an open face sandwich they call the Melted Angel, which consists of freshly smoked brisket (sourced from the local bbq Angel’s) atop toasted brioche, smothered in pepperjack cheese and red wine shallots. He took one bite and told me it was delicious. I can’t comment on the sandwich, but I will say that the shallots are perfectly caramelized since I snuck a few off of his sandwich. Again, the portion size is huge making it a great value for $10.

The only thing I can really find wrong is that they charge 50 cents for cups if you choose to get tap water instead of a drink from their refrigerated case. Perhaps its because they serve your tap water in a fancy glass bottle that you get to keep at your table, but who knows? Next time, I’ll probably bring my own water, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay for such delicious food.

Another great bonus about our visit was that they sampled their Mango Passion Fruit Mousse while we waited for our food. It’s very sweet in a fruity sort of way, and creamy so that it melts in your mouth. A bit too fruit-sweet for me, but my boyfriend loved it. I’ll stick to the creme brulee myself.

One last piece of advice: The place is small, so if it gets busy, there may not be seating. If you’re planning on going, make sure you have a backup plan (as to where you plan on eating your food) unless you want to eat outside at one of their two tables in the suffocating heat. It might be nice in the fall, but summer is no time to eat outside in Savannah. It’s a counter-service restaurant, but it’s pretty speedy considering everything is made fresh. Just don’t expect it to be an in-and-out type of meal. So if you’ve got a bit of time to spare, this is a must-try place for authentic French cuisine, particularly of the lunch variety.

 

Overall Rating: 9/10