My wife and I had dinner at Isa's Bistro in the Haywood Park Hotel on Battery Park in Asheville tonight.
We used the hotel's complimentary valet, which is a nice touch, and our first impression of the restaurant entering from the hotel lobby side was very positive (even though the first thing we were told by a staffer was that "the main entrance is on the street." _ Duh, don't you ever have hotel guests dining here?
But the atmosphere and design of the restaurant are supercalifragilisticexpialidocious -- an open layout with tables around the windows and walls, facing a bar, with tasteful touches of food-related photos and architectural pieces. We had a seat at a window looking out over Battery Park, and service from the very first was first rate.
On a Friday night in January at around 6:30 the restaurant was only about one-fifth full, and despite the fact that Open Table claimed there were no tables at our preferred time of 7, it was never more than about a third full all evening.
We started with drinks (I had a Jack rocks, $8, and my wife ordered from the cocktail menu, $7. Very reasonable prices. We then tried the Bang Bang Cauliflower ($7), as an appetizer, which was interesting but not something I would order regularly.
My spouse had the "Three for Thirty" special, an appetizer (in our case, mussels), main and dessert for $30. The mussels were fine, but the trout entree was probably the smallest serving of trout I've ever seen in a restaurant. It might have been 2 ounces, to be generous, on a big bed of rice. Absolutely ridiculous. If it were called Rice with a Trade of Trout it would be more honest. Dessert was, of all things, parsnip cake, again interesting but not something you'd come back for.
Stodgy old me, I ordered the Black Angus Filet with whipped potatoes and broccoli ($32). The potatoes were perhaps the most interesting part of the meal, mashed/whipped potatoes fried in a stiff boat-shaped batter. The 6-oz (or so) filet was quite good, and prepared exactly to my medium rare order, but not quite up to Ruth's Chris quality. I had a VERY generous serving of Mendoza Malbac ($10) with the meal.
I was tempted by the Isa burger with fingerling fries, a real bargain at $11, and highly rated in today's Citizen-Times, but I wasn't really up for a burger tonight.
Though I'm not raving about the food experience, the meal was actually very pleasant, with near-perfect service and the lovely setting. Dinner was good, just not something to rave about, and the drinks were bountiful pours and well-priced.
With a total of four drinks, one glass of wine, one appetizer, two entree courses and sides and an espresso, plus tax, our usual generous gratuity plus a tip to the valet, the total came to about $155, reasonable for an Asheville upscale dinner.
The renovated Haywood Park Hotel is charming, with a player piano in the lobby greeting the few guests who brave January in Asheville, and the elevators still charmingly bark out "Fourth Floor, Women's Wear" or whatever, just as in the days when my aunt worked at Ivey's.
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