You may have noticed that Lex 18, a fairly new restaurant in downtown Asheville, shuttered its doors briefly. Today, they reopen their doors with a new chef, a rising star in the culinary industry, Edwin Bloodworth.
Edwin’s a native Western North Carolinian. He’s worked in a wide variety of restaurants, such as the Roaring Gap Club and the Gamekeeper locally in North Carolina, as well as the Resort at Squaw Creek in California. He’s shared the kitchen with some of the most notable chefs in their areas and earned his restaurants acclaim. Now he brings his perspective and experience to Lex 18, combining such beloved themes as purchasing from local farms with newer ideas such as using local, foraged ingredients like ramps and daylilies (did you know those were edible?). He is committed, he says, to creating dishes that are seasonal and local. We were delighted to have been invited to sample his talents at a preview dinner last night. We’d not been to Lex 18 in its previous life, but we were delighted to discover that the building had been a speakeasy in the 20s and 30s and had slipped back into its beautiful, secret skin with its female attendents in flapper dresses and its men dashing in bowties and vests. Soft, slow jazz moved in the dining room while glasses clinked at the bar. The chocolate brown vintage-style wallpaper, huge velvet curtains and mirrors created an environment that was both cozy and bright and set the perfect stage for the wah-wah of the trumpet to softly fall at your table, as if invited as a dinner guest.
If we were not completely charmed by the atmosphere, dinner finished us. We were treated to a four course meal of small, sample-sized items from the menu. (At least we hope our servings were sample-sized.) We started with a mushroom bisque, laid atop grilled spring onions and garnished with fresh lemon balm. This was a sheer delight. Velvety smooth and earthy, light on the tongue. We wanted more of this one! It was paired with a white wine of our choice; I selected a dry Riesling which accented the brightness of the lemon balm.
The next course was a salad of beet greens, a soft boiled egg, two variety of beets and vidalia onions garnished with a day lily blossom and kombucha reduction. I’ve not been a big fan of beets in the past, but these were prepared nicely. The greens and the egg were hard to manage – the egg was quite slippery on the plate and difficult to pin down with the knife, and the beet greens were a bit tough to cut and very hard to pick up with the fork. I was delighted by the day lily blossom, as I wasn’t aware they were edible. Overall, this dish had great flavor, but some work needs to be done with the presentation – which was quite beautiful, but very hard to eat. I could easily see an egg skidding off someone’s plate to join the fare on the patron’s plate to the right. Third course was a small piece of mountain trout atop a spoonful of delicious grits, laid on pine oil and whey with roasted radishes and a pea blossom. This dish was not my favorite. The pine oil, though used in moderation, seemed to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the trout and infuse the grits with an unpleasant “greenness” that made me feel like I was eating something that wasn’t food. The pea blossom, while beautiful, contributed to this effect. The grits on their own, however, were heavenly! Creamy and warm, they were possibly the best grits this Southern woman has ever eaten. The radishes were a bit undercooked to my palate and I found the root ends being attached as a little off-putting. The trout was a little dry on top and simply prepared but not especially outstanding. Overall, this dish needs some nuancing, but I see great potential.
The last course was a dollop of wax myrtle pannacotta with house granola, some sort of floral garnish I could not identify (wax myrtle perhaps), and a couple of sugar-encrusted moonshine blueberries. The panna cotta was smooth and milky, and the granola gave a nice contrast of salt and crunch. I loved the blueberries with the combination, but the garnish introduced that very green flavor to the dessert that I found unpleasant, particularly after the over-greening in the prior dish. I would liked to have had much more of the panna cotta to balance out the amount of crunch and green; perhaps the serving size altered the balance. We sat and talked with the owner during our meal and found him to be entertaining, genuine, and carrying a real passion for Asheville and the culinary opportunities his new chef affords him. Overall, we found our experience to be pleasant and delicious; with a few tweaks, I think Chef’s Bloodworth’s already tasty dishes could be outstanding, and the atmosphere is right up our alley. We hope you’ll give them a try soon! Tell them AshevilleBlog sent you! Lex 18 Supper Club and Moonshine Bar Phone: (828) 575-9494 Website: www.lex18avl.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/lex18avl Twitter: @lex18avl. 18 North Lexington Avenue Asheville, NC 28801 Have you been to the new Lex 18? Leave a review here!