Monday, October 31, 2011

Bouchon French Comfort Food - Asheville, NC

We were in Asheville, NC this weekend to have dinner at Bouchon. Bouchon bills itself as French comfort food. The menu covers the French bases pretty well. There are the usual suspects ranging from Steak Frites, the sturdy fall dish Cassoulet, Bouillabaisse and most things in between.
The menu is broken down into small plates and large plates. The small plate side covers soups, salads and other starters such as marrow bones and pates while the large plates are the entres.

We were there for the cassoulet. A favorite fall dish and one that we look forward to. Away from our favorite we looked for the local French restaurant and found Bouchon. I didn't end up ordering the cassoulet but did get to try it. From the bites that I had I can say that the best part of the dish for me was the pork belly and the, apparently, in-house made fennel sausage. The most disappointing aspect of this dish was the serving temperature. It arrived at the table lukewarm at best. No explanation for that. Service seemed prompt so maybe the kitchen just misfired? Taste was good but the dish could have been SO much better. 
The other entre we tried was the chicken cordon bleu. It too was just OK. A bit overcooked and served with a mix of veg that was way overcooked. Again, taste wise the dish was fine but fell short of what I expected. The thing that saved the meal for me were the frites. Thin, crispy, salty, dusted with rosemary and served with a red pepper mayo. Just perfect. Dessert was very good too. Crepes with chocolate and strawberries and the delicious chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. So good.

I should note that besides the main dining room Bouchon has a patio for outdoor dining and also a private dining room in their wine cellar that can be reserved. On nights when the wine cellar dining room is not reserved it is opened for dinner seating. Bouchon is a small place and fills up fast. They don't accept reservations. My advice is plan to dine early. On the night we were there the main dining room was full by 6:00. 

Bouchon is located at 62 N Lexington Ave in Downtown Asheville's shopping district. Lexington Ave is lined with funky stores, cafes and coffee shops. It is a destination and sure to have something for everyone. Bouchon is only open for dinner and the doors open at 5:00. They are open 7 days a week.


Michel Baudouin, the chef, and his wife Vonciel, own this charming little spot. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, TN October 2011

We made the trip from the Carolinas to Tennessee through the Smoky Mountains. This time of year the trees in the higher elevations are just about at peak for fall colors. The trip through the mountains was amazing.

Although Dollywood is located in Pigeon Forge we opted to stay about 45 minutes away in Knoxville. We arrived in Knoxville with a three part plan. #1 Dinner at Famous Dave's (call me a Philistine but I love Famous Dave's!) #2 go to Dollywood and #3 head to the Knoxville Zoo to add to our Mold-o-Rama collection.

Number one we took care of as soon as we got to the hotel in Knoxville. Famous Dave's was right in the hotels parking lot. Nice! We headed over there for dinner. The next morning, Saturday, we headed to Pigeon Forge and all things Dollywood. The trip to DW from Knoxville is easy enough and we were on the road that leads to DW in no time.
The road to Dollywood; let me describe what we saw. The road into the area where Dollywood is located is lined on both sides with every imaginable tourist related business you can think of. It is a sold mass of hotels, restaurants, arcades, shops, museums, and mini-golf courses. If we had chosen to stay in the immediate area of the park this is where would be have ended up. If you're thinking about making the trip to DW I wouldn't hesitate to book at any of the hotels we saw along the way. Once you've seen the amusement park there would still be plenty to do in the area. It would make for a nice long weekend or a short family vacation.

We arrived at the park right at opening time which on this day was 9:00am. After being directed to park in a huge lot and then driven by shuttle to the parks entrance we bought our tickets and were on our way.

The park is divided into several areas. Each contain shops, restaurants and amusements. I was there specifically for the crafts and headed to Craftman's Valley where the craftsmen and artisans are located. There are all types of crafts to see being made and to purchase. Blacksmithing, candle making, basket weaving, just to name few. We walked around, sampled the food and watched the craftsman at work. A lovely way to spend a beautiful fall day.

What I expected was a hokey, fake-sincere hoedown designed to suck money out of our pockets. What we got was a  fun, warm and friendly place filled with nice people who really want you to have a great time. Dollywood is very family oriented but definitely enjoyable for couples and groups of friends too.
If you find yourself in the Knoxville TN area with some time on your hands head over to Pigeon Forge and pay Dollywood a visit.  The fine folks there will be happy to see that you have a great time and I'm pretty sure you will.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Happy to be here

Everyone has a happy place right? That one destination that we return to time and time again. For me that place is Key West FL.
Just knowing that I have plans to be there are enough to lower my blood pressure a few points.
There's something about Key West. For all of the time I've spent there I've never been fully able to explain the draw. So much about the appeal is how I feel when I'm there. Calm, relaxed, freed from the day to day routines of life.
The smell of the ocean, the sounds of roosters greeting the sun, the bustle of Duval Street filled with tourists from the big cruise ships, all of these things say "relax you're here" to me.

Take a moment today, visualize YOUR happy place. Where do you find yourself? A beautiful vacation spot, your favorite coffee shop, at home on your own front stoop? No matter where it is, the happiness we feel when we're there is a gift.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fall Travel

We're going to Dollywood. I know, Dollywood! I can't wait. I'm looking forward to seeing the mountains lit with the red, yellow and orange colors of fall and to seeing what this iconic southern tourist area is all about.
I'm most looking forward to seeing the work of the craftsmen and artisans that ply their trades at Dollywood. Woodworkers, candle makers, glass blowers. It should be a fun trip.

After that, the Georgia Guidestones. If you're like me and have never heard of the Georgia Gudestones until now, take a second and google them. Sometime in the late 1970's a mysterious benefactor commissioned the creation and installation of this massive granite monument located in Elbert County Georgia. Sometimes referred to as the American Stonehenge, the monument is inscribed with 10 guidelines for how we should live on the Earth. I'm totally fascinated and can't wait to see it in person.