Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tastes of Asheville: Nona Mia

We arrived just after 7:00 on a Saturday evening. All tables were filled and the restaurant hummed lively. A sweet woman with short dark hair asked for a name, then reassured us that the 2-tops open quickly. There were about 4 parties ahead of us. She handed us two menus and a wine list to look over while we waited. Remembering that this space’s previous incarnation was the Wing-Stop, I was pleased to note that all of the waitstaff were in blacks. A minute later, she reappeared to let us know about a particular bottle of wine that was on special. Would we care to try it?

Why, yes please. A 2007 Tomaresca Neprica, at $18 somewhat lower in price than the bottle we had been considering. (And at a lower markup than I’ve seen around town.) A sip proved delightful, and we accepted her recommendation. She made sure to open the bottle in front of us, pressed stemless glasses into our hands and let us know she’d put our bottle aside until a table came available.

With 12-15 tables in this relatively small space and 3-4 servers, I was surprised that the restaurant was not noisier. I conversed easily with my dining partner without raising my voice.

As we reached the 15 minute mark of our wait, a server came by with a tray of fried ravioli topped with fresh tomatoes. “Compliments of the chef.” Nice. I appreciated that attention was paid to the hungry souls forced to wait. The pace in the kitchen and of the servers was fast, but not frenetic. Another 10 minutes passed and a table opened up. As we sat, our bottle was brought over and our glasses refilled. We ordered the bruschetta as an appetizer. It came out quickly, a plate of grilled flatbread topped with diced tomatoes and onions, drizzled with a rich balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

One curious thing I noticed is that the bread and olive oil that usually comes standard to the table at most Italian restaurants was listed as an appetizer. For ~ $4. Their list of appetizers was tempting enough and their prices so completely reasonable that I wouldn't count it as detracting from the experience. Keep in mind that this is an independently owned restaurant in an out of the way space, filling what I feel is an important niche in Asheville – casual Italian.

We ordered our entrées, zuppa di pesce for my dining partner and chicken scarpiello for me. It took an effort of will not to order the penne alla vodka, temptingly front and center on Nona Mia’s list of specials.

Next time.

The entrées took some time in coming out, but I did not mind at all. For one, I am fairly certain they cook to order and two, on a Saturday night with parties still waiting for tables and more coming through the door, at no point in my experience did I ever feel rushed.

After I finished my second glass of wine, a server we had not interacted with up to this point stopped by and asked if we’d like some water. Yes, absolutely. So used to water being poured as you sit, I had not noticed this was not the case.

Our entrées came out smelling incredible. Warm, savory, tangy. A good amount of food, but not so much that it was piled together atop my plate. This was not a careless presentation. The chicken scarpiello had capers, potatoes, peppers, chicken, sausage, a few sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts in a thin but tasty sauce accompanied by a wedge of foccacia. The zuppa di pesce had clams and rings of calamari mingling in a spicy broth with three squares of fried pasta. We were asked if we wanted freshly grated Parmesan.

By the way, the answer to this question is always yes.

Our server stopped by to inquire if everything was to our liking, and I responded with an enthusiastic “Excellent, thank you!”

The entrée was almost too much to finish. My partner finished, likely more out of his duty to all things seafood, (being from eastern North Carolina) than there being room in his stomach. I sensibly asked for a take-home container and one was provided.

And then there was the tiramisu.

I never order tiramisu when out to eat. I dislike the standard presentation of a flat cake square dusted with espresso powder, always too soggy on the bottom. It is often too sweet for me and I find other offerings more tempting.

However, my partner insisted. It’s really good, he said. Try it and see. So I did.

The tiramisu came out presented in a tumbler, with three lady fingers spaced around the sides. Homemade whipped cream, not too sweet. The cake at the bottom was perfect, very espresso-y without being soggy and gross. It was delicious, and I would order it again, no question. Consider me converted.

I thought about sharing the total cost of our dining experience, but wouldn’t that be crass? Trust me when I say that for all that we ordered and ate, it was wholly reasonable for a meal out in Asheville. Dinner for two could easily be done for under $40. The most expensive entrée on the menu was the chianti braised lamb shanks, for all of $17. They offer a variety of meat and pasta dishes, ranging from $10-$14.

Go, and enjoy it.

Nona Mia
807 Patton Ave #A
Asheville, NC 28806

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