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It was not love at first sight the first time I set foot into the Admiral. Mainly because, from the outside, The Admiral did not appear to be the swanky, hip, upscale restaurant and bar I’d heard so much about. For those new to town, you should know that The Admiral has a reputation among us locals. Contrary to said reputation, The Admiral presents itself as a small, white, windowless box of a building that lacks a parking lot and leaves one wondering… ‘Am I at the right place?’ However, once inside the door, things start to make more sense.
The ambience is something this spot definitely has going for it. The velvet curtains upon entry, the dim lighting, the slightly roaring 20’s/prohibition era feel, candles on tables and the softly playing music in the background all lend themselves to that date night vibe. This is especially true if you are lucky enough to find yourself in a booth (or you’re smart enough to reserve one). On this Saturday night, hubs and I weren’t quite so lucky and were seated at one of the tables close to the door/kitchen/hostess stand, etc. which left us feeling a bit more exposed and less cozy than we like.
It has now been three years since I had that first Admiral meal, and by this November evening, my husband and I had spent several date nights conversing and conspiring over some of the most delicious cocktails in all of West Asheville.
The Admiral Manhattan is fall bliss. It has yet to disappoint. One thing that did disappoint, however, which I have noticed in previous dining experiences there, is the slow service. It took sixteen minutes from the time I sat down until I received my drink. Sixteen minutes is a semi-long time for most, but when you’ve been chasing a toddler all day, it basically an eternity. Our server appeared to be busy, which is understandable at a peak time in a successful restaurant, but I would’ve appreciated a faster greeting by him, and for our drink order to have been taken sooner. Once those things had finally been done, I spent several minutes eyeing my lonely Manhattan, sitting at the end of the bar by herself, mixed and ready for consumption, just waiting for someone to come by and deliver her into my thirsty hands.
The other thing I noticed fairly early on in our dining experience, was my internal ‘meh’ response when I looked at the menu. I was both surprised and a bit deflated… Had I built this restaurant up to be something it wasn’t? Were my standards unrealistic? Did their menu recently change? None of the four dinner options appealed to me, so we opted to share a meat and cheese plate and bibb lettuce salad with bacon, and I ordered the seared scallops small plate as my meal. As each course came out I was reminded of why I love The Admiral: the food is delicious. No morsel was left unattended.
The scallops were a bit salty, but for someone like me who can’t get enough of the stuff, that was quite fine. We shared an espresso creme brûlée for dessert, which was small, and we made quick work of it. So quick, in fact, we forgot to take a ‘before’ picture. Oopsy. Guess you’ll have to go check it out for yourself.
We had been here a few times, and it was always a delightful delicacy for date night. The expectations on this evening were that we’d have a nice dinner with a couple of drinks in the cozy atmosphere we had come to enjoy in the past. Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly the way things went, for some reason.
First, unless you get seated in a booth or in the back of the restaurant, you can pretty much kiss the cozy atmosphere goodbye. The tables near the front, where we were seated, are by the kitchen, the front door, and the pathways where everyone is coming and going. This left us feeling more like islands in the stream of traffic than islands in the stream ala a Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet.
A good 15 minutes had elapsed between the time we got seated and the time we got our drinks. Our drinks sat there ready for us at the end of the bar while we stared at them, too.
During this time, we perplexedly stared at the menu, which seemed a good bit less enticing than previous menus from The Admiral from which we had ordered. I remembered eating creative appetizers and small plates that included a variety of things I loved, from bacon to cheese to small fried things. I realize the menu changes frequently and that can make it a hit-or-miss night for someone who isn’t into unique meats, and unfortunately, we visited on a night when it was a “miss” for me.
I ended up having a couple of different bourbons on this cool evening. The first was a Buffalo Trace on the rocks and the second, which was closer to desert time, was a Bulleit Rye on the rocks. Both were exactly what I had expected, as I am familiar with them, and The Admiral doesn’t specialize in any of the rarer bourbons out there. I do love the single, large ice cube that they use when you order it “on the rocks,” which is why I got it that way rather than ordering it “neat.”
Since none of the appetizers seemed particularly appetizing on paper (who’da thunk), we went with the meat-and-cheese board. Not a bad choice, it turned out. I was introduced to Tomme and some other kind of cheese I can’t remember the name of, but it came from a sheep, which was a first for me. Both were really delicious, as were the jelly spreads and crostinis they came with.
The Main Course
I am not one to be adventurous with my meats, and when you put things on the menu like lamb kidneys, you are going to make it more difficult for people such as myself to find something that looks appealing. Previously, this hadn’t been a big issue at The Admiral, but this night, it was.
It came down to the NC Mountain Trout or the Darby Farms Chicken dish for me, and the server recommended the chicken, so I went for it. At $32 I was expecting this to be some damn good chicken. The menu indicated that it was to be served with “blue” potatoes and some various garnishments I wasn’t familiar with (sauteed tatsoi and cipollini).
It wasn’t terrible, but it really wasn’t that stellar for $32. The grilled chicken had a nice taste, but wasn’t very tender. The tatsoi ended up being some kind of leafy lettuce-like substance, which really made this a very overpriced chicken salad. There were the “blue” potatoes underneath it all, but sadly, the were a little overcooked as well.
I probably wouldn’t have been as complanitory if this meal were more in the $15-$18 range, but alas.
We ordered the Espresso Creme Brulee to split, and it vanished very quickly. I lamented that we each should have gotten our own, as this was by far the best part of the dinner.
Some time around the end of the night, something burned in the kitchen, which was about 10 feet from our table. The whole place got really smokey, and they ended up having to open some doors and crank up the ceiling fans to get things aired out. I couldn’t help but think this was a strange way to tell us “goodbye,” and that perhaps our dreams of date night at The Admiral had gone up in smoke.
Then there was the bathroom…not sure how one is supposed to use the soap when it is hanging upside-down. I know the employees are required to use it, so one must wonder…
I hope that this was just an off-night, as I have liked The Admiral in the past, from the atmosphere to the food, but I can’t say this was a great night out, unfortunately. I would definitely give it another shot some day down the line, so I will have to leave this review by saying that if you decide to go, you may or may not have the best of times. It could be rather hit-or-miss, as we learned.
The Admiral makes a fabulous Manhattan, and the food was delectable.
The initial lack of attentiveness we received from our server was a bit of a bummer, more importantly, though, the lack of menu options will make me rethink this spot as an ideal date night option.
Pretty good cheese board and desert. Decent bourbon.
Not a great menu this time around, and the chicken dish was way overpriced and overcooked. Some other negatives soured me on this place a bit, but based on previous great experiences, I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Saving the best for last….the Espresso Creme Brûlée was clearly a hit!