I’ll admit that I’m a biased one when it comes to writing about restaurants that have a Spanish influence. I spent two years living in Spain a while back, and even though I can’t remember every or even most of the meals I had there, the diet was supreme. Fresh fruits and vegetables were plentiful and affordable, and so much of the seasoning was light and bright: vinegars, lemon juice, and zesty piquillo peppers brought out the flavors of seafood and veggie dishes.
I still remember my first bowl of salmorejo, a smooth and rich cold soup that is a little thicker and richer than gazpacho by virtue of (of all things!) having bread blended into it, all topped with bits of hard-boiled egg and diced ham… so much of the flavor palate of Spain is in the core ingredients themselves. For a girl like me, who can’t handle spicy-heat foods all that well, it was a wonderful way to get to know the Mediterranean diet.
So I went into the front door of La Bodega ready to have a wonderful meal. The door really does give off the air of a little grocery stand or market in a European city. When you first walk in, there are just two high tops in a cute industrial/rustic-chic space that is primarily full of to-go items: a large selection of wine, vinegars, olive oils, spices, and tinned imported foods from Spain, as well as a grocery case that features cured meats, in-house bottled gazpacho, cold drinks, and cheeses.
Don’t forget to check out our web story: La Bodega Restaurant Review
The counter separates the storefront from an open kitchen, where chefs and bakers are at work making the day’s items. There’s also a shelf full of baked goods – from the downstairs storefront you can buy fresh croissants and baguettes. My companion on my visit suggested that this would be the perfect place to stock up on special picnic supplies before a visit to the Montford Park Players, where people bring in a smorgasbord to enjoy while they watch Shakespeare and other plays performed in the open air. I’m all for it!
When you want to find the restaurant proper, though, you head to a staircase. While speakeasies typically have you heading downstairs to a secret hangout spot, there was a feeling of finding a hidden treasure when I climbed the carpeted stairs and emerged into the airy, loft-like restaurant space. Big windows facing Lexington Avenue make it feel at once set apart from downtown but also very big-city, which I enjoy.
Evaluating our drink options, I was happy to see that they carry a variety of fun non-alcoholic options, from a fizzy lemon drink from Fever Tree (who I’d only known to make tonic) to a CBD seltzer and a couple of totally non-alcoholic cocktails and aperitifs.
I opted for a nostalgic glass of txakolina, which they serve on tap – it’s a slightly sparkly dry white wine that comes from Northern Spain. I loved visiting different parts of Spain while I lived there, and while nearly every grocery store will sell me a Rioja red wine, finding txakoli in the United States is a special treat.
If you ever have family or friends visiting Asheville that have a nostalgic piece of their heart in Spain, La Bodega isn’t a bad spot to turn to give them a nice remembering moment.
I can remember in Spain that big groups of friends would go out to eat and no one would order just for themselves. While La Bodega’s menu is structured so you can absolutely eat a single meal or pick a few small plates, there’s even more fun to be had in ordering para picar.
I learned this phrase as having a few meanings: literally “to pick at,” but more like to nibble, to snack, trying a little of everything. Us Southerners call a picnic everyone brings something to a potluck – think of ordering and sharing everything as a bit of Spain meets Sunday potluck.
My friend and I picked a variety of items: a ribs dish, a salad, a special small plate with octopus in a sauce with lemon, and a small cheese plate that came with crackers, olives, almonds, and radishes. The dish I was most intrigued by, though, was a new one for me – a dish that combined cold-cooked potatoes, cooked leeks, roasted hazelnuts, a savory/sweet sauce, and… potato chips!
When you see the menu, you’ll see that inventiveness definitely comes naturally to the chefs at La Bodega. While I see the same Mediterranean tendency to get high-quality ingredients, cook them expertly, and let their flavors lead the way, there’s also a fun, fusion-like adventurousness in some of the items.
For instance, I saw that the ribs dish that my friend ordered featured “salsa kalimotxo,” and I offhandedly mentioned to her that it couldn’t refer to the thing that I thought it was. When I lived in Spain, a popular youthful party drink was a mixture of simple red wine and Coca-Cola. It’s a combo that sounds much stranger than it tastes – it’s actually quite good!
But as I tasted the slightly sweet, slightly earthy sauce that made the ribs even meltier than they were naturally, I had to ask. My server knew what was in the sauce, and she mentioned that it was a reduction of red wine and Coke!
Reminding me of Southern cooks who use Dr. Pepper or Cheerwine in their barbecue sauces, it felt like a wonderful meeting of the worlds of Western NC and Spain. Add to this an artfully blistered piquillo pepper for additional heat and color, and you’ve got a real festival of flavor.
I picked two cheeses that weren’t particularly adventurous, a Manchego, which is a harder sheeps-milk cheese that is very common in Madrid, where I lived, and queso de cabra, goat cheese.
It’s served in this characteristic round with a thin white rind, and biting into a bit of cracker with these cheeses on them took me back – it’s that same thing with the txakoli wine. Sometimes a flavor is so positively associated that getting a little bite of it again can feel like time travel.
While those cheeses were a blast from the past for me, I enjoyed the dishes that I hadn’t tried before as well. While I was surprised that the potatoes in my leek-potato-hazelnut dish were served cold, they were cooked to perfection and I ended up using them to sop up various sauces from other plates, like the ever-present bit of baguette you’ll find in a lot of Spanish restaurants and meals.
The leeks were something I’d not eaten very much of before, with their subtle flavor and satisfying sturdiness, and paired with the sauce and the crunchy hazelnuts, they were a great foray into an under-explored veggie for me.
The leek dish, like a salad or other multi-element dishes, felt like it was made for a lingering conversation – you couldn’t get in and out and on with life with this mountain of artful veggie matter in front of you.
Luckily, my friend was about to leave town for a while, so I enjoyed getting to catch up with her over the food, marveling at the flavors but also noting the art-deco, bohemian influences on the interior design, the cozy but classy bar, and the understated elegance of the tables, chairs, and wall art.
La Bodega is part of the network of Katie Button restaurants that includes Cúrate, and they mention on their website that if their flagship tapas restaurant is the special-day eatery, La Bodega can be the everyday eatery, with daily specials that are homages to the platos del día that are advertised on sidewalks all over Spain.
The octopus was what is called a “single bite” – a very small plate artfully put together with multiple ingredients but, yes, a small amount of food. Luckily it was more like two bites, one for me and one for my friend. We both thought the octopus was perfectly cooked to not be rubbery, and the preserved lemon and sauce gave it a flavorful edge without taking away from the seafood at the center.
I didn’t have room for dessert after we also split the tasty seasonal salad (snap peas, cucumbers, goat cheese, and a lemon-pistachio vinaigrette gracing crisp gem lettuce), but I couldn’t resist as we went back down the stairs: from the market’s cold case, I got a slice of burnt Basque cheesecake.
The concept is that this cheesecake is cooked at high heat, which results in a caramelized “crust” that is just the outside of the cake, with a fluffy and perfectly light center. I was pleased, upon trying it later when I was less full, that the “burnt” part is really just dark brown caramelization and not charcoal-type flavors. The interior was incredibly fluffy, lightly sweet but not cloying at all.
These dishes were obviously not the full breadth of the menu – there are many other seafood dishes, veggie-forward plates, and beef items like their signature burger, and the brunch/lunch menu features additional sandwiches and lighter breakfast fare like pastries as well.
One other opportunity that seems intriguing is “the La Bodega Experience,” a single-price dinner where you take the chef’s chosen journey through a variety of dishes that can also be paired with wines. Seems like a reason for me to go back!
If you’re choosing between La Bodega and Cúrate, the nearby flagship Katie Button restaurant that also serves delicious Spanish food, I’d recommend considering both menus and picking the one that pops right then for the people who are going to be eating with you. They are both so seasonal that either restaurant could be the best attuned to your needs at the time.
I personally think that they both offer the opportunity to enjoy a luxurious meal on a trip to Asheville or to celebrate a special occasion with attentive service and a great atmosphere. You really cannot go wrong with these options, especially if you’re ready to try some playful and flavorful Spain-inspired dishes!
Have you been to La Bodega? How was your experience? Please let us know in the comments!
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