By David Hall, Contributing Restaurant Critic & Writer
I also enjoyed dinner at The Dining Room at the Inn but wasn’t lucky enough to enjoy every single dish my dad had… that being said, this of course is his exclusive opinion, though I did have a nicely cooked chicken in lieu of the lobster course. –Bren
Have you ever been to a place that doesn’t really look too hot to you, only to end up pleasantly surprised by what you found inside? We all have, haven’t we. Well, this, definitely, is NOT the case! The first inkling that you are in for a remarkable treat hits you as soon as you step into the elegant Inn on Biltmore Estate.
First, the crisp air and lush surroundings of the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate, just put you in the right mood. Then, you are warmly greeted by the expansive lobby, with its imposing high ceiling and ornate chandeliers, elegant colonnade and swanky tapestry. The shining marble floors and stately furniture complete your welcome; everything exudes refined class and elegance.
Somehow, as you proceed inside and descend the grand, two-tiered stairway toward the lower floor, where the restaurant is located, you begin to sense that your dining experience at the plush Dining Room cannot be any less regal … and you are right!
The Dining Room is big, yet, it is seamlessly and strategically “divided” into smaller areas, which gives you a cozy, intimate feel, accentuates the refinement and, in a very practical way, enhances the overall ambiance.
We were visiting Asheville, N.C., to cover the 3rd Annual National Truffle Fest, and were invited to dine at the Inn as part of the activities. While a few years ago we had visited the palatial abode built by tycoon and philanthropist George W. Vanderbilt in the 19th century, this was our first time at the Inn. Built by a great grandson of Vanderbilt, the Inn sits a couple of miles from the castle in the middle of the estate grounds and greatly succeeds at mimicking the magnificence of the original mansion.
Now, besides the splendor of the place, what impresses you the most from the very beginning is the exclusive attention you receive from the hotel and restaurant staffs. We were supposed to join a select group of guests who were also participating in the Truffle Fest, but by the time we arrived –late, due to unexpected traffic- the tables being used by the group had filled to capacity, so the Maitre d’ set us up at a separate, white linen-clothed table in the main dining area by the massive fireplace. Thus began a sybaritic feast of the senses, with truffles playing the leading role.
Eating well is one of life’s pleasures. Eating superbly, at an elegant place, in a refined ambiance and exquisite service is the ultimate experience! No wonder the ancient Romans and Greeks indulged in it with such epicurean abandon!
Dinner consisted of a five-course meal, each of them perfectly matched with a delightful wine offering that pampered your palate and prepared it for the next course.
We were regaled in our first course with a truffle ravioli succulently dipped in a delicious camembert fondue, complemented with roasted mushrooms and Serrano ham, which provided a crisp textural and flavorful contrast to the ravioli. A few English peas strategically placed gracefully culminated the color scheme and presentation of the dish. A gourmet’s delight, made even more so by the accompanying Chateau Reserve Brut, 2008, a local North Carolinian bubbly that helped set the mood for the rest of the dinner.
People who know me know I have a weakness for Italian food; they also know I don’t particularly like ravioli, so, hats off to the Inn’s Executive Chef, Rick Boyer, for this sensual creation. His masterful combination of flavors, textures and colors, and the subtle, yet distinct presence of the black winter truffle resulted in an inviting dish you would certainly have enjoyed as well!
From here on, the rest of the dinner was a succession of oooh, aaahh moments that made the evening simply memorable. Champagne Poached Lobster –intertwined with watercress and sprinkled with white truffle vinaigrette- with Biltmore’s own Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc. North Carolina Stripped Bass, seared to perfection on one side and spread with Truffled Sweet Corn on the other; a pleasure to savor while enjoying a glass of Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay 2009! Our palates, needing cleansing, were set straight with a pear champagne granizado to want the recipe for. Pretty simple stuff, I imagine, but on our spoon it looked as refined as it tasted.
Finally, a Truffle Smoked Veal Chop in whipped Parmesan and Asparagus Square Sauce Perigueux that called, in my humble opinion, for a mellower Australian Syrah or a slightly fruitier French Merlot, but paired well with the local Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.
At this point, allow me to digress, however slightly, and go back to my recurring theme of the whole eating experience, where service and ambience must go hand in hand with the quality of the food. As we waltzed from dish to dish, immersed in the plush décor and classical ambient music, our servers orchestrated an amazing choreography retiring empty plates and bringing new dishes with both exquisite solicitude and panache. We were made to feel like very important people … and that’s a very gratifying feeling.
The proverbial icing on the cake came with the dessert, a decadent Almond Fancier that combined a scrumptious Truffled Popcorn that was the talk of everyone, Thyme, and Brown Butter Ice Cream with truffle caramel sauce perfectly brushed on the side. And to top all off, a smooth, delectable Napa Valley Antler Hill Syrah, 2006.
Life is certainly good!!
Eating at the Inn on Biltmore does not come cheap, but then again, “good life is expensive; there is one cheaper, but it is not as good.” This saying ranks high among the golden nuggets of wisdom I learned long ago from a dear friend, and while it may sound cynical, it holds a simple truth: you get what you pay for. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the Dining Room is unaffordable; it is not. As a matter of fact, for a restaurant of its quality and great service, it is reasonably priced. It means that you will be treated to a fine, rewarding experience that will be worth every penny … uh, dollar you pay.
You can only eat at the Dining Room if you are a guest at the Inn or you hold a visitor pass for the Biltmore Estate.
Inn on Biltmore Estate
1 Antler Hill Road
Asheville, NC 28803
W: www.biltmore.com | P: 800-411-3812 or 828-225-1600
Appetizers: $8 – $12 ; Entrees $27 – $36 ; Dessert: $8-$15