Recently, my husband Bill and I spent several days celebrating our eighth wedding anniversary in Asheville, North Carolina, a charming city in the western part of North Carolina. We decided to use OpenTable.com to make dinner reservations for the night of our anniversary. Although there is no shortage of good restaurants in Asheville, we used OpenTable because we get points for every reservation we make that can be redeemed for a gift certificate toward a meal at one of the restaurants that uses OpenTable’s services. The Red Stag Grill, which is the hotel restaurant at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Asheville, was one of about two dozen restaurants in Asheville that both uses OpenTable and looked formal enough for the occasion.
Another reason we chose the Red Stag Grill is because of the menu, which is heavily slanted toward German and Swiss cuisine. Bill’s eyes lit up when I told him elk tenderloin was on offer, while I was intrigued by the orange glazed duck that was listed under “specialties” on the restaurant’s Web site. I also saw a few pictures of the restaurant’s interior and thought it looked like a neat place to toast our eight years together.
Bill and I arrived early for our 7:00pm reservation. A valet took our car for us and we entered the beautifully decorated hotel. The Grand Bohemian Hotel is a luxury property located very close to the Biltmore Estate. With that in mind, the hotel lobby is lushly appointed. An art show was going on the evening of our celebration and a hotel employee asked us if we were there for that event. We pointed at the restaurant and made our way to the hostesses, who quickly led us to a small table by a window, where I had an excellent view of a McDonald’s. Thankfully, the McDonald’s was also designed to look like it belonged next to the Biltmore Estate and I didn’t actually feel like I was dining under the Golden Arches.
As we settled in our seats, I took a look around the restaurant, which seemed to be hosting a number of business travelers. The lighting is dim and romantic; the walls are decorated with the heads of deer and other game; I felt like we had stumbled into an Alpine mountain lodge. Perhaps the effect would have been complete had there been classical music piped in over the sound system. Unfortunately, someone had chosen to play generic jazz, the kind that one hears in a shopping mall. Most people probably don’t notice it, though I had to wonder why the restaurant was so painstakingly decorated if the music wasn’t going to fit.
Our server and menus that light up
After a few minutes, we were greeted by our server, a tall, friendly young man who, when I asked for a glass of champagne, asked us if we were celebrating something, even though I had noted on the reservation that we were at the restaurant for our anniversary. He congratulated us when we told him about our event, then went to get my champagne while Bill looked at the wine list. Meanwhile, another young man brought us some tasty wheat bread, butter, and water.
I picked up the menu, a bit startled by its size and weight. When I opened it, I was startled again. The menus at the Red Stag Grill light up, so they’re easy to read in the dim lighting. My husband commented that he felt like he was looking at his iPad. I have to admit, the backlit menus were interesting and probably welcomed by those who have trouble seeing when the lights are down low.
By the time our server had returned, Bill and I had decided what we were going to have for dinner. I had originally wanted to order the orange glazed duckling, but changed my mind and ordered Jurgen’s Filet Mignon ($31). Since Bill wanted to try the Mountain River Elk Tenderloin ($34), he ordered a bottle of malbec, a nice red wine to go with our red meat entrees. I prefaced my filet with a first course of grilled shrimp served with arugula, smoked tomato cocktail sauce, and lemon ($9). Bill opted for the Smoked Sunburst Trout Dip, which came with cracker bread for dipping ($11). We enjoyed the fresh bread and butter while we waited for our appetizers, which came out a short time later.
I was pretty pleased with the grilled shrimp appetizer, which was artfully presented on skewer, resting in a bed of arugula. The smoked tomato cocktail sauce was very interesting and indeed tasted very smoky. The six shrimp were medium sized and sated my hunger without making me too full for the next course.
Bill was a little less impressed with his trout dip, which arrived in a cup, surrounded by crackers. The trout dip, which was basically smoked trout mixed with what tasted like a cream cheese mixture, tasted fine. However, there was a little too much of it. I told Bill that his appetizer seemed more appropriate as something to eat at the bar. It was salty and savory and probably would go really well shared with a couple of friends and some nice German beer. But as a prelude to a fine meal, it seemed a bit out of place and too rich.
When we were finished with our appetizers, someone came along and cleared the plates. Then we were presented with our entrees. My eight ounce filet was served with a dollop of bleu cheese butter and accompanied by roasted asparagus, Swiss Rösti (a potato dish, sort of like hashbrowns), and a blueberry demi glace. I thought this dish was okay, but not great. Of everything on my plate, I think I enjoyed the Swiss Rösti the most. It was perfectly cooked and very flavorful. The filet, on the other hand, was cooked longer than the medium temperature I had requested and seemed kind of bland.
Bill, on the other hand, loved the elk tenderloin, which came to him cooked at a perfect medium temperature and was served with chestnut mashed potatoes, seasonal greens, and a wild berry demi glace. The cut of meat was tender and flavorful and Bill raved about it.
For dessert, I really wanted something chocolate. The Red Stag Grill had just one chocolate dessert on offer, Black Forest Chocolate Lava Cake ($7), which was described as “nearly baked” chocolate cake with a scoop of black cherry ice cream. Bill opted for the Mascarpone and Cream Cheese Cake ($7), which was served with Imaldris Wild Berry preserves.
Neither of us were that thrilled with the desserts. The Lava Cake tasted okay, but was just kind of dull and ordinary. To be fair to the Red Stag Grill, however, I’m pretty tired of lava cakes in general and probably should have picked something else or had a glass of port. Bill found his Cheese Cake a bit too rich for his liking, although it tasted fine. Perhaps if we dined at the Red Stag Grill again, he would choose the Red Stag Cheese Board ($9) instead of something sweet.
I was glad to see that there were plenty of dessert wines and cocktails suggested and the Red Stag Grill’s bar seemed well stocked with good choices for an after dinner libation.
I would rate our anniversary experience at the Red Stag Grill as “just okay”. The service was good. Our waiter was attentive and knowledgable about the menu and my glass of champagne was complimentary because it was our anniversary. The food quality was a bit of a mixed bag. Nothing we ordered was terrible, but save for the elk tenderloin, nothing was particularly extraordinary either. And, of course, I would also choose a different entree than the filet mignon that I had. Maybe I would try the duck or one of the fish dishes, since I found the filet somewhat uninspired.
I give the Red Stag Grill props for having a lovely, interesting decor and menus that light up, but I wish they would change the background music they play so that it matched the ambiance better. The generic jazz music seemed out of place and was a bit annoying.
In any case, we did have a good time, even if the Red Stag Grill didn’t wow us. I guess we should just be grateful that after eight years together, we still look and feel like newlyweds.
The Red Stag Grill serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily and is located at 11 Boston Way, Asheville, NC 28803.