Undoubtably one of Asheville’s most popular restaurants- Cucina 24 continually wows guests with creative uses of locally sourced fresh ingredients. During our food tours, James Beard nominated chef Brian Canipelli explains to our guests his philosophy on how he sources and prepares his food- all with an emphasis on what products are coming through their doors on a daily basis. On our tours and during dining experiences alike, Brian’s innovative cuisine is never anything short of amazing. This is why we’re always beyond excited to see Cucina 24 getting the attention it deserves- especially by a wonderful local publication like the Citizen Times!
Cucina 24 has always been about executing quality, creative Italian food with as much locally sourced product as possible. And they’ve been doing it successfully for nearly a decade now.
Don’t let your mind go to mounds of pasta covered in red sauce with meatballs. No, Cucina 24 might have pasta on the menu, but think more authentic, seasonally changing fare.
Since my last visit, the restaurant now has two menus. One is a set five-course menu served family-style for $45 a person, in addition to an à la carte menu. Both menus are updated according to season and what’s fresh from the restaurant’s purveyors, though the family-style menu is changed a bit more frequently. If you’re not quite certain you want to do family-style, but prefer the sound of that menu’s dishes, they can also be ordered à la carte.
It’s of note that Cucina 24 is one of those restaurants that charges for bread service, and once you order the bread, you’ll understand why. Large pieces of homemade focaccia arrive soft, light and chewy on the inside with a perfectly crisp exterior. The most outstanding part of the bread service is the house-made cultured butter. It’s slightly sweet, with a sprinkling of sea salt flakes, and is worth the $4 all on its own. If this dish were free, diners wouldn’t stop eating it.
Our green salad up next came as a healthy stack of leaf lettuces, tossed in a citrusy Green Goddess dressing and garnished simply with radishes and housemade croutons. The salad was the perfect segue to the antipasta dish from the prix fixe menu, a dish of asparagus and ramps.
Thin strands of tenderly cooked, bright green asparagus were mixed with similarly sized pieces of black trumpet mushrooms and ramps cooked until just wilting. The greens were beautifully intertwined and spun around a sunny-side duck egg yolk, resembling a nest. It was a beautiful plate of vegetables, amped up by the pungency of the ramps and unctuous egg yolk. Fresh redbud blooms were scattered around the plate as though someone had plucked them from a blooming tree right outside. More than a garnish, the redbuds added a unique flavor best described as a sweet pea and a citrus fruit’s love child. The dish was spring on a plate.
You can dine at Cucina 24 without ordering pasta. But, you should order at least one dish for the table. The tonnarelli cacao e pepe was our choice and, although not a large serving, it split three ways perfectly. The tonnarelli (think spaghetti but squared off instead of round) was made in-house, perfectly shaped and cooked al dente. This dish has relatively few ingredients, but is only good if the cooking liquid, butter and cheese successfully come together to yield a creamy coating over the pasta. Topped simply with grated Parmigiano, Pecorino and fresh cracked pepper, Cucina 24’s take is a prime example of the dish.
It was time for entrees and everything had been perfectly prepared so far that my palate was primed and the bar was set high. I ordered the slow-roasted pork shoulder from the prix fixe menu, envisioning this dish as the perfect Sunday pork roast with crispy skin and tender meat, falling apart at the touch of a fork.
What arrived was instead four large slabs without an outer crispy layer, resembling sliced tinned ham. The texture was too firm for being “slow roasted.” The rest of the dish, plated rustically, was scattered with crispy, well-seasoned cubes of potatoes, farro and buds from broccoli florets. The fennel pollen garnishment added a slightly sweet acidity to the plate that gave it a burst of spring on the tongue. Overall, I liked the componentry though the broccoli seemed to be only included to add color, and the farro scattered on the pork was more of an annoyance. If the pork been executed better, however, I’m sure I would have been raving.
My wife’s dish from the à la carte menu was the grilled flat iron steak. The plating was a compromise between casually strewn and artfully placed. Thin curls of celeriac were mixed with small pieces of endive, cubes of potato and leaves of flat leaf parsley. The main event though was the steak that was cooked dead on, served in slices with a well-seared crust and perfectly pink inside. It was seasoned well and ate even better with celeriac and accompanying hunks of Caesar butter on the plate.
With little room for dessert, the meal was over and I counted it as success. I always have enjoyed Cucina 24 and am pleased that after all these years, it is still putting out quality, current food. Though one dish didn’t live up to expectations, I walked away with enough good bites to make me forgive the bad.
Matthew DeRobertis is a chef, instructor and gastronomically obsessed writer who’d rather eat than sleep. Contact him at ChefDeRoWrites@gmail.com.
IF YOU GO
The restaurant: Cucina 24, 24 Wall St., 828-254-6170, www.cucina24restaurant.com.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. Dinner, 5:30-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Atmosphere: Dim lighting, dark wood tables and level of place settings lend the feel of a high-end dining experience without unnecessary pretension or stodginess.
Dish to try: If it is on the menu, the ramps, asparagus and duck egg dish is the perfect spring dish. You also can’t go wrong with a classic, and the cacao e pepe won’t disappoint.
Beverage notes: Beer, wine, cocktails.
Health Department score: 93.5.
The bottom line: I have a fondness for Italian food. Add an exhaustive list of fresh, local ingredients to the mix and I’m even more enticed. With seasonally changing menus, fresh pastas and breads, Cucina 24 does not hold back. They have not let their concept grow stale. My recent meal proved that quality is still key at Cucina 24 and, even though one dish didn’t seem properly prepared and puzzled me greatly, every other dish was stellar.
Full article on Citizen times available here!
If you want to learn more about Cucina 24 from Brian Canipelli himself, or meet a few other of Asheville’s best chefs, come join us for one of our walking food tours! Tours are held every day of the week, with Cucina 24 being one of the features on our High Roller Tour! More more information on our tours and to book visit our website here!