Zambra has been tucked away over on Walnut Street for over 13 years now, quietly charging along as one of Asheville’s best restaurants. Zambra is unlike any restaurants in Asheville in terms of what’s on the menu and the dining room atmosphere. Their set menu offers a lot of tried and true favorites alongside their expansive daily menu of adventurous creations that reflect the seasonality of the region’s agricultural production. On top the cuisine, Zambra offers craft cocktails as well as one of the largest selections of both whiskey and Spanish and American wines in Asheville’s restaurant scene. They also have great jazz every Friday and Saturday night. Check out this recent review from Matthew DeRobertis for Asheville Scene.
Dining Review: Zambra
Zambra has been a staple of the Asheville food scene for some time, weathering ownership changes and slight directional changes in cuisine. I’ve certainly seen ups and downs in the restaurant over the years. Having not visited recently, I was curious to see how the experience stood up to the newer tapas joints in town.
A recent Thursday evening brought me into a dining room kept heavily dimmed, despite the fact that it was only 6 p.m. and still light out. Zambra’s style is the antithesis of introverted or subtle, with archways, columns, wall treatments and colorful pillows on bench seating throughout the dining room that declare Spanish and Moroccan influences. Though gilded, the overall feel doesn’t feel too garish, and simply is part of what defines Zambra.
Zambra’s cuisine is described as Western Mediterranean, which encompasses Spain, Portugal and North Africa. Most of the dishes are tapas or small plates meant to share, though several menu items can be ordered in entree-sized portions for those in your group who just don’t like to share.
Much of the restaurant’s menu changes nightly and, alongside a sizeable plastic-covered regular menu, we received an equally large piece of paper printed with the daily specials. We ordered a couple of cocktails and some pan rustico to kick off the evening and buy us some time to read the menus.
Sure, the pan rustico is simply crusty bread served warm, but the element keeping me from an ever-pressing need to read the lenghty menus was the olive oil. Yes, I too am surprised to write with such enthusiasm about olive oil, but this stuff was downright addictive. It was slightly warm too, which if you’ve ever been brought a bowl of cold olive oil, you know what a good thing warm oil is. This oil had obviously spent plenty of time co-mingling with herbs and garlic still visible in the bottom of the dish, lending herbaceous and savory notes.
When we were ready to order the rest of our meal, the server suggested choosing two to four tapas per person. We put some dishes in and patiently waited to see what would arrive the quickest. Unsurprisingly, the baby arugula salad, tossed with shavings of aged manchego cheese, dried cherries and candied pecans, hit the table first. The pecans, which added just the right amount of sweetness to the dish, were mercifully chopped so you didn’t have to fork wrestle a whole nut. The greens were expertly tossed in dried cherry vinaigrette, which coated every green with no excess. The mojo had notes of cherry, garlic and citrus juice, and took the simple salad to the next level.
Matthew DeRobertis is a chef, instructor and gastronomically obsessed writer who’d rather eat than sleep. Contact him at ChefDeRoWrites@gmail.com.