After being closed for over two years, one of Asheville’s most innovative and aesthetically seductive restaurants recently reopened with a renewed vigor for sustainability. Before walking into Cultura (147 Coxe Avenue, Asheville), from the team behind Wicked Weed Brewing, a mural depicting a verdant landscape with voluptuous coral peonies by local artist Charlotte White sets the tone for visitors.
Inside, foeders, giant barrels used in Europe to age wine and shipped to Wicked Weed for beer production, are repurposed as wall decor, a planter, and two private booths in the dining room.
A lush profusion of plants on the floor and on shelves turns the dining room into a serene green cocoon. Duck, deer, rabbit, and parrot heads, by artist Evan Kafka, gaze at diners from their frames; collages by Elizabeth Bates cover another wall.
Black Trumpet Farm mushrooms grow in small custom-made cubbies peeking out from planters and mounted on walls. The resulting product will find its way into more than one course by executive chef Eric Morris and his team. General manager Candice Dvoran explains the inspiration, “Eric and I were sitting in the foeder talking about growing food on the walls. He had a cardboard box of Black Trumpet mushrooms on the table and the answer was obvious.”
There is nothing obvious though about Cultura’s menu. “The kitchen mission is two-fold,” says Morris. “First is preservation, to minimize the amount of waste we have by utilizing nose to tail whatever the product, not just in the moment, but for the larder we can pull from in the future. Second, fermenting products and animals unique to this area makes them taste amazing.”
Cultura’s seven-course tasting menu takes place Friday and Saturday nights, and Divoran recommends blocking two-and-a-half hours for the experience.
The tasting begins with what Morris describes as a sampling from the fermentation chamber via small bites, which he calls an homage to New York delis — a thin slice of duck pastrami on a rye toast, a dab of chicken liver mousse, and a mini-blintz. The second course is a braid of soft sourdough challah with a swoosh of cultured butter.
Morris brings more fermentation to a third course of koji-cured triggerfish, evocative of ceviche, and corn, and began as a collaboration with a guest chef from Cultura’s Cultvated Community dinner series Luis Martinez, founder of Taquio Foods. Another option includes lion’s mane mushrooms harvested from the growing nests and paired with cucumber and dill to somehow taste like a crab salad.
Comfort food comes to the table on the fourth course in a small bowl of Martinez’s Zapotecan beans, with his family-recipe mole, smoked chicken, slivers of crispy chicken skin, and a cured egg yolk to pierce and stir into the earthy stew. Another option is dan dan noodles kicked up with chili oil from J Chong, also a Cultivated Community guest chef and cast member on the new HBO Max cooking competition show The Big Brunch, produced by Dan Levy.
Fifth-course plates include a choice of a fat duck leg with pink peppercorn gnocchi and blackberry verjus, pork loin with cabbage, yellowfin tuna, or koji noodles and shakshuka.
The sixth course is simply a quarter-size macaron from Beeswax and Butter in the center of an East Fork Pottery plate, segueing diners to dessert — pizzelle Napoleon stacks layered with sunflower butter, meringue, and orange curd.
Thursday nights are for folks curious but not committed to seven courses; the a la carte menu features 10-12 small plates culled from the tasting menu.
On Sundays, Cultura brings kitsch and nostalgia with its Cease and Desist series. Each month, the restaurant interprets menus from iconic national chains. Olive Garden October kicked things off with fried mozzarella, never-ending breadsticks, bottomless salad bowls, bucatini and meatballs, fettuccini alfredo, and tiramisu. Morris intends to invite Cultivated Community chefs to return for C&D monthly residences recreating a restaurant of their choice. “I can’t wait to see what restaurants J [Chong] and Ashleigh [Shanti] decide to do,” Morris says. “It’s going to be fun. It’s good to be back.”