Sometimes, the sum really is more than the total of all its parts. Take Melange, a hidden gem of a bed and breakfast that is a gourmet restaurant, a living museum and more.
Aptly named, this classy amalgamation of cultures is showcased in décor, food and service. Known as a wedding venue (and justifiably so, with its breathtaking gardens and pavilion spaces), Melange should be better known for its spectacular food and European service sensibilities.
It was my great good fortune to be included in a celebration at Melange recently. Driving into the property transports one immediately from Hendersonville's 5th Avenue into a refuge of perfectly landscaped gardens, fountains and arbors. Better yet, stepping into the front foyer brings you directly into Eastern Europe...lavish décor and artwork, brought back to human scale by family photos everywhere you look. Remember, this is not just a B&B, it is also the home of Mehmet and Lale Ozelsel.
The grand Colonial-Georgian style home is a labor of love for the Ozelsels and they have created "Candlelight Dinners" to showcase their eclectic heritage, both in décor and food. Born in Istanbul, Mehmet spent years traveling the globe working for DuPont. They purchased the home on 1994 and spent the next two years renovating and updating it to accommodate guests.
The evening of our party was cold and clear... a fire blazing in the oversized hearth and a tuxedo-clad server bearing trays of Royal Cassis (a lovely aperitif of champagne and crème de cassis, a black currant flavored liquor) set the tone for the evening ahead. The tables were set with crisp white linens, fine china and crystal, while candles glowed throughout the room.
Candlelight dinner menus are arranged in advance with Melange. And as long as at least two people order the same item, the choices are wide open. Appetizers included light-as-a-feather crepes wrapped around brunoise vegetables and hazelnuts, a baked green bell pepper held crab and shrimp and was cloaked with a light citrus sauce and, my personal favorite, Cherkessian-style potted chicken came wrapped in baby lettuce leaves. The soup course was next, brought out on a different round of spectacular chargers with warm breads offered to accompany choices such as French Onion, curried salmon and a delicious combination of chick pea, spinach and tahini.
Melange offers their guests a modest $5 corkage on any wines that the guest chooses to bring. Our host, Mehmet, made sure that wine glasses were topped off as we headed into the salad course, which was highlighted by a baby spinach and wilted red cabbage with toasted pine nuts and gorgonzola. The interplay of ingredients from Lale's heritage (a combination of Russian and Yugoslavian) is evident and a delicious change of pace. Pomegranate seeds, sesame crisps and a subtle hand with aromatic spices including cumin, coriander and curry lent layers of flavors that had many of us guessing at the ingredients.
Entrees were a high point as well. Shrimp a la Melange came baked in a clay pot, with caramelized mushrooms, red pepper and onions baked with shrimp. Puten Schnitzel, thinly pounded turkey served with a Hunter's cream sauce and crisp fried eggplant was delicious. Schnitzel, while simple in preparation, can be tricky to do well. The turkey was moist and the crispy coating was light and perfectly golden. Eggplant Mousakka, a traditional Greek-Turkish dish featuring ground beef and béchamel sauce was layered in subtle flavor. By now, you are getting the picture that the menu is eclectic.
Heading into dessert, we tucked happily into lavender crème brulee, roasted pears cloaked in puffed pastry and a decadent chocolate pyramid cake. Lale and Mehmet emerged from the kitchen to a round of applause and chatted about their food and heritage. He explained, "Lale's upbringing with the traditions and culture of the Turkish kitchen touches on the rich heritage of Mediterranean, Arabic, Persian and Greek cuisine."
"When I go out to a restaurant and am content with the experience afterwards, I am happily full...that wonderful feeling of inner fulfillment of having eaten a good meal and feeling at peace with the world," Mehmet said. That summed up my experience at the beautiful Melange...I couldn't have put it better!