In the Neighborhood

Photo by Tim Robison

Photo by Tim Robison

For any foodie worth their seasoned salt, the Holy Grail — the Grand Quest — is a really terrific local place. You know what I’m talking about. Not too fancy, not too downscale. A spot where you can enjoy a diverse offering of dishes that are capably…and dare one hope, creatively…prepared. Relaxed ambiance. Friendly staff. Not over-the-top expensive. Is it an urban myth? Fortunately, no.

We found just such an establishment in Hendersonville, where Chef Adam Wilson has opened a second location of his acclaimed Brevard restaurant, The Square Root, on Main Street. Wilson is known for his innovative take on standard American bistro fare — a bit of international flair that keeps things interesting. I’ve enjoyed many a lingering lunch at the Brevard location and was eager to see if the character and the quality would translate to the new venture.

My companion and I wandered in on a balmy summer evening and considered dining al fresco at one of the umbrella-sheltered sidewalk tables, but the interior space, with its low light, brick walls, original art and neo-industrial fixtures, seemed so stylish that we opted for that relaxed, urbane mood (and the air conditioning). The tables are well spaced in the dining area and background music is kept to a level that allows conversation in civilized tones without having to compete with ambient noise…a big plus.

The menu certainly offered plenty of appealing options for starters — something for every taste and mood, from light and fresh (the California Avocado Spring Roll) to lush (Foie Gras) to country comfort (Fried Green Tomatoes).

We had considered sampling the Warm Wilted Spinach Salad, but our server, Kelly (who was very prompt and attentive without hovering), reminded us that the entrees came with a house salad. We decided to go with downright decadence and ordered the Pecan Encrusted Fried Brie.

As we awaited our brie, I enjoyed a very refreshing and brisk Sauvignon Blanc, while my companion sipped happily at a Pink Lemonade that was, reportedly, “just right.” The beverages proved a nice complement to our appetizer, which, in truth, would also have made a fine dessert.

The crunchy pecans encasing the wedge of perfectly melted cheese and tart Granny Smith apple slices presented a pleasing textural interplay, but what truly elevated this dish was the Frangelico Praline Sauce: eye-rolling, finger-licking good.

After such an indulgence, a steak seemed a bit too heavy, however tempting the offerings of Prime Angus Beef. Instead, the Parmesan Herb Mountain Trout lured me — I’m always up for something homegrown. My companion was feeling a bit more global, hence the Chicken Tikka Kebobs. Our garden salads arrived — crisp baby greens with a sprinkling of grated carrot and a tasty chipotle ranch dressing. Just the thing to cleanse our palates following the cheese extravaganza.

The entrees proved that Chef Wilson has retained his masterful touch, particularly when it comes to the sauces. My trout was flawlessly prepared: flaky, with just enough parmesan-herb coating to accentuate the flavor of the fish without overpowering it. Served on a bed of fluffy, delicate jasmine rice with caraway seed along with a mélange of root vegetables (of course), it was accompanied by a divine tomato tarragon beurre blanc that made me want to lick the plate.

My companion’s chicken was redolent with paprika, cumin and cayenne; a classic tandoori rub. Inside its spicy, grilled coat, the meat itself was moist and tender. The tzatziki — a yogurt, cucumber and garlic sauce — was a cool and refreshing balance to the more intense flavors of the kabob, as was the touch of mint and citrus in the cous cous. The dish included a slab of grilled naan — an appropriate pairing.

To follow up, nothing less than a Crème Brulee Cheesecake would do. Yes, it was as over-the-top delicious as the name suggests: an airy, creamy filling, graham cracker crust with a thin layer of caramelized sugar glazing the top. I’ll be dreaming about this one.

Overall, The Square Root’s Hendersonville incarnation has all of the elements that have made the Brevard location such a mainstay and it seems that there’s an added attraction: a limited-availability Chef’s Table is being presented in the ample kitchen where up to four guests can watch the maestro in action and, I’ll wager, get a few extemporaneous treats. Reserve it soon.

So, in terms of the Grand Quest, how does The Square Root stack up? Comfortable, low-key atmosphere: Check. Great service: Check. Varied, well-prepared, imaginative menu: Check. Local: Check — if you’re lucky enough to be a Hendersonville or Brevard resident. As for me, well, when Chef Wilson sets up in Asheville, I’ll get back to you. Meanwhile, I guess I’ll gladly compromise and make the drive.

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