In the recent past I have awarded my Eat of the Week to a taco, a calzone, and a hot dog. It’s time I gave some love to the fancy food in this town, which I also eat the shit out of on a regular basis. I have some fave places to hit up for a fancy bite or two, and on a Friday or Saturday evening, usually right around 5pm, Dawn and I like to do what we call a “Triple.” That’s not a sports metaphor… or a sex metaphor… Asheville… but it simply means we go to three fancy-pants venues, and get one small bite, and one beverage each, and then return home before the hordes of tourists and… um… shall we say alcohol enthusiasts… show up to take over every inch of available space downtown.
A typical Triple for us would be Nightbell > Imperial Life > Sovereign Remedies. All three venues offer incredible food, amazing drinks, chill vibes, good times, and great service, and they are all within walking distance of each other for us. It makes for a super pleasant evening, and we always oooooh and ahhhhh over the food. Dawn loves the cocktails at all three joints, and I dig the coffee at 2 out of 3 (I’ll just leave that out there for everyone to wonder about).
Anyhoo, long intro just to say that last week at the Imperial Life I ordered a small plate of shrimp, prepared two ways and it was fucking awesome, and unique, and surprising, and delicate, and fresh, with textural diversity, and subtle yet contrasting flavors, and levels of heat. It was incredible and it is my Eat of The Week!
I couldn’t fucking remember what it was called so I texted Chef Jacob Sessoms to ask if he could describe it for me…
He responded right away with a basic list of macro-ingredients that was super-helpful, but didn’t even begin to tell the true tale of the epic yum involved with this dish:
“Royal Red Shrimp (carpaccio & ‘a la plancha’) kohlrabi, serrano, fresh cheese.”
Despite the stereotype, most of the chefs I’ve met are very humble, some are even understated. Chef Jacob is quiet, charming, soft-spoken, and succinct, but his cooking, and of course, the work of his kitchen staff, is amazing. The food at Table and The Imperial Life is currently at it’s own apex, and at the very top of the Asheville food chain in my opinion. Jacob also asked me if I wanted better pics, and requested that I credit his sous-chef Elizabeth Schultenover. Yes, and yes!
Holy. Fuck. Look at that thing!!! It’s art. It’s gorgeous. It should be hanging on the wall of the Art Museum instead of being shoved into the face of a philistine like me, buhhht… Nom nom nom! I ate every fucking morsel on the plate, down to the last atomic particle.
Here’s my description: On the plate, there was a shrimp or two that had been butterflied, the flattened out, and treated like carpaccio, so it was cooked very subtly in a refined vinegar, with olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper on top, as well as tiny, hot-but-not-too-hot serrano pepper wheels. Three small dollops of fresh, creamy cheese acted as a counter-agent to the hot pepper, and of course, went very well with the shrimp, oil, and the kholrabi, which was served as a small, room-temp side, all chopped up. I won’t attempt to describe the kholrabi further, because I honestly don’t know what went into the prep. I just know that every bit of it went into my mouth! There were two more shrimp on the plate, served warm, cooked a la plancha (which means pan-fried or cooked on a griddle) so they had a great flavor, a slight sear, and were as sweet, and fresh, and shrimpy as can be. Some crisp, thin apple slices gave the dish an Autumnal feel, and the fresh dill on top was the perfect touch. I don’t usually like a lot of fresh dill, but in this case it really enhanced, rather than over-powering, the rest of the ingredients on the plate.
This plate of food was beautiful to look at, and tasted in-fucking-credible. Because the menu at Table and The Imperial Life changes on a very regular basis (daily?) I can not guarantee that you’ll be able to order this particular dish at this time, but I can guarantee that whatever is on their menu at any given time is gonna be the bomb. I love The Imperial Life! The food is great! The staff is awesome! The atmosphere is hip and groovy, but not in a pretentious or ironic way, and they don’t mind if I bring in a cup of coffee from High Five! Oops. Did I let that out of the bag? Ha! It’s okay, Chef Jacob once told me to do that. For real. I was about to order coffee and he said something like, just to High Fave and come back. That’s what I do. I love that!
Tacos and hot dogs are all good, but the real reason that the food scene in Asheville is as awesome as it is right now is because of people like Jacob Sessoms and Elizabeth Schultenover, and places like the Imperial life, who are cranking out insanely beautiful food every single day, like this plate of shrimp, and that is why it is my Eat of the Week!
The Imperial Life
“A light and lively spot for serious craft cocktail fans, The Imperial Life is a comfortable place to unwind and expand your cocktail horizons.”
48 College St, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 254-8980
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
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