Steeped both in importance in the history of Asheville and upon the western facing slope of Sunset Mountain, the Omni Grove Park Inn, 290 Macon Ave., Asheville, N.C. http:\/\/bit.ly\/2iXoY6e has to be one of the most fascinating and hospitable resorts in the world, located minutes from downtown Asheville. It's definitely worth the scenic drive down the Appalachians or short flight from the northeast to nestle yourself amid the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. This is the time of year that guests sit cozied up in front of one of the two 36-foot wide fireplaces rising two stories high on opposite sides of the main lobby. The fireplaces have been designed to burn eight-foot logs. The resort is home to one of the largest arts and crafts collections in the country and to two of only three known Roycroft grandfather clocks appraised at around $1 million apiece. The 43,000-square-foot subterranean spa is unrivaled in both composition and beauty. It features cavernous rock walls, arches, and tunnels, with numerous water features throughout the facility. Make your appointments way in advance for treatments that often incorporate indigenous elements. Framed by the splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the historic Grove Park Inn Golf Club celebrates the spirit of mountain golfing. It is also among the top 10 courses 100 years or older, though it certainly doesn\u2019t look its age, according to Golf Digest. It has been recognized by Golfweek as one of the \u201cBest Resort Courses.\u201d Asheville owes much of its notoriety both to the Grove Park Inn, originally opened in 1913 and the Vanderbilt Mansion, and the families who came here to build these unrivaled properties. It is here, in the city in the mountains, that both visitors and residents alike, can revel in top notch culture, outdoor adventures, art, history, and most importantly, great local and international cuisine. Of course, my visit focused on food. The inn focuses on local ingredients and chef driven menus in their four signature restaurants, each offering panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My first dining experience was at Vue 1913, offering a blend of American and French cooking highlighted by a selection of wine from a French cellar the resort has cultivated over the years. A fan of sweet potatoes, I savored the seasonal soup of sweet potato and bacon lardon with orange segments\u2026..the flavors perfectly orchestrated. Crooked Creek grits, creole sofrito, rosemary, Highland Ale and chevre expertly blended to make a creamy base for the succulent North Carolina shrimp, my first course. The fresh North Carolina fish that evening was amberjack, served with a herbescent tomato cream, savory toasted cornbread and zucchini ribbon. My amazing, sweet ending was lemon cheesecake accompanied with a buttermilk semifredo, blueberry compote and lemon madeleine. Wine aficionados will appreciate that almost any wine on the list can be \u201cglassable\u201d (their term for by-the-glass). The Art of Breakfast, as it is called, is served in Blue Ridge. The farm-to-table artisanal buffet redefined what I imagined a breakfast buffet could be. Beautifully staged stations were spread out spaciously; yogurt bar and fresh juice bars, doughnut buffet, gluten free station, biscuit bar with compound butters, jams and local honey, bagel and omelet station and salsa bar, and my favorite, a smoked salmon station with the traditional accompaniments. Of course, breakfast pastries galore. You have got to see it to believe it\u2026.the view too. Sunset Terrace is the iconic spot for dinner in Asheville both for hotel guests and locals. Open seasonally, for alfresco dining, the sunset views of the mountains and downtown are picture perfect. So too, was the starter to dinner; Terrace Tomato and Mozzarella; perfectly fried green tomatoes sandwiching fresh mozzarella and served with arugula, cherry tomatoes and lemon grass vinaigrette. The main course, Sunburst Trout, a pan-seared Carolina trout, is served with saut\u00e9ed farmer\u2019s market vegetables, cauliflower risotto and beet chimichurri. As soon as I saw a dessert with rhubarb, I didn\u2019t need to look further. The individual strawberry rhubarb pie was light and flaky with the perfect balance of sweet and tart. It is topped with toasted honey meringue and strawberry ice cream. Beef eaters will find the finest hand-cut steaks and chops, served with signature sauces. Go all the way and \u201cOscar\u201d it with lump crab meat, braised asparagus, and Hollandaise. Edison, Craft Ales + Kitchen (named for the frequent visits from Thomas Edison) is the resort\u2019s innovative bar and restaurant. It celebrates North Carolina craft beer and small batch bourbons and showcases local farms and purveyors. I savored every last drop of the smoked trout dip served with crostini. The hush puppies served in a mini fry basket with a dollop of pimento cheese hit the spot. Being the chocoholic I am, the flourless marquis chocolate cake with caramel sauce, salted caramel ice cream and pistachio crumbles gave me my tasty fix. Other food and beverage outlets include the Spa Caf\u00e9, Sunset Cocktail Terrace, Cabana Bar & Grill, The Great Hall Bar, President\u2019s Lounge, Elaine\u2019s Dueling Piano Bar, and The Marketplace. I had the pleasure to meet and interview Executive Chef Josh Thompsen, who was pleased to share his recipe shown below for heirloom tomato salad, compressed watermelon, with basil almond hummus. Check out the interview here: http:\/\/bit.ly\/2mPxUMH. If Asheville and the Grove Park Inn go on your travel radar this holiday season, you and your family will enjoy seeing the edible gingerbread masterpieces entered in the resorts 25th National Gingerbread House Competition, the largest and most notable competition of its kind in the U.S. Culinary artists of all skill levels nationwide craft creative gingerbread houses for a chance to win more than $25,000 in cash and prizes. From what I have been told, the competition has been a beloved celebration at the historic inn, with resort guests and visitors eagerly anticipating the hundreds of intricate and stunning holiday designs on display from, Nov. 26, through Jan. 4. The Great Gingerbread House, an impressive 10 \u00bd-foot-wide and 10 \u00bd-foot-high gingerbread replica of the inn, will be displayed in The Great Hall. If you truly want to immerse yourself in the Inn's festive spirit, check out the Gingerbread Holiday Bed & Breakfast Package, available for stays through Dec. 29. Look at these winning works of art from last year\u2019s competition http:\/\/bit.ly\/2zgxgfK I did have some time to explore \u201cFoodtopia,\u201d what Asheville calls their food scene, although it was tough to leave the beautiful resort. What I found has enticed me for a return visit to further explore the food scene. I spent an afternoon on an Asheville Food Tour www.ashevillefoodtours.com where we sampled food and drink at several Asheville favorites. The guide was most knowledgeable, enthusiastic and passionate. I highly recommend you take the tour. It will introduce you to the eclectic culinary and diverse scene. It was exciting to dine at the original Tupelo Honey Caf\u00e9 www.tupelohoneycafe.com since I have had their cookbook for many years and enjoyed some of the southern fare recipes. Their fried green tomatoes with basil, goat cheese grits and roasted red pepper coulis is a creative take on this southern standard. The lavender limeade fizz is a refreshing drink after the rich entr\u00e9e. Always on the search for the town\u2019s best java, and bakeries, I was led to several places by local foodies, including Debby Maugans, co-author of Farmer & Chef Asheville. The book is a \u201cfood tour\u201d of Asheville with recipes from chefs, farmers and food producers. She is proud of the city\u2019s bustling food community. I had the opportunity to interview this local food celebrity, see http:\/\/bit.ly\/2An9oIw. A must\u2026.Vortex Doughnuts and Coffee. www.vortexdoughnuts.com. The blackberry cake and the apple cream cheese doughnuts were worth every calorie! I had the best raspberry jelly and Boston cream doughnuts I have ever eaten at Geraldine\u2019s Bakery www.geraldinesbakeryavl.com Not into sweets, the savory croissants are light and flaky. The Well-Bred Bakery & Caf\u00e9 www.wellbredbakery.com was voted best bakery in Western North Carolina. The tomato, feta and roasted pepper crustless quiche made for a perfect breakfast along with a cup of locally roasted coffee. The display of luscious pastries and gourmet food is inviting; making your decision will be your biggest problem. There are vegan and gluten-free options too. Upon arrival in Asheville, make a reservation at Curate www.curatetapasbar.com . Owner and Chef Katie Button, was named one of Food & Wine magazine\u2019s best new chefs. Her Spanish tapas menu at Curate celebrate flavors of the cuisine. The fried eggplant with honey and rosemary is an innovative combination of ingredients. The rosemary bridges the savory bite of the eggplant with the sweetness of honey. The Ensaladilla Rusa, a classic Spanish potato salad with carrot, hardboiled egg, Spanish bonito tuna, piquillo peppers, and peas is not your grandmother\u2019s potato salad. On a return visit, I will dine at Nightbell, featuring local Appalachian ingredients, Katie\u2019s other restaurant. When it comes to BBQ, Ashville is plentiful and I ate at a few of them. 12 Bones www.12bones.com Luella\u2019s www.luellasbbq.com and Buxton Hall BBQ www.buxtonhall.com I enjoyed these BBQ dining experiences and can write an entire column sharing their stories and recipes, so I plan on featuring these and other BBQ restaurants in 2018, just in time for outdoor cooking season. When locals, Ron and Lynn Carlson, owners of The 1900 Inn on Montford, www.innonmontford.com ,one of the premiere Asheville Bed and Breakfasts say you must try a restaurant, and they want to go along with you too, there was no way to say no. Under a half hour\u2019s drive to Marshall, NC, is Star Diner, 115 North Main St., 828-649-9900. I know, you\u2019re wondering why I would go out of the way to go to a diner. It\u2019s just part of the name. The restaurant is housed in an old gas station, a step back in time, in a tiny town that overlooks the French Broad River. Chef Brian created an epicurean delight in the middle of nowhere. To begin the dining adventure was the spiced pecan crusted goat cheese spinach salad with red wine figs and Annie\u2019s focaccia crostini. The Southern Fried Chicken Saltimbocca (Springer Mountain all-natural chicken breast, prosciutto, sage, provolone with Marsala wine sauce) is not your run of the mill fried chicken. The southern standard was taken up several notches. And, for dessert the best chocolate pot de cr\u00e8me I have ever encountered. My advice: Do not miss this place. No visit to Asheville is complete without a stop at French Broad Chocolate Lounge, www.frenchbroadchocolates.com. Upon entering this dessert restaurant, you will be wowed. It is truly a haven for indulgence. All of the chocolate used in their desserts are made right in Asheville at their chocolate factory. The liquid truffle sipping chocolate is heavenly. This will put the icing on your sweet tooth\u2026it did for me. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath. Add the whole basil leaves to the boiling water and cook for 10 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and immediately transfer to the ice bath. Let the basil cool for a few minutes, then remove and pat dry. Transfer to a blender. Add olive oil and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Compressed watermelon 1\/2 watermelon, sliced 1 inch, seeds removed Place watermelon into vacuum bag. Place vacuum bag into vacuum sealer and put on full, 100% vacuum on the fruit. Better to let it sit in the bag for 2 hours. Then remove from the bag and cut into desired pieces. Reserve chilled. The compressed melon will remain compressed for a maximum of two days. After two days, juices will start to expel from the fruit, surrounding the fruit in the vacuum pouch. The fruit is usable, but less desirable. *Aleppo chili pepper comes from southern Turkey, near the Syrian town of Aleppo, which is considered one of the culinary meccas of the Mediterranean. It has a moderate heat level with some fruitiness and mild, cumin-like undertones, with a hint of vinegar, salty taste. Place the almonds in a bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the garlic on a square of foil. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Wrap the garlic in the foil and roast until soft and fragrant, about 20 minutes. Put in a blender or food processor to pur\u00e9e the almonds, roasted garlic, remaining \u00bd cup olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and aleppo pepper. If the hummus seems too thick, add 1 tablespoon of cold water at a time and process until you have the desired consistency. In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with the chopped basil leaves and a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Assembly 2 radishes, shaved thin Make pool of the hummus on the plate. Arrange the seasoned tomatoes and watermelon over the hummus and garnish with basil oil and shaved radish around the plate. Serves 4. Wine101: Holiday Bubbles, Nov. 22, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Wine 101, 1220 Whitney Ave., Hamden. 475-202-6657. $25 includes tasting, class, cheese and crackers and a \u201chomework\u201d bottle. On Thanksgiving Eve let\u2019s give thanks to good friends, family and the plethora of leftovers we\u2019ll be consuming over the next few days. During this class we\u2019ll explore why bubbles can start the party and continue from bird to pumpkin pie. Bubbles make the flavor pop! Must be 21+ to attend. Tickets at http:\/\/bit.ly\/2hXc70z. Wine101: Blind Wine Tasting, Nov. 30, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Wine 101, 1220 Whitney Ave., Hamden. 475-202-6657. $20 includes tasting, class, cheese and crackers and a \u201chomework\u201d bottle. Does knowing a grape, label, producer, price or country of origin really influence your taste or perception of quality in a wine? Blind-tasting not only helps us understand more about what we like, but also about the origin of what is in your glass. Must be 21+ to attend. Tickets at http:\/\/bit.ly\/2jt45A0. Consiglio\u2019s Murder Mystery Dinner \u2014 \u201cGive\u2026Til it Hurts!\u201d Dec. 1 or Dec. 15, doors at 6 p.m., dinner and show at 7, Consiglio\u2019s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489, http:\/\/bit.ly\/2cyB02Y $55 includes dinner and show (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). An interactive comedy show that goes on as you enjoy a three-course dinner. The cast mingles from table to table, dropping clues for a mystery only you can solve. The latest TV show is a charity competition. \u201cChefs of Our Kitchen\u201d Reception and Dinner: December 6, 6 p.m., Gateway Community College, 20 Church St. (parking validated for the Temple Street Garage; bring ticket), 203-285-2617, $70. Gateway Community College Foundation welcomes Chef John Barricelli owner of SoNo Baking Co. Bakery & Cafe in Norwalk. Enjoy a wine and hors d\u2019oeuvres reception and then enjoy dinner while watching the chef demonstrate three recipes from his book, The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook: The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion. Guests will receive a copy of the book that will be signed at the reception. Recipes demonstrated will be prepared and then served by Gateway Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management students. Tickets at http:\/\/bit.ly\/2j24HH9. Bourbons - Food - Cigars and Fire, December 7 6:30-9:30pm. Guilford Mooring, 505 Whitfield Street, Guilford. 203.458.2921 www.guilfordmooring.com $75 per person, not including tax & tip. A donation of $5 from each ticket sale will benefit the Make a Wish Foundation. Reservations are required. More at: http:\/\/bit.ly\/2hu7Dhc. Held in conjunction with Litchfield Distillery and the Owl Shop, the four-course dinner will be paired with Bourbons and cocktails from the Distillery, with Brand Ambassador Dimitrios Zahariadis providing information on each drink. Each bourbon has been paired with a cigar from New Haven\u2019s Owl Shop, and on the last course, guests will be invited to select a cigar to light up outside by our fire pits. Food courses include: Slow Cooked Ribs, Lightly Blackened Shrimp, Dry Rub Smoked Brisket and Maple Walnut Gelato.