Back in 2013, Josiah and Shannon McGaughey moved to Asheville, NC with the dream of opening a restaurant. After years of running a pop-up kitchen inside a local bar, followed by Salt & Smoke, their ever-popular food truck, Vivian was born.
Located in the exciting and eclectic River Arts District, Vivian serves up elevated casual dining in a refined, but comfortable setting and this tone is set before you even enter the establishment. The outdoor storefront is unique and inviting, with its painted black brick exterior accented by bright blue window trim, and a bright blue and white sign above the door, proclaiming its existence.
Inside, the walls are adorned with painted white brick, and light-colored wood highlighted by simple but interesting light fixtures hanging overhead. Sleek wooden tables and molded white chairs provide an insanely clean, but somehow impossibly homey vibe. The pair thoughtfully developed the space to create the feel of a small, cozy home and encourages their diners to think of it as their own.
On one wall rests an almost life-sized black-and-white picture of an elegant woman in a wedding dress. We can only imagine that this is Vivian, the restaurant’s namesake, and owner Josiah McGaughey’s beloved grandmother.
The décor isn’t the only thing Vivian the woman influenced about Vivian the restaurant, either. Inspired by the elaborate “Julia Child style” dinner parties his grandmother hosted during his childhood, Josiah draws inspiration from her culinary expertise while dreaming up clean, simple, dishes that meld her European flair with his Southern heritage. The result is an ever-rotating seasonal menu of refreshingly unique dishes using ingredients sourced from local farmers and markets.
It’s not surprising that Josiah McGaughey, not only an owner but also the Executive Chef, has been nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast. His menu is unique but made to feel familiar, and his flavors are out of this world. Their extensive wine and seasonal cocktail list offers many high-end drink options to help take your meal to the next level.
While we enjoyed just about everything we tried on our recent trip, here are a few of our favorites:
This dish takes what you know about oysters and turns it on its head. These deliciously smoky oysters are accented with local pear, shallot, and black pepper, and then finished with apple cider and black vinegar. The combination of sweet, sharp, salty, and smoky creates a complex and delicious flavor profile that won’t easily be forgotten.
Nordic Deviled Eggs
Another favorite from the starters category, these aren’t just your traditional deviled eggs. Instead, the filling is mixed with potatoes, smoked fish, and cornichons, and then topped with delicate caviar. It may sound like a strange combination but trust us when we say these little eggs pack a lot of incredible flavors!
Vivian’s Steak Dinner
This dish is a perfect example of how the team at Vivian takes a classic and elevates it. The heart of the dish is a 14 oz. ribeye, seared to perfection in a cast iron skillet. Sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes, and topped with a crown of cipollini onion rounds, Vivian’s signature steak sauce pulls the whole plate together. This is a dish that is made for all of your senses. Not only does it taste and smell delicious, but it’s also beautifully plated in a way that makes it look almost like a work of art.
Mandarin Olive Oil Chiffon Cake
Our biggest complaint about our dinner is that our starters and entrees were so good, we almost forgot to save space for dessert! Regardless, we made room, because after seeing it being delivered to a nearby table, there was no way we were leaving without at least tasting this cake. This light, moist, expertly baked cake is accented with fresh satsumas, and a lightly toasted Grand Marnier meringue. The combination of flavors was simple, fresh, and the ideal end to a memorable meal.
With new items joining the menu year-round, we can’t wait to hear what new and unique dishes you have a chance to try when you visit Vivian!
-Vivian offers a seasonal menu, which means their offerings are constantly changing. The items we reviewed may not be available during your visit. Please check their website for the latest, most up-to-date menu.
-Although the menu doesn’t explicitly mark items as gluten-free, or vegan, or note other dietary concerns, the chef is usually willing to work with diners to find options that work with their allergies or dietary restrictions. Don’t be afraid to ask!
-Vivian is only open for dinner most days, so be sure to check their hours before heading over. They also offer a very popular Sunday brunch that is worth checking out.
-Reservations are strongly encouraged, and the restaurant can book up days in advance. In the event that it’s sold out, bar seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
-There is free street parking available, as well as a nearby public parking lot.