Where to Eat: Asheville
Gan Shan Station: If you’re from Charleston, walking into Gan Shan Station may feel a little familiar. The menu and setting have quite a few similarities to Xiao Bao in Charleston, rather than an old gas station Gan Shan is set in an old garage and chef and owner Patrick O’Cain was actually the opening sous chef of Xiao Bao. While there are distinct likenesses, I think Gan Shan really stands on its own. Gan Shan uses the flavors of various Asian cuisines, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese with local and regional produce and proteins and Chef O’Cain’s own flair to create some really memorable dishes. For example, their menu currently has a Dan Dan Asparagus, taking the flavors of a very traditional Szechuan dish and highlighting locally grown produce. They recently featured a fried rice that featured crab, tiny crispy shrimp and celtuce. Celtuce is a vegetable that is prevalent in Szechuan cooking but I have very rarely seen it used here, which has me intrigued. Celtuce is more or less a cross between asparagus, celery and romaine lettuce flavor and texture wise. When we went, we ordered their Yuxiang eggplant, dumplings and mapo tofu. Each was so flavorful and well cooked and really took me back to Chinese homecooking from ayis (aunties).
Curate: Chef and Co-Owner Katie Button has really taken the culinary world by storm and has some serious accolades having been nominated for James Beard Awards a handful of times (for best Rising Chef, best Chef in America and most recently 2018 best chef Southeast). Curate features traditional Spanish cuisine in a small plate or tapas format that’s meant to be eaten family style. The menu is organized by cooking technique, so dishes are grouped by fried, cold, hot and grilled. There is a lot on the menu so it was slightly overwhelming especially because everything on it looked so good. We opted to have the server design our menu. The first dish we had was a watermelon salad (not currently on the menu) which was light and refreshing. We also had Gambas Al Ajillo (sauteed shrimp) there’s no real way to describe this dish except WOW, it appears so simple, just shrimp with garlic, chili and a splash of sherry, but this dish is so flavorful, you’ll want to order 12 more and an entire loaf of bread to soak up the broth. Unfortunately (and fortunately) we were not able to order 12 more shrimp dishes because we also had the patatas bravas (crispy fried potatoes) done with a spicy tomato garlic sauce and the lamb skewers. Lamb is a protein that I order a lot in restaurants because I’m too intimidated to cook it on my own. The lamb is skewered and seasoned with ‘Moorish spices’ which I was unfamiliar with, but is a spice blend combining European and African flavors with ingredients like cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric and cayenne. The spice is so flavorful, but balanced and the lamb has a nice char but is still perfectly tender and paired with a simple cucumber pickle. Everything we tried on the menu was nothing short of exceptional and I would definitely go to Curate again, I’m also interested in trying Chef Button’s other restaurant Nightbell which has received a lot of praise as well.
Chestnut: Chestnut is located in the building that housed the original Highland Brewing Company (one of my favorite regional breweries). While a menu designed around local and seasonal ingredients is commonplace in Asheville, Chesnut’s menu has a distinct hominess and comfort that sets it apart from other menus. For example their lunch bowl a few days ago was a Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf with Fried Pickles. They also have a fried chicken that is to die for and while the accompaniments change, the juicy crispy bird is simply amazing. Like the fried chicken most of the preparations of proteins changes frequently, their Sunburst trout is definitely a favorite on the menu and is currently served with patty pan squash and lump crab which sounds amazing. I’m also really interested in trying the grilled trumpet mushrooms, I rarely go a meal without some type of meat, but trumpet mushrooms are seriously one of the meatiest, non-meats ever and so delicious grilled or roasted. Chestnut also has a great brunch menu, which I have not had the opportunity to try. Chestnut is the sister restaurant to The Corner Kitchen, which is the cutest/coziest spot located in the Biltmore Village which was modeled after small English villages. We only had a drink there, but it’s definitely worth visiting based on ambiance alone.
Look Forward to Trying:
Sovereign Remedies: This place has everything I look for in a restaurant, a beautiful space, interesting cocktail list, and a funky cool food menu. Some menu items I’d love to try are the crispy pig ears, chicken skins with Korean chili honey, Bone Marrow Tater Tots and the “Weeds” Salad. I’m also super intrigued by their Carrot Dog on their late night menu.
Chai Pani: Indian cuisine is sadly not something I’m super familiar with because I just haven’t had a lot of opportunity to experience it. I love that the cuisine is so full of flavor and complex spices and that it can really take very simple ingredients and vegetarian items and really make them delicious. What I would try: Vada Pav, a spicy potato dumpling fried in curried chickpea batter, Sloppy Jai, essentially their interpretation of a Sloppy Joe, made with lamb and flavor of tomatoes, ginger and India spices and the Mixed Veggie Uttapam which is a savory crepe with a lot of vegetables.