facebook_food_critic_2013Introducing a new Ashvegas feature: Stu Helm, Facebook Food Critic. Stu is an artist and writer here in Asheville, and he eats out a lot. He started posting his local food reviews on Facebook, his friends loved it and he approached me to ask if I’d be interested in sharing. Hell yes! Here we go:

Curate – Downtown Asheville

Curate is special. It’s different. It’s not something you’re going to find in every-town USA, or even in every big city. It’s something that Asheville has, right now, and who knows how long anything in this crazy, fucked-up world is ever gonna last, so you really need to do yourself a favor and go to Curate as soon as possible. I’m not kidding. Go there now.

The staff is awesome. From hostess-stand to food-runner, everyone is friendly, professional, attractive, and polite, and they operate like a well-tuned machine. You’ll never be left wondering where your food, water, or waiter is. They are on top of their shit.

It’s the only restaurant in Asheville where we sometimes opt for the bar even when there are tables available, because the kitchen is right there to watch, and everything flows like a frickin’ ballet back there. It’s fun, and lively, and you get to see how the delicious drinks and dishes are prepped and cooked.

The menu changes from time to time, but the standard items are usually available, of which I will specifically recommend the eggplant appetizer as something unique. The shrimp is excellent. The lamb skewers are very tasty. The potato tortilla is creamy and savory, warm and filling. I even tried the octopus once and it was great! Octopus isn’t really my thing, but stepping through the front door at Curate is kinda like stepping into Spain, and if I was in Spain, I’d sure as fuck try the octopus, so why not?

(For no reason at all here’s a hockey reference) Curate scores a hat-trick of “Best ofs” for us:

1) Best Americano in Asheville – They apparently have the world’s finest espresso machine back there. Like, top-o’-th’-line, according to my waiter.

2) Best Grapefruit Mimosa od All-time – Dawn says so. Must be true.

3) Best Sunday Brunch Food Item Ever – Torrijas. It’s challah loaf, soaked in cinnamon citrus custard and seared until it’s golden brown. It comes with fresh berries and sherry sabayon, which is a very light creamy mousse-type-thing. Un-fucking-real how good this thing is. Right now, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. My stomach just made a noise. It wants Torrijas.

We have been to Curate dozens of times and it never fails to satisfy. It’s a little spendy, but well worth it, and think of all the money you’ll be saving on a ticket to Spain!

Chestnut – Downtown Asheville

Did you ever get the feeling that you weren’t entirely welcome someplace, but because of laws and such, they have to let you be there?

Well, that’s kind of how I feel every time I walk into Chestnut. The hostess will usually look me up and down, and immediately offer me a seat at the bar. I prefer a table, and I have developed a standard response to her inevitable offer:

“I prefer a table.”

That’s right, the homeless guy just used the word “prefer.” Now gimme a fucking table, and I don’t want no hi-top!

Others among my friends have expressed a similar feeling of alienation when they enter Chestnut, and some have refused to go back. I continue to return, however, despite the perceived slights at the hostess stand, for one reason:

Lobster Bisque.

It’s really really really effing good.

It’s so good, that I go back again and again to a place that clearly wishes I was either somewhere else, or someone else, but sorry, Suckers, I’m me and I’m here and I want a table and some bisque… and an heirloom tomato salad… and what’s your special?

Most of the food there is excellent, in fact, so, like some silent-movie hobo-clown, I keep showing-up, with a few tattered dollars in my dusty pocket, that I have somehow managed to scrape together for a meager bowl of comfort, and perhaps a wee crust of crostini.

I should say that — once you get past the hostess stand — the wait-staff is excellent, and gets high grades on all three counts of my criteria: Friendly, Attractive, and Professional.

There’s a lady bartender there who is particularly good.

Yes, I have eaten at the bar twice, because there were no tables.

There is no depth to which I will not stoop for that dang bisque!

Greenlife/Whole Foods – Asheville

I bought a great big cucumber today. To EAT. Gawd! Perverts. I don’t know why I even hang out with you people.stu_helm_2013

Stu Helm is an artist and writer 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 restaurant reviews strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook in 2013.

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21 Comments

  1. I’ve been underwhelmed by Chestnut…their bread basket makes no sense. They have all this random stuff in it and then they give you a plate of olive oil. I do not want to dip a corn muffin in olive oil! Re. their hostess stand….my friend walked in to meet us for dinner and the hostess pointed him to the bathrooms! Guess he just didn’t look hungry.

  2. biguglybrown says:

    The building where Chestnut is has a curse on it. NOBODY has ever made it there. Anybody remember Frank Smith’s place there?
    I think if they decide to clean the huge amount of dust off the spiral ducts overhead and quit being so uppity, it might work there… Oh , but that place is cursed.

  3. I ate breakfast at Early Girl. The grits were so good that I want more.

    Can I be a restaurant critic, too?

  4. I like these. Hey Stu, consider putting these out on twitter for those of us with facebook allergies…

  5. Pingback: Stu Helm, Asheville's Facebook Food Critic, on Tod's Tasties, Dough

  6. The Corner Kitchen has lost it’s magic. I think Joe and the group better get their act together.

  7. It is always interesting to see the view of others – a view totally different than your own. I have eaten at Chestnut frequently, for lunch, dinner and brunch – but not often enough to be considered a ‘regular’ so am known to the staff. I have never felt that the host staff was anything less than cordial and helpful. I have been there with and without a reservation. On one occasion I was there just before 5pm standing by the host station to arrange something for later that evening. Several staff people stopped to see if I was being helped. Just a different view based on my experience at Chestnut – and yes, the lobster bisque is terrific. On that we can all agree.

  8. I work downtown and have eaten at both Chestnut and Curate several times. I like them both (food and staff), but your comments about Chestnut don’t jive with what I have experienced there. The staff is friendly (they do ask if I would like to sit at the window bar, but I don’t take that as a personal insult – sometimes I like to people watch and take them up on it). If I’m with a friend, I like a booth and they always take me to one if I ask. No muss, no fuss.

    From your comments about being homeless, it seems you might have an insecurity issue, but since I am not a psychologist I would hate to say. I do dig the gritty, down-to-earth way you use the f-bomb multiple times though. Keep it real homey.

  9. hilarious, thumbs up

  10. doghaus28815 says:

    yay! a rogue foodie review at last.

  11. I particularly liked the profanity and realness of the reviews. In my opinion, Chestnut’s food doesn’t live up to its hoity-toityness.

  12. Went to Chestnut once just after it opened. Aloof hostess and waiter, tried to make us sit at a high top table even though the place was virtually empty. Food was better than average but was so put off by the attitude and perfunctory service that we’ve never gone back. This is Asheville. You can get great food and friendly service at most places. BTW: the last two times at Corner Kitchen I had rude waitresses and will not going back anytime soon. Company culture comes down from management.

  13. Foothills Dweller says:

    I enjoyed reading his reviews – thorough and well written. I look forward to reading more of them on here.

  14. My wife and I went to Chestnut for the first time this past weekend. We walked in. The place was half empty. The hostess looked at us skeptically. We were asked if a particular table (a hi-top next to the door) was OK. I asked if we could have a booth (there were several empty). We were told that they were all taken and that this was the only available table.

    The lobster bisque was amazing, though.

  15. I like the reviews but I do not think that profanity does anything for the reviews.

  16. Excellent writing. I do hope, however, that the author will reconsider “attractiveness” as a criteria for good wait-staff. It’s a restaurant, not a strip club.

    • Might be a bit tongue in cheek.

      Nice to see a food critic who doesn’t take himself too seriously. I give him four stars.

  17. Haha, surprised the guy with the attractive-wait-staff requirement looks like he’s been thrown out of a moving car/or being released from the hospital.

  18. I couldn’t agree more with that Chestnut review. I would even say the waitstaff is very good, but not exactly welcoming. It’s strange, because Corner Kitchen is a particularly friendly place to eat I think.

  19. Thnks for the warning on Chestnut.

    I totally concur with your assessment of Curate. It is simply superb. And the bar seats are the best seats in the place to learn, to spy on their sources, and to chat it up with the chefs.

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