Hello Asheville!

Ya know what? Before I write anything else, I have to get something off my chest.

I am so offended…

The other day, I accidentally typed “fcuk” into my iPhone, and auto-correct suggested exactly one alternative:

KFC

GROSS!

I’d rather eat a bucket of fcuk than even one slimy piece of KFC.

Meanwhile, remind me never to shake hands with this douchebag, for several reasons.

Wakka-wakka! I made both of those jokes on my FaceBook page first, and other jokes too, that may never show up here on Ashvegas. Plus, I post a LOT more photos of food on my FaceBook page, and occasionally a video or two. Almost every meal I eat is fucking chronicled and archived there. Where? On my FaceBook page! I also post links to other funny, food related stuff that’s out there on the internets. Oh! And contests!  I’m a total contest-strumpet over there… on my… FaceBook page. You could win a free taco, B.

My point?

Please follow me on FaceBook, Yo!  

I thought I was being kinda obvious about that.

Click HERE then “like” and “follow” me!

Speaking of this perpetual pie-eating contest of a life… I’m starting something new: A video series called “Food Fans, Asheville.”

Technically, I’ve already started it, super-DIY style (like I always do), so it’s rough as fuck, but I’ll get better at it as I go, adding music and graphics and such as I learn how to do all that, and I’ll be looking for people to participate, so stay tuned!

You can check out the “pilot” episode HERE. It’s horrible.

Actually, the other people in it are great. My buddy Tom is a motherfuckin’ superstar, and contest winner Kiere is a natural in front of the cameras. I’m definitely the weakest link… Jeff Spicoli meets the Zig Zag Man… but whatevs. Again, I’ll get better as I go.

What else?  Oh yeah!  Here’s a review…

RED STAG GRILL – Biltmore Village

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Located inside the Grand Bohemian Hotel, Red Stag Grill has one of the most amazing lobbies in town, rivaling the Grove Park Inn, in its own smaller, but über-baroquey way.

I went to Red Stag Grill twice in one week. The first time with Dawn, for dinner, as part of Asheville Restaurant Week. Then a couple of days later, I was there again, this time with my mom, and I used my Asheville Independent Restaurant (AIR) “passport” to buy us a two-for-one lunch.

I’m going to say right now, that the two experiences were a mixed bag of good, great, meh, and WTF, and that both times started off on the wrong foot, as we were completely ignored at the hosts’ stand.

Not an empty hosts’ stand. The first time there were two people from the restaurant standing there. One person was on the phone, and the other person was looking at the person who was on the phone. We weren’t left hanging for too long, just long enough that Dawn and I both felt the icy cold shoulder of the person on the phone, as if we weren’t standing right there. Like, right there.

Hello?  Sprechen sie Englisch?

A turn of the head, some brief eye-contact, a friendly smile, and one finger raised in the air to indicate that “I’ll be with you in one moment,” is standard practice in my opinion, and is always enough to put me at ease while I wait. Being ignored is never good.

The person not on the phone started to display a slight nervousness as they noticed us standing there being ignored, and although I do not believe this person was the primary host, they took charge of the sitch, and finally made eye contact with us, greeted us, lead us into the mostly empty dining area, where we were… unfortunately… seated at a really crappy table.

Bad seating is kind of a “you had to be there” thing, but here’s what was up that night: They sat us in a small, semi-separate area, just inside the first dining room, right next to a giant column, directly across from the wide open doorless kitchen which was to my back.  There was all kinds of hubbub, hustle-and-bustle, and ricka-racka going on right the fuck behind me during my entire meal. I fucking haaate that! Ermerferkingerd. Soops annoyzzles.

Dawn didn’t have it much better. She was facing the brightly lit, sterile, gaping maw of the kitchen and was witness to all the kitchen antics and “dude behavior,” as she put it, that was going on behind closed dooo…oh yeah, no doors.  She also heard them singing along to the music, which thankfully I was spared, due to my own case of screaming tinnitus. Yay, partial deafness accompanied by noises that aren’t really there!

Dawn said the view of the open kitchen, with its dinner show of boyish frolic definitely detracted from the “fine dining” atmosphere for her.

And, too, also… there was a giant. Fucking. Column. An inch away from my head.

The Red Stag Grill is gorgeously decorated, with an amazing amount of attention to detail.  It’s spot-on with its Bohemian/Bavarian theme in all aspects, lavishly decorated in a style that’s somewhere between the Kaiser’s hunting lodge, a boudoir in occupied France, and Ed Gein’s front parlor.  There are a LOT of bones on the walls.  Mostly skulls, with antlers and such. Plus all manner of statuettes of stags and other manly, Tutonic accoutrement.  It seems like every inch of space has something cool going on in it.  My 12 year-old self would have been REALLY impressed, and my 48 year-old self would have loved it too… had we not been seated at this absolute turd of a table.

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Dead animals galore, plus intricate woodworking, metal studs, and leather upholstery out the whazoo.

I have to say, and I know that many of you might feel the same, Dawn and I couldn’t help but wonder if the shabby treatment up front, and the craptastic seats were because of the way we look.  As in: We don’t look like rich people.

I decided not to believe that to be the case, and instead made the choice in my head to give them the benefit of the doubt. The bad seats must have been a result of some fucked-up division of the dining areas into server sections, and the server in that particular section must have been “up.” That’s what I’m choosing to believe. Red Stag.

Our server was awesome-sauce-um, so there was that.  He was funny and friendly, but professional and accommodating.  When he asked if we were staying at the hotel, Dawn said no (adding that we live in Asheville), but I joked that we were staying at the Mountaineer. He got the joke and played along, and at the end of the meal he bid us to “Enjoy your stay at the Mountaineer.” I liked that.  He kinda saved the day, service-wise.

The food was a mixed affair.  We ordered off of the prix fixe menu that they had rockin’ for Asheville Restaurant Week.

Just in case you didn’t know, Asheville Restaurant Week is an annual event that most of the restaurants in Asheville participate in to some degree or another. If you missed out this time, don’t cry, it’ll be back next year. Here’s the scoop:

• Restaurants offer a fixed price (prix fixe) menu

• There are two tiers: a $15 meal or a $30 meal.

• They can offer lunch, or dinner, or both

The idea is that the general public — not the “foodie” crowd — who may be a little bit shy about walking into a restaurant that they are unfamiliar with — only to be shocked by the prices, and perhaps not even like the food — can be guaranteed that they’ll get a good taste of what the venue has to offer, at a set price.

They know they’re going to spend either $15 or $30, and so it lessens their anxiety, and makes it easier for them step through the doors, and then hopefully come back.

It’s a psychological ploy, and it worked on us.  I’d been wanting to go to Red Stag for a long time, but Dawn was hesitant, because it’s not her fave style of cuisine, so I used restaurant week to convince her to go. YES! Ploy score.

Here’s what we ate:

STARTERS

• BREAD – Complimentary bread confirmed to us that Red Stag Grill is old school. The bread was good, so I asked our server if it was house made. I thought it could be, Dawn said no. The answer came back… drrrammmaaa stiiinnng… NO. Not house made. It was still good though, and we gave them extra points for bein’ OG with the free bread ‘n’ butter.

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Complimentary bread and mediocre coffee at the Red Stag Grill. The inset is a hand-written note that our server brought me when I asked for the source of the bread.

• COFFEE – I had coffee and it was unremarkable, tasting mostly like typical bar or hotel coffee. That did not stop me from drinking at least three cups with dinner.

APPETIZERS

• DAWN – Shrimp w/ andouille sausage, fingerling potatoes, broth, and toast. She said it was very good, although the shrimp were a tiny bit undercooked. I looked over at them, and yeah, they were ever-so-slightly translucent. I got a shiver. I can not abide by undercooked shrimp. Even the teeeniest bit. I declined her offer to taste it.
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Shrimp ‘n’ Wedge

• ME – “Classic” iceberg lettuce wedge with blue cheese, bacon, and (optional) crushed black pepper. I like things that are shaped like wedges. I’m not sure why, but wedge-shaped foods really appeal to me. (Dr. Freud? Any thoughts on that?)  Hmmm…  anyhoo… a good wedge of iceberg lettuce makes me happy, and this one was fresh and crispy and satisfying, though slightly dry. It could have used just a touch more dressing. The blue cheese was very nice, and the bacon was great!

ENTREES

• DAWN – Seared mountain trout, with mushrooms, cauliflower, pickled onion, and micro greens. This time I accepted her offer, and tasted the fish. It was really good! Cooked and seasoned perfectly, even the skin was delish, which is not always the case when ordering trout. Good job, rockin’ dudes in the Red Stag kitchen! Dawn said the rest of the food on her plate was good too, and she ate most of it, though she added that the pickled onions weren’t contributing much to the flavor profile.

Yes, we do use terms like “flavor profile.”

Sometimes.

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Trout to the left and Boar to the right.  That has got to be a Medieval allegory for something…

• ME – Wild boar chop, with wild boar sausage, fingerling potatoes, kale, and cranberry gastrique. Boar is just a tough muhfuckin’ animal, right? I’ve eaten a boar chop twice now, at two different fancy pantsy restaurants, and both times it was tough as fuck. The Red Stag did it better than the other place in Charlotte… name escaping me… and the flavor was okay, but I’m just not sure I’ll be ordering boar again anytime soon. It might be a critter that is just too fuckin’ tough to eat. Too Erymanthian, if you will.

._.

No?  Nobody?  Y’see, because the Erymanthian Boar was… an extremely tough… nevermind.

The sausage was very good at least, and so were the kale ‘n’ taters. I might be trippin’ balls, but the gastrique looked and tasted like blueberries and not cranberries to me. But what do I know?  Well, actually, I think I might know the fuckin’ difference between a blueberry and a cranberry, because that is a pretty big difference, and those were blueberries, I swear it to the gods!

DESSERT

DAWN – Chocolate lava cake with black cherry ice cream. Dawn said the cake was great — she even oohed and ahhed a little — but she also said that the portion was a little too large for one person to tackle. We usually split dessert, but the fixed price meals both included dessert, so we each had our own. I tasted her ice cream and it was really good. Nothing super-special, but I like ice cream, and it tasted like ice cream, so I liked it.

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Lava cake and ice cream in the background, lemon curd up front. That little blob o’ curd on the edge of my water glass.. oops… I mean… dessert dish… kinda bugged me. Git it offa there!

ME – Lemon curd with raspberry trifle. First of all, I was a little dissapoited in the presentation of mine. It literally came in a water glass. The same exact type of glassware that my water was in. I wish I had taken a picture of them next to each other. It was super-obvious that they were the same.

Y’know what I think ? (And it turns out that Dawn and my mom both agree) I think that if you’re gonna use an existing piece of your standard, house glassware as a dessert dish, it should at least be a champagne glass, a martini glass, or even a “flight”of shot glasses for cripe’s sake. The lowly water glass is the nebbish of house glassware. When I described how this dessert looked to my mother, she said, “Like in a cafeteria!” Ezzackly. It could have had a piece of Saran wrap stretched across the top to complete the ensemble.

The curd ‘n’ trifle itself was fine, no real complaints, except that again, there was a lot of it for just one person, and I couldn’t finish it all. At a certain point the “value’ of a meal drops for me when my level of uncomfortableness goes up.  That’s why “all you can eat” is almost never worth it for me, and “two for one” is sometimes dicey.

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The regular menus at Red Stag Grill, light up, which is both kinda cool, and kinda tacky at the same time, but always appreciated because my own ancient eyeballs have a hard time reading menus in the dark these days. The Restaurant Week menu sits on top.

That being said, two days later, I took my mom to lunch at the Red Stag, mostly because I had a “two for one” coupon in my AIR passport, and she’d been raving about the meatloaf there, so I figured, “sure, why the fuck not?”

Another successful psychological ploy!

This time the hosts’ stand was empty, so my mom walked right past it.

I stopped her and said, “Mum, I think we’re supposed to wait to be seated,” and she responded, “Really? I usually just walk in, and someone follows me.” Old. People. RULE!!! They do not give a fuck. I am a systems queen, however, so I made my poor mother wait until someone showed up to ignore us in person, and then for someone else to lead us into the dining room.

We aaalllmost got another turdly table, but my mom asserted herself again, and we picked our own seat, next to a window, in the grown-ups section.  I looked even less rich than ever in my my casual uniform of a black hoody, black jeans, and black all-stars, but my mom — who looks like, and is, a normal, well dressed, and nicely coifed professional lady — commands respect. She would not be seated in steerage.  We are respectable, high-class people!

Then I busted out my coupon book.

The look on any server’s face when you slap some coupons down on the white tablecloth tells you everything you need to know about that server’s sincerity and enthusiasm for their job.  Our server’s face fell when my passport was presented, and the service was less than stellar thereafter, in my opinion. I couldn’t help but think that one look at my coupon book, and our server decided that a big tip was not in their cards.

I’m always a twenty plus tipper, and when I use a coupon, or recieve a discount, I always tip on what the price WOULD have been, had I not been usin’ BOGO bux, or whatever. I hope you guys do the same. Our sever wasn’t awesome, but I still tipped 20% of twice the total amount of the bill. As it should be.

Anyhoo, the food…

MEATLOAF!!! – Holy fucking shit. Now, THIS is food. Good. Fucking. Food. I pounded my meal back, like a hungry-hungry Hessian, and I’m just going to say right here and now that I totally recommend this awesome meatloaf to anyone who wants meatloaf.  It’s really fucking good, and it comes with fingerling potatoes, house made onion rings, and asparagus.

Please keep aaalll that in mind when you read the following sentence:

This meal took absolutely no risks or chances whatsoever.
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Dude Food Subcategory: "Heart Attack Special." A fist-sized ball of meat, covered in meat-drippin's and Funyuns, on a bed of deep-fried taters, and asparagus. Fuck. Yes.
Dude Food Subcategory: “Heart Attack Special.” A fist-sized ball of meat, covered in meat-drippin’s and Funyuns, on a bed of deep-fried taters, and asparagus. Fuck. Yes.
Every part of it was prepared very well, the presentation was great, and I ate every bite, but it was as safe as milk when it comes right down to it. Meat, potatoes, asparagus, gravy, and deep fried stuff. Those are most of the major dude-food groups, and there was absolutely nothing bold or daring going on with this dish at all.
<break>
Don’t care. Gim more.
<break>
Actually, gim more gravy. My one complaint was they kinda shorted me on gravy. Gravy me up, Boys, I’m goin’ in!
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So, yeah, Red Stag: The bag was mixed. Here’s a quick break down for those of you who need precision reviews:
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Atmosphere – Great if you can get a good seat. Be pushy.

Service – Cold up front, but friendly in the dining room, for the most part.

Food – Stick with the trout or meatloaf, avoid the boar, ask for extra dressing with your wedge o’ salad, the sides were great for the most part, and the desserts are big and yummy, I recommend splitting one.

Stars – 2.75 out of 5

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I took some furtive shots of the decor at Red Stag. Here you can see at least one skull, plus an orchid, and a Nordic maiden. Odin’s funeral parlor and wet bar.

 ### END ###

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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 about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook 

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External links:

THE FOOD CRITIC [blog]

• BACHELOR CHOW 101: MAKIN’ STEAK ‘N’ TATERS

Excerpt: “I’ve got a special method of doing this meal that is easy-peasy, though slightly dangerous as fuck, so y’know,  don’t follow these instructions! Unless you’re as stupid as I am…”

• FOOD FANS, ASHEVILLE – Free Lunch at West Village Market & Deli

Excerpt:

“It’s Kwanzaa,” I said, “what’s your hot dog?”

She froze, and admitted that she didn’t know much about “Jewish holidays.”

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THE FOOD CRITIC [channel]

• Food Fans, Asheville: West Village Market & Deli (deli counter interview only)

• Food Fans, Asheville: West Village Market & Deli (full video)

Indoor Gas Grillin’ Prt I

Indoor Gas Grillin’ Prt II

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STU HELM: THE FOOD CRITIC [FaceBook Page]

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ASHEVILLE GRIT

• 5 Q’S w/ Chef Mike Moore of Seven Sows & Bling Pig Supper Club

• 5 Q’s w/ Dano Holcomb of Root Down Food Cart

• 5 Q’s w/ Russel Keith of Grey Eagle Taquaeria

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5 Comments

  1. That meatloaf has my name on it.

  2. My family had a different type of customer service disaster at Red Stag. Not going back, mediocre food not worth it.

  3. luther blissett says:

    The Asheville Restaurant Week menus downtown seemed pretty begrudging, at least for lunch: a lot of two-course options that signalled “we’re not making a big effort here”, including some that didn’t have much in common with the usual menu.

    You’d think that since the prix fixe offerings were meant to bring in new diners during the lean months, restaurants would use them to showcase some of what they’re good at, even if that meant trimming margins or serving smaller portions.

  4. entertaining as always!

  5. Great review, Stu. I’ve been meaning to check them out. I’ve got a better idea of what to expect now.
    Sean

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