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Hello Asheville!

“Have you been to Gan Shan Station yet?”

If I had ten dollah for every time someone has asked me that question in the past month or two… or I’ve asked someone else… yeah, Man… Like… $120-$140 easy.

Anyhoo…

You may or may not remember that Dawn and I attended a “preview” of the much anticipated Gan Shan Stay-shan back before it even opened, and on my blog I gave it a mixed review. Some of the meal was good, some of it was not-so-good, and in general, I wasn’t as impressed as Dawn was. At the time, I cut them some slack because the preview was being hosted by, and in, a wine shop (Metro Wines) with no kitchen, and very limited space. I know that’s hard to do.

Since that preview and review, the shop has opened properly, we’ve gone there to eat, and the long-story-short-version is that it was allll good. Like, really good. Before I get into the deets of the meal, however, I want to share some pictures that I took when I lived up the street from the building that Gan Shan now occupies, before they rehabbed it.

You see… back then, I hated that building with a red hot passion. It had been sitting in my hood, falling apart, getting covered in the ugliest graffiti, and littered with garbage for the entire time I’d lived there (8 years total).  I often called it “the biggest eyesore in the neighborhood” and I had even done a photo shoot, and mini-rant on FaceBook about it.

You can see some of the photos below, along with my original captions, and you can see the whole photo shoot by going HERE.

I didn’t have this forum in those days, but I would tell just about anyone who would listen that this building was a dangerous blight, with broken glass and other trash piling up outside, and buckets ‘n’ puddles of God-knows-what kind of toxic goo inside. I stated sarcastically that it would be a great place for children to catch Hep-type B, or a junkie to take a nap.

As a former BP station, the building became even more irksome to me when that horrid company poisoned the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. From the world stage to li’l ol’ N. Charlotte street, it seemed like British Petrolium was fuckin’ shit up everywhere I looked. FAHHHK YOUUU BEE-PEEEEE!

Of course, I dreamed that one day this abandoned poop of a building would turn into a beautiful restaurant.

And now it has. Which is frickin’ awesome.

The pics below were taken in 2012, before I had the “panorama” option on my iPhone, so I did some of them in a quasi-David Hockney kind of style. Sorry. I went to art school.

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“I think this is the biggest eyesore on N. Charlotte St. What can a neighborhood do about an abandoned building decaying in a prime spot on a main drag year after year? Anything? Nothing? Are we just SOL? “

Note the “AVAILABLE” signs from Spake Realty. I seem to see this company’s signage in the weirdest, ugliest buildings, and empty lots in town.

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“Oooh! Arty!”

I got all Hockney with the crumbling roof-top, which, from my point of view, was not a good feature for our neighborhood. Large pieces were falling onto the ground… or… alternatively… the heads of little old ladies and toddlers. I ain’t ezzactly Cap’n Safety over here, but that sounds… I dunno…  unsafe?

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“The graffiti sucks. ‘Lords?’ Is that our North Asheville Gang? Do they get their scones at City Bakery?”

This photo and others like it touched-off a separate rant among my friends and me about the state of graffiti in Asheville. As in: A lot of it blows.

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“No abandoned building would be complete without a mattress. Why?!?”

I was well known at the time for my FaceBook photo series of feral mattresses. They are everywhere.

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“Score! Not only did I find my new sofa, but lots of garbage to strew about the house. (Notice Johnny Roll-Up in the background. We ignored each other.)”

It seems like an empty building is always a magnet for other people’s trash.

“Gosh, Honey, a trip to the dump costs, like $5, so let’s just fill up the dumpster next to the abandoned BP station until it overflows, and then we can stack our garbage next to it, and y’know what? We can also do some of our super-shitty graffiti while we’re at it.”

MOMS, I see you in the upper right-hand corner. MOMS are some of the worst offenders when it comes to total crap graffiti. Booo! I heard that it stands for “Marks On Most Surfaces,” and while their hack-job scribble is indeed annoyingly pervasive, I have to point out that most surfaces do not have that mark on them, so maybe y’all should change your tag to “MASSIVE FAIL?” And then stop tagging. Because you suck.

“Johnny Roll-Up” is a slang term for a patrol car that I learned while I was living in Chicago. I miss that town.

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“Don’t let the sexy exterior fool ya, inside is all class and elegance. Are those barrels of toxic goo, or just some left over body parts?”
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“The interior again, another perspective, same amount of ugly.”

The next time you’re eating at Gan Shan Station, I want you to look around at the beautiful decor, and think about the pictures above, especially these last two. Even if the food at Gan Shan tasted like ass, I would be eternally grateful to everyone involved, for turning this horrible abandoned BP station into something that isn’t a horrible abandoned BP station.

Fortunately, the food at Gan Shan doesn’t taste like ass. It’s really fucking good.

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This photo is from Instagram, where you can follow me at stuhelm33. I post lots of pictures of food, and an occasional squirrel or hot rod.

 

COCKTAIL – Dawn raved about her cocktail, which was called a “Song Dynasty.” I can’t tell ya one fuckin’ thing about it, except that it was mixed by our old friend Rex, from King James Public House, and that I loved the color. I really dig the color of the table tops at Gan Shan too. Good colors are important to me.

 

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Note the color of the plates and table-top, and the beautiful little bowl that the food was served in. The presentation at Gan Shan gets very high marks from me.

 

GREEN MANGO SALAD – Dawn enjoyed this appetizer a bit more than I did, but I still dug it. The radicchio was way too fucking bitter for me, so I shoved it aside, but Dawn likes radicchio, so that’s a matter of personal taste. The rest of the salad was fresh, tangy, bright, and the perfect way to quickly adjust my palate for what was to come. I eat a ton of American-South, South American, and European style food, so the bright, powerful fish-sauce flavor of this salad was a shock at first, but then I settled right into it, and I was like, “Oh, yeah, I remember this…” It took me back to when I lived in bigger cities with  more (and more varied) Asian and Asian-fusion restaurants. Good job, Gan Shan!

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We were excited to try the dumplings, and we were not disappointed.

 

7-VEGETABLE DUMPLINGS – They were fucking awesome. No joke. Dawn is a dumpling snob, and I can usually take-or-leave ’em, but we both loved these. They were very soft, though not mushy, and had a wonderful filling that (I’m just guessing here) was made up of 7 different vegetables, that were chopped fine, and somewhat indistinguishable from one another. I thought I detected sweet potato. Whatever the fuck was in these cute little dumples was very nice, and went extremely well with the dippin’ sauce that came with. We asked what makes them black on the outside, thinking that “squid ink” might be the answer, but instead it was “burnt bread.” What the…? It was explained to us that bread from City Bakery up the street is burnt several times over, until it’s like a fine black powder that they add to the dumpling flour.  Huh.  Whaddaya know about that.  Whatever makes ’em black — a Sharpie, Grandma’s ashes, one drop of pure evil — I don’t care, I’m already craving more of these things, and I can’t wait to try their other flavors!  MEEEAAAT! 

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EXTREEEME CLOSE-UP! Bok choy in yo FAAAACE!

 

CURRY PORK SPECIAL – As I like to do, I ordered the special of the night, and what made it even more special is that Chef Patrick himself came out to ask me what I thought of it, explaining that he had been thinking of adding it to the regular menu. Well, it was fan-fucking-tastic, and I told him so. First of all, the pork was cooked perfectly. Per. Fect. LEEE.  And it was lean as fuck. I eat a ton of very fatty pork all the time — from bacon to bellies, I am not shy of pig fat — but it was really nice to eat some lean, tender pork for a change. The curry sauce, pineapple, bok choy, and eggplant were all great too. The rice was a bit too sticky for me, but I ate a ton of it anyways. Dawn said she liked how sticky the rice was, so again, personal prefs come into play. There could have also been more curry sauce over-all for me.

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Gittin’ palmy wid it.

HEARTS OF PALM SALAD – The kitchen sent this out, and it was really really really good. I preferred it to the green mango salad, and even Dawn, who “hates” hearts of palm loved this crispy, fresh, mild, and crunchy li’l pile o’ stuff. We were getting very full, but we crushed it anyways.

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Again, presentation was tops. I love the yin-yangesque black/white divide down the center of this eggplant dish.

 

THIS EGGPLANT DISH – The kitchen also sent out a small portion of this eggplant dish (I don’t remember the actual name of the dish, so I’ll just call it “this eggplant dish.”) and it was awesome. Super-duper savory, at first I thought it might be way too salty, but when mixed with the rice, and taken in tandem with the hearts of palm salad all on one fork-full, it was just right. I would definitely order this eggplant dish again. The rice was less sticky, and I preferred it to the rice under that pork dish.

SERVICE – Rex of course was awesome, and our other server (who’s name I have not retained yet) was likewise awesome.  She was right on time, kept our water flowing, knew a lot about the menu, and inquired in the kitchen about those aspects she didn’t know. High marks for service all around.

MUSIC – The one and only complaint that Dawn and I had about this entire experience was the music. Good lord… it was awful. Coming from either the world’s most generic pandora station or a broken time-machine, it played every worn-out “oldie” that I never want to hear again for as long as I live. We sat through “Hound Dog,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and other ancient inanities from the sound track of any episode of Happy Days or Sha-Na-Na, until our ears wanted to cry real tears made out of blood. It’s the kind of music one might expect to hear in a fake-ass, tourist trap “diner” where the servers are forced to dress-up like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. I guess oldies were chosen at Gan Shan because… the building is an old gas station? Fuck if I know. We almost died from A-side-itus.

Here’s a suggestionRADIO ICHIBAN. You want oldies? They’ve got oldies. You want A-sides? Fuck A-sides.

Even podcasts of LOST & FOUND on WMBR would be better than the bullshit that was coming out of the speakers at Gan… Sha…

._.

I used to be really into oldies when I was a kid. I got sick of Bill Haley and the Comets by the time I was 3.

Aaanyhoodles…

Here’s The B.I.D., broke down even further for those of you who need shit explained in real simple terms…

FOOD – Mostly excellent, with a couple of minor things, like consistency of rice, and bitterness of radicchio that may bother some people, but others might enjoy.

ATMOSPHERE – Excellent color schemes, lighting, and general decor. Boring / annoying music.

SERVICE – Great! On time, knowledgeable, friendly, professional.  Also: REX!!!

B.I.D. – Stands for “Break It Down.” I always add “The” in front of it, even though that doesn’t make any grammatical sense, because… well…  that’s just how I do.

Will we be going back to Gan Shan Station? Fuck yes.

—-

DINNER TICKET – {Re}HAPPENING

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Photo by J Smilanic from the {Re}HAPPENING web site.

 

Did you know that the great and powerful Dawn Roe, my better half and frequently mentioned dinner companion, is a fantastically good artist, a college professor, and one of the organizers of {Re}HAPPENING 2015? She also writes for AshevilleGrit.com, under the banner “Dispatches from the B.A.D.”

Her latest piece gives you five reasons to attend {Re}HAPs this year, and I know that #4 will appeal to many of you:

“WNC Culinary Scene Sampling – Each year, {Re}HAPPENING supplements the visual and performance based artworks with culinary creations from local chefs, restaurants and food trucks (Gypsy Queen will be on site this year). Local beer and wine will also be available from Biltmore Winery, Wedge Brewing Co., and Highland Brewing, which has crafted a black IPA specifically for {Re}HAPPENING, called Abstract Black.”

You can read the rest of Dawn’s piece HERE, and be sure to purchase your Dinner Tickets HERE.

Dinner tickets include admission to the event, plus entry to the cocktail reception and special dinner.

COCKTAILS – In addition to the {Re}HAPPENING Abstract Black IPA, one of Asheville’s culinary super-stars, Elliot Moss will prepare an appetizer, and MG Road will craft a specialty drink exclusively for the cocktail hour.

DINNER – To be held at the historic Lake Eden Dining Hall, where Black-Eyed Susan Catering has designed a special menu of Southern dishes incorporating local, seasonal ingredients provided by sponsors Hickory Nut Gap Farm, Sunburst Trout Farms, and Earth Fare. French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Short Street Cakes will be the main dessert sponsors.

From the {Re}HAPPENING press release:

“The dinner is a significant component in the evening, fostering a sense of community and shared experience that informs the rest of the evening.”

So there you go! {Re}HAPPENING is part of the artistic, creative, and educational history of WNC, and now, it’s part of the growing food tradition of the area too. I know how much you sophisticated philistines like to chew on art and talk about food, so we’ll se ya there!

### END ###

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stu_helm_2013Stu 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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16 Comments

  1. Oh I’m glad to hear they might actually know what spicy is! That’s a big plus, because so many places in town claim they have spicy food and the heat level is wimpy. I look forward to trying it, although I’m disappointed in the prices. Noodle shops should be a very affordable haven for locals where they can afford to be regulars. We have 3 noodle shops now and they all are overpriced. Why not make the prices easy for us? They can always add some extra pricey small plates for tourists and special occasions.

    • Have you seen their menu? I would not call this a noodle shop. The price is reasonable for what they are offering up.

  2. I liked the food but everything had a heat level of 10!!! I needed to drink and eat rice to cool down. Why does everything have to be so hot that it makes everything taste the same?

  3. I like that Stu changed to “food fan” since that’s what he is. If he’s friends with staff and gets free food, so what, he’s a fan (when he was a critic, it bothered me a bit, but if he’s a fan, I really don’t care)

    For an actual mini-review of their vegetarian food….I’ll give you my take.

    First the background…I live up the street and have prayed for a good (vegetarian friendly) Chinese restaurant for more than 10 years. Regardless of their food, I too will love them forever just for cleaning up that shit-hole and launching a successful business in the neighborhood.

    But in two tries I am pretty disappointed by Gan Shan’s vegetarian food.

    Driving home one day I noticed they were open and popped in. It happened to be opening night (hey I drive up Baird every single day, so it was bound to happen). Completely packed, loud, great energy. Congrats on great opening.

    Being alone I got a table quick and was pretty psyched. Got 2 of the very few vegetarian things on the menu. Salt and pepper tofu app. Simple fried tofu that was boring and way too salty.

    For dinner I ordered the Mao Pao tofu, which I remember as pretty much the only veggie option.

    Not one of my favorite meals, but as a vegetarian, I’m used to selective options, and all I hope for is 1 or 2 killer dishes….then I have a new favorite place.

    Sadly, this too was way too salty. Rich brown dark sauce and tofu. Not much else. WAY too salty to even bring some home to wife. Even mixed with rice, the single note of tofu and salty brown sauce was a boring fail.

    But hey, it’s opening night, they’re slammed, and I guess I’m not their target audience.

    To be honest I didn’t judge them on it and I planned to go back, a couple times probably, to see what they can do. I WANT them to work for me. Was planning a night with a big group of friends (so we could really try every veggie dish), but it was -2 degrees that day (remember that?) and we cancelled.

    So lunch a few days ago on business. Again, 2 or 3 possible meals only. Veggie dumplings look/sound good, but $10 for an app of 5 little dumplings? Nah, not today.

    One special was tofu fried rice. Hhhhhm, they’re trying. But my banker asked “what comes with fried rice with blackened chicken?”. “Uh, fried rice and blackened chicken”. I figure the same is true of tofu fried rice so I pass. Plus I want to try their “regular” offerings so I can judge them better.

    Banker’s a boring eater (but he tries, he really tries. he always asks me to pick the place so he can try something new, but then he gets the most boring dish possible). Doesn’t bother me a bit and he gets the rice and chicken. Looked like boring fried rice with lots of chunks of very black, fancy chicken. He was happy, though I don’t know if that means anything.

    There’s a $15 vegetarian ramen on the menu. Way to expensive for lunch, but whatever, I don’t really care if it’s awesome.

    A large bowl only half filled arrives. Damn it’s way too salty, a very dark brown broth, and has the same basic flavor as the Mao Pao tofu. Sigh. I’m almost sure it’s the same exact flavor as the eggplant dish Stu mentioned, at this point the last item I haven’t tried that I can eat here).

    And let’s remember, Stu thought the eggplant was too rich/salty (and I would say single note) for him until he combined it with white rice AND his free hearts of palm salad. NOT criticizing Stu, just saying….how much you like the eggplant if it was your actual and only meal?

    Once I know a place, I want to be able to order 1 meal and eat it and be happy.

    Back to the Ramen. Half filled bowl of dark dark brown liquid with mostly just noodles. Already sad.

    I did like the whole, hard-boiled looking egg on top (that oozed yolk when broke). But no tofu and no veggies.

    Strips of chewy eggplant, which I eat but don’t like enough to eat them all. LOTS of noodles, which is ok, it being a noodle soup, but only if/when they mix with broccoli, tofu, and other bits of (surprise me) stuff to make it a real meal.

    I left thinking this guy just doesn’t really care about vegetarians. He may be doing great stuff with pork belly or whatever the f*&@* you all eat, but for me, I’m bummed.

    I love that they are busy and popular, but I also know it means he will never come around and offer what I really want and this town still doesn’t have (do I have to tell you?)

    I’ll wait a bit and go back probably, but I guess it will be the same and that will be that.

    All it really did was make me long for the Dai Lui noodle soup at The Noodle Shop. Quick report: very average vegetarian Chinese food, EXCEPT for 2 vegetarian soups that are great (Dan Dan being the other one).

    Dropped by there for lunch a few days later and had a huge bowl of great noodle soup for $6. Tofu, veggies, 3 times as large, multiple noodle options….that’s lunch.

    Oh don’t freak out, it’s just my opinion.

    🙂 Bill

  4. Fish. They do it well. Stick to the fish, and you will be happy.

  5. I had the pork belly soup when I went there. It was delicious, but I shared it. I don’t think I could eat that much fatty pork belly on my own. I had some other fishy special that was really good, too. It’s such a unique menu; its obvious the chef is having a good time. The music I was treated to was Pulp Fiction Soundtrack on repeat.

    The atmosphere was not my thing. I like cozy, and Gan Shan is more hipster-night on-the-town-esque. Hard surfaces, loud room, bright lights, and those industrial deco walls…

    The bar is the center piece, with those awesome hanging shelves and all the cooks right there to watch. This might be the only place where I would recommend the bar as a better place to sit than the tables.

    Pricey but not crazy pricey.

    For the record this is in my hood also, and I liked the dilapidated BP station. I guess I’m so resistant to all this growth and crowds in town that I don’t mind the run down buildings and empty lots around town. But Gan Shan is a cool place.

  6. weavervilleman says:

    Hey man, dont be bashing the classic rock and 80s music. That music is totally better than todays crap on the radio.

  7. I’m glad Stu went back, we’ve been going regularly after it’s opening and it really is awesome.

    Something they do amazingly, consistently well is fish….

    Congrats to Patrick and team for bringing something awesome to asheville!

  8. Did you pay for the meal at Gas Shan station? and if so, how much was it?

    • Not really sure how to take Stu these days…….on this page, he’s now the Food Fan and not the Food Critic. Yet, he still maintains his Food Critic Blog and his Food Critic channel. Fan or Critic? Which is it? Guess it depends on who is paying the bill.

  9. How is ‘Gan Shan’ pronounced? I’ve now heard it 3 different ways from people who swear they were told it was correct AT the restaurant.

    Clear it up for me…

  10. great..another review of a restaurant where everybody knows you are a food “critic” and sends out free food, you are buds with the bartender and the chef comes out to chat you up…why can’t you understand that a critic needs to be anonymous if the public is going to trust his/her opinions…

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