GAN SHAN STATION
Have you been to Gan Shan Station yet? Or maybe I should ask if you’ve been there recently? Because, if you went in early days and left with meh feelings, you need to go back, because now it’s fucking awesome.
Located up there on North Charlotte Street in what used to be one of the ugliest abandoned gas stations in Asheville (there are several), Gan Shan was long-awaited by the neighborhood and eaters alike, in a part of town that was really lacking in dining choices. Headed-up by Asheville hometowner, Chef Patrick O’Cain, I think we all wanted Gan Shan to be awesome, and I happen to know that there was some sense of disappointment among some of the eaters in town when Patrick finally opened his doors last year. I was even among those who had a spotty experience the first time I went, and the general consensus at the time was that about 75% of the food was great, but there were some major clunkers being served in between the great stuff. One dish I ate was so salty I was a little shocked, but y’know what? I mixed it in with the sticky rice, and ate it in conjunction with a delicious, sweet, tangy mango salad that we had ordered, and the salt was evened out perfectly, so I ended up really enjoying that “too salty” dish after all. There may have been a learning curve for me, as much as for the venue, in those first months.
Anyhoo… that was then and this is now, and the point of this quick review is to say that in my opinion, Gan Shan has ironed-out the wrinkles, smoothed-over any kinks, gotten past the “first time jitters,” or whatever you want to say, and now they are bangin’ out some of my favorite food in Asheville.
Dawn and I go there on the regs, and it’s one of her absolute fave places in town. She suggests it more often that most other places, and when we go, we usually sit at the bar, and watch the haps in the kitchen while we throw down some dumplings, a salad of some kind, and maybe a few small plates or a couple of entrees. The tofu & spinach salad with nettles is a new-ish dish that we’re are particularly fond of, and we look forward to on the drive over from our place. We even talk about it, as in, “I hope that fuckin’ tofu salad is on the menu!” “Yeah! Nom nom nom !” Yes, we do actually talk to each other that way. Absolutely true.
Chef O’Cain assured us that this wonderful dish will remain on the menu for the immediate future.
It may not look like much, but this tofu salad is freakin’ delicious. It’s basically a tight, little, dome-shaped mound of crumbled tofu, spinach, and nettles, with crunchy stuff on top, and a sweet sticky drizzle over the whole thing. Served cooler than room temp, it is both light and filling, refreshing and substantial, and it tastes fantastic. I recommend it highly.
You say you don’t eat tofu? Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I guess you’re SOL.
Back in the 1970’s people made a lot fun of tofu and acted like it’s not a “real” food. Some people still feel that way. Idiots. I eat the fuckin’ shit outta some tofu and either love it or hate it, or give it the meh, based entirely on how well it’s prepared. The tofu salad at Gan Shan Station is prepared perfectly. Do yourself a favor and get over any weird anti-tofu feelings you have, and give it a try. If you just genuinely don’t like tofu, as in: you’ve tried it, you’re just not a fan, that’s cool, there’s plenty of other cold, salady type dishes for you to try at Gan Shan, and so far all of the ones we’ve tried have been great.
One of Dawn’s complaints about the food scene in Asheville is that it skews very much in the direction of “Dude Food,” deep fried things, and heavy dishes. I joke that even the vegetables in Asheville contain 33% pork products, and that butter seems to be measured by the bucketful rather than the stick here down South. So, one of the things Dawn loves about Gan Shan Station is that she can get some lighter fare. Not only the salads, but also the dumplings are light, the fish dishes are light, and even the spicy beef dish I ate the other night was light. It was beautiful in fact. The beef was tender and cut into very edible strips. It came with fresh, pan fried okra, chili peppers, peanuts, sticky rice, and a fuck-load of spices on top. No thick, goopy sauce. No misplaced bacon. Not one piece of fat or gristle on the beef. I mixed it all together and ate the fuck out that shit, and didn’t feel like a disgusting bag of human lard afterward. Yay.
So, basically, I hereby officially endorse Gan Shan Station as one of my Top Eateries in Asheville, and suggest that if you haven’t been there lately, do that soon. Try a bunch of stuff. Mix it all together. Use chopsticks. Be daring and choose things you normally wouldn’t eat. Have fun at Gan Shan and open your mind and palate to what Patrick and his crew have got going on. The service is great; the atmosphere is bright, open, airy, and attractive; the ceramic dishes are awesome, and made by Warren Wilson students; and the new outdoor seating might be some of the best in town. Oh, and they have new art on the walls.
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“Gàn Shān Station brings a dining experience unlike any other to Asheville diners. Experience our East Asian inspired cuisine today.”
GAN SHAN STATION
143 Charlotte St
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster 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.