East meets Western North Carolina in a blend of authentic flavors, decor and architecture in downtown Asheville’s newly opened Red Ginger Dim Sum and Tapas restaurant. The downtown Asheville eatery, which at press time was scheduled to open Tuesday, Feb. 16, boasts ruddy red-orange and gray walls framed by white classic Americana subway tiles, repurposed barn wood and authentic Chinese artwork and ceramics.
Owner Mary “Mai” Medvedev describes the look as warm and comfortable with a modern twist. All of the artwork is from China except for the locally painted blue and white mural that greets guests upon arrival, she notes, but about 90 percent of the building materials are locally sourced, including the North Carolina rainbow poplar tables.
And while the space feels new and modern, Medvedev promises a taste experience infused with centuries of tradition.
“Dim sum is very unique Chinese food,” she explains. “Not everybody can have a restaurant, because authentic dim sum is not something that can be taught at school. The tradition of dim sum is based in heritage: One learns the art of making it over many years.”
Executive chef Tai Tsi Lam, for example, has almost 40 years of experience under his belt, and to become an independent dim sum chef he had to study under a master for 10 years.
“All spices and ingredients are exactly what [Chinese people] eat,” says Medvedev. “In my mind, I always wanted to create a menu where we present exactly what you would find in your Chinese friend’s home.”
Medvedev got her start in the restaurant business in 1993, when she opened the Peking Duck House in New Orleans, which she ran for six years. She also owns the Japanese restaurant Umi in Hendersonville. But opening a dim sum restaurant was a dream that Medvedev had long held dear.
Dim sum is Cantonese; it began as an accompaniment to tea for travelers during the time of Marco Polo, she explains. As time went on, it came to be included in Sunday brunches, family events, celebrations and now restaurants and hotels.
And if you think dim sum is strictly dumplings, guess again. There are also such diverse dishes as steamed meatballs, sticky rice with chicken, taro cake and spring rolls.
Everything in the restaurant is made from scratch using traditional methods, says Medvedev.
And while she promises authentic flavors and ingredients, Medvedev has broken with tradition when it comes to service.
Typically, dim sum dishes are precooked and wheeled to the table on carts, so diners can see what they’re choosing. At Red Ginger, patrons order from a menu and their food is prepared upon request. But the dishes will still arrive in traditional bamboo steamer baskets.
In addition to the dim sum menu, the restaurant also offers its take on tapas, prepared by chef Hao Jiang, formerly of Umi. The tapas menu features dishes such as grilled sea scallops and baked Chilean sea bass.
The house wines come from the Russian Chapel Hills Winery in Columbus, which Medvedev and her Russian-born husband, Andrey, own and run. Restaurant patrons can also choose from an extensive list of local beers, wines, sake and cocktails.
There are also many locally sourced ingredients: Red Ginger’s chicken comes from Joyce Farms in Winston-Salem, and the pork and steak from Hickory Nut Gap Farm.
“I think this is a good addition to the city, because our menu features food that doesn’t exist in the area,” Medvedev points out. “I’m really proud of this and happy to serve this community.”
And in case you were wondering if the restaurant’s opening was planned to coincide with the Chinese New Year — which began Feb. 8, Mendvedev says it was just a happy coincidence. “But, from feng shui, this is a perfect Chinese New Year,” she notes.
Red Ginger Dim Sum and Tapas is at 82 Patton Ave. and is open 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. Prices range from $5-$18. Reservations are accepted for parties of six or more. For more information, visit redgingerasheville.com.