Historically, dim sum was a tea accompaniment fed to weary travelers passing through China on the Silk Road international trade route. Today, local restaurateur Mary (Mai) Mendvedev is preparing to serve her take on the flavorful small plates from 82 Patton Ave., where she plans to open Red Ginger Dimsum & Tapas by late October. The restaurant will seat 90 diners inside and 30 more on the covered patio.
“I’m doing a different style [of authentic Chinese food]. I’m doing tapas style— all small plates,” she says, “and I’m doing an open kitchen.”
Currently, if you want dim sum, Mendvedev says, you have to go to large metropolitan cities outside of Western North Carolina, because authentic dim sum doesn’t pair well with the south.
“One major reason is, it would be hard to find a dim sum chef, because it takes a long time to become [one],” she says, boasting the 40 years of experience held by chef Tai Tsi Lam, who she’s partnering with for the venture. “My chef is from Hong Kong. He almost grew up in the kitchen, and he followed a master for 10 years before he became an executive chef.”
Mendvedev says she moved to WNC about a decade ago and quickly fell in love with the healthy, locally-focused lifestyle. By applying those concepts to her culinary aspirations, she hopes to break the stereotypes surrounding Chinese food, namely that it’s unhealthy, low quality fast-food.
“I’m proud to tell all of my customers that when you go visit China, what they eat, you’re going to eat here,” she says. Ranging from five dollars up, Mendvedev’s small plates are “quality and 100 percent handmade,” she says, noting an extreme commitment to locally sourced ingredients.
Her proposed menu already includes dozens of colorful dishes: egg custard tarts, noodle rolls and dumplings of all varieties, miso clam soup, roast duck legs, tempura prawn, black truffle shumais, red ginger pumpkin turnovers, crispy spring rolls and Asian-style churrasco beef, to name a few.
Mendvedev’s dedication to local sourcing extends beyond her ingredients to include the architects, designers and builders employed during the restaurant’s renovations, “and I used a lot of recycled materials and reclaimed wood,” she says. “I’m going to have a huge mural by a local artist on the wall.”
Red Ginger’s hours, Mendvedev says, will emulate other lunch-and-dinner establishments downtown, and hiring for the restaurant will be underway soon.
In addition to co-owning Umi Sushi in Hendersonville, Mendvedev says she spent years building up a loyal customer base in Asheville during her employment at Wasabi.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all of [those] regular customers,” she says, “and I’m really looking forward to presenting my own country’s food. … This is my dream.”