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Seeking Abundance in a Time of Scarcity

November 26, 2008

Speaking of scarcity, sorry about the vast blog silence.  The blogging bug was buzzing elsewhere.  Letting me know you’re out there always keeps me inspired.  Plus I REALLY want to start posting more pictures, but I’m having a hard time getting there, so bear with me.

First off, some news:  One of the loveliest, most sensuous food writers in America just got canned!  For more on this story, check out THIS ARTICLE from the NY Times.  Au Revoir, Gael Greene.  You may be elitist, shamelessly partial, and a big heaping bowl of fun, but at least you went down in a blaze of glamorous glory. 

Now, back to the goods.  What has Gourmet Grrl been eating during these troubled times?  The answer is potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens, squash, and more squash.  And more greens.  I don’t know what I’m going to do when my winter farm box ends this week.  Lately I have ventured out and tried a few of Asheville’s newer venues.  Among them, The Stir Fry Cafe.

This was a little trip down bad memory lane, but it was Sunday afternoon, I was desperate for Asian, I couldn’t convince my Partner-In-Dine to head to the Noodle Shop for the 10 millionth time, and I was annoyed at Doc Chey’s.  More on that later.  So we drove down to South Asheville for a taste of the grotesquely shiny new addition to Asheville Generic Pan-Asian Cuisine. 

The great irony is that in Knoxville, TN in the 90’s, there was only one semi-decent Asian restaurant.  Coming from Chicago, this was a severely depressing statistic.  My family dined at the Stir Fry Cafe on a monthly basis, even though the wonton soup gave me hives and sent my heart racing- not in a good way.  But Knoxvillians were full-fledged MSG addicts, bowl-bellied victims of the Chinese Buffet craze, and the Stir Fry Cafe wasn’t about to start anybody on a 12 step program.  No, they played right along with the devastation of Kingston Pike, West Knoxville’s main drag of chain, disguising themselves as chic in wolf’s clothing.   The muted colors beckoned to customers, announcing a healthy alternative to Moo Goo Gai Pan Mountain down the street.  Compared to General Tso, “Stir Fry” sounded like some exotic creation from a faraway rice paddy rather than something I could have thrown together in my own kitchen in 15 minutes, but with twice the oil and fat.  And so they flocked to The Stir Fry Cafe, in drooling droves.

This Asheville version is bigger, glitzier, and more like a reality-show setting than the original Knoxville restaurant.  They are clearly trying to compete with the P.F. Chang’s that’s going up in a few months.  The menu looks promising, with Thai options, Chinese options, and now. . . sushi!  Don’t be fooled. 

Their Thai iced tea was straight from a box of powder.  My lips pursed with the sticky sweetness, so sweet I could barely taste any remnants of tea leaves.   Despite all common sense, I tried the wonton soup again!  I wanted to find out if their MSG levels were still as chart-topping as they had been a few years ago.  When none of the signature cold sweat shakes grabbed me, I breathed a sigh of relief and actually tasted my dish.  It seems they’ve replaced the MSG with salt.  Usually not one to complain about salt, it’s also rare to taste a soup that parches me rather than nourishes.  It didn’t help that one of the rubbery wontons was apparently meat-free.  On to the stir fries: I tried the twice cooked pork with spicy sauce.  Although the variety of vegetables was above standard, the pork was so much more bland than I had imagined.  If twice cooked means first boiled and then lightly sauteed, I want no part of it.  I had envisioned a crispiness giving away to the tender meat within, but instead I was offered some tough hunks of white meat pork.  I gave up chewing after five minutes, and moved on to the peppers, canned pineapple, mushrooms and water chestnuts.  The sauce they were fried in was not spicy, nor was it sweet.  It just kind of was. 

My advice: don’t bother with the Stir Fry Cafe on Hendersonville Road.  If you’re in that part of town, just drive the extra few miles to Tamarind for a much more flavorful experience, or let the Darwinian chips fall where they may when P.F. Chang’s finally comes to town. 

Happy Turkey Carving!  I’m going to eat my first goose this year.  I’ve heard wonderful things about goose, but you’ll have to wait a couple of days for the full report.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2008 7:35 pm

    Glad you’re back, just in time for the best food holiday of them all! Our gifted pre-Thanksgiving CSA box had rutabegas, sweet potatoes and bags upon bags of greens. We are, quite literally, greening our table this year. Happy eating.

  2. November 26, 2008 7:58 pm

    My husband spoke more highly of Stir Fry, but after our experience at O’Naturals right beside them, I did not have high expectations. Too bad this end of town couldn’t keep China Palace South in business; although I did hear that they may return with a take out/delivery location.

    Happy thanksgiving! I enjoy reading your blog, and I look forward to photos!

  3. Stacey permalink
    December 2, 2008 2:36 pm

    So glad you’re back! And I loved the pics from your No-Turkey day – your feast looked fabulous.

    So why no love for Doc Chey’s? I was there on 11/21 and enjoyed it. I also got to see Amy Ray (of Indigo Girls fame) slurping noodles from a bowl. Very cool.

  4. December 3, 2008 10:22 am

    Oooh, right. We skipped Doc Chey’s because I’ve eaten everything on their concise, fresh, yet limited menu over a million times, so you can imagine my excitement when I noticed the special of the day last week was a basic version of Bim Bim Bop!!! I noticed the sign on Saturday evening, and I couldn’t contain my thrill at the thought trying their version of classic Korean comfort food as soon as I could, which was the following Sunday afternoon. We walked in to find they were completely out of ingredients for Bim Bim Bop, just twelve hours later. I was so upset I stormed right out. But I don’t hold a food grudge very well. I’ll be back next week.

  5. March 26, 2009 10:19 pm

    Hello I’m the manager of Stir Fry Cafe here in Asheville and i would love to have a second chance, we have worked out most of our kinks trying to become a MSG free and low sodium establishment. All I’m asking is for a second chance to redeem ourselves.

    Hopefully your next experience will be a lot better and please ask for one of the management team to make sure we meet all your expectations.

    Thank you very much.

    Miguel Villafane

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