There’s something odd about the aesthetic of Ginger Park. The interior, inherited from its predecessor Banq, seems like a combination of an underground sand bunker and an ear canal.  Like when Han Solo landed the Milennium Falcon in the belly of the space slug, you get the feeling that at any moment the restaurant could come alive and swallow you up. If it did, you’d be consumed along with some occasionally very tasty and otherwise just kind of tasty asian food. The menu is fairly long, ensuring there will be at least a few things for everyone. And in keeping with the Boston area trend away from three course meals and towards small plates (or, in my case, 5 course meals), Ginger Park encourages you to order a spattering of dishes to share with your friends. This trend irks me for several reasons. First, this can lead to occasionally awkward group ordering should hunger not be equally distributed amongst your party.  Erring on the side of too much food solves this problem, but is that really a position I want to be put in? Second, if group dining and sharing is the idea then offer some dishes that deserve to be shared – not plates where you have to ask how many dumplings come with an order to ensure everyone gets a bite. Specials that cater to groups of 4,6, 8 people. Something akin to the Bo Ssam at Momofuku in New York would not only be a more appropriate group dish but also be a unique addition to Boston restaurants more generally. I digress.

The food at Ginger Park is good. How good? Not good enough to persuade me to regularly pay twice the amount I would in Chinatown or Allston for dishes with the same flavors but that are less aesthetically pleasing. But good enough to make me go back when I want to accompany those flavors with good drinks and  a nice outfit. Here’s what we got:

Stir-Fried Silver Pin Noodles w/ snow tofu, bean sprouts

Dolsit Bi Bim Bap

Duck confit and chinese sausage fried rice w/ sunny side up egg

Tea smoked duck, mandarin pancakes, roasted plums

fried fish special

The only disappointment was the whole fish. Not a lot of meat on them bones. The “mandarin” pancakes were essentially  scallion pancakes, and a mediocre version at that. They didn’t compare to Gourmet Dumpling House. I appreciated the kitchen’s willingness to drop a raw egg on the bi bim bap – not too many restaurants would risk offending the squeamish with that move. Both rice dishes and the noodle dish were quite tasty.

While there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly new or exciting about the food at Ginger Park, we were happy with our meal and it does seem to fill a niche in Boston. Asian food tends to come in a casual if not downright dirty atmosphere (not counting Japanese which lends itself quite nicely to an upscale environment, as evidence by O Ya, Oishii, etc..). While there are a couple places that try to defy the stereotype (PF Chang’s? maybe Ginger Exchange?) Ginger Park is to my knowledge the only restaurant serving this kind of food in a trendy atmosphere. One where you might take a date, or meet with co-workers after a long day in your suits. I think that will keep it alive, and makes it worth a visit when that’s what you’re looking for.

Ginger Park on Urbanspoon

Last night Liz and I, and our friends Simon and Vicki, attended a high school alumni event at Blue Ginger in Wellesley which doubled as a celebration of their newly renovated function hall. A 4 course dinner with wine pairing and Ming Tsai was on hand to talk about it all. Here is the menu:

Shiitake- Leek Springrolls with Three-Chile Dipping Sauce, Crispy Calamari with Thai Dipping Sauce N.V. Chateau Moncontour Sparkling Vouvray

Sake-Miso Marinated Alaskan Butterfish, Wasabi Oil, Soy-Lime Syrup and Vegetarian Soba Noodle Sushi 2005 Qupe “Y Block” Chardonnay

Aromatic Braised Beef Shortrib, Scallion Mashed Potatoes and Green Papaya- Thai Basil Salad 2004 Bodegas Nieto-Sentiner “Don Nicanor”

Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brulee and Bittersweet Chocolate Cake 2004 Jorge Ordonez Co #1 Seleccion Especial Moscatel

Every dish is served in the restaurant except for the shortrib, so most of my ramblings will be relevant to an experience in the main dining room. Everyone enjoyed the spring rolls and calamari, but primarily because of the incredible dipping sauces. Both had a soupy consistency, which I much prefer to a thicker dipping sauce, but packed as much flavor as even the most reduced sauce. The spring rolls and calamari themselves were more of a conduit for these truly delicious sauces. I thought the calamari were a bit too far removed from the fryer to be great, but I am sure this is a result of the fact that they were serving a party of 85, and a normal dining experience would have the food go from stove to table much quicker. The Vouvray was interesting on its own but lost something with the food. I’m not sure that any other pairing would have worked, however, seeing as there were so many flavors packed into those sauces (we kept them after the empty plates had been taken away to have on their own).

On to the butterfish. This dish was perfect. Ming came out of the kitchen to describe the evolution of the dish – a concept he borrowed from Nobu Matsuhisa. It was hearty, and delicate, and interesting and absolutely delicious. Every plate was cleaned. I strongly recommend someone at your table getting it should you go, and it alone is worth the ride to Wellesley. From the silky texture of the fish, to the wasabi oil, to the roe, to the surprisingly good noodle-sushi, there is nothing I would change about it and I hope it stays on the menu indefinitely. Meh on the chardonnay. When people describe the stereotypical california chardonnay this wine is what I picture- buttery, oaky. The fish made it taste better, but the fish made water taste better too.

The shortrib with mashed potatoes was solid, but nothing special. You can’t really go wrong by braising a shortrib, but there’s a ceiling on what simply braising can do for you. I like a melt in your mouth tender piece of meat as much as the next person, but it was a much simpler creation and so a bit of a downer, at least relative to the butterfish. Also, I am beginning to wonder about the texture of short ribs in general. Often times when I have had it in restuarants, or made it myself, the short ribs have layers of fat not surrounding the meat, but within the meat. I’m not sure if this is the norm, or if the fattiness of a short rib is a signal of quality. The wine was a cabernet sauvignon and malbec blend, so great with the braised meat.

The desserts satisfied. Not much to say about them. The bittersweet chocolate cake wasn’t overwhelming, as they often times are, which I appreciated. Likewise for the creme brulee – not as viscous as most creams so a bit more refreshing than your typical creme brulee.

Overall, Blue Ginger is definitely worth the time and effort to get there from the city (traffic can be horrible on route 9 and 16 particularly from 4 to 7). Stick with the fish dishes and you can’t go wrong. For example, in glancing at the menu you see things like hangar steak with red wine sauce and new zealand rack of lamb with garlic demi glace. I am sure these are good, but they look like throw ins to satisfy the meat-eaters and will not be what brings you back to Blue Ginger.

Blue Ginger on Urbanspoon

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