Four years ago I turned down the opportunity to visit Blue Ginger with a group of friends. I've been regretting it ever since. As soon as I found out that I was going to the greater Boston area, I made reservations. When we were able to book my wife to join me for a couple of days, I made a second reservation. I was finally going to be able to make up for four years ago.
Blue Ginger is owned by Chef Ming Tsai, host of such shows as East Meets West, Ming's Adventure and Simply Ming. He is also the author of a couple of cookbooks, including the Blue Ginger cookbook. This was not the first celebrity restaurant that I'd been to, but it was the first that I had truly looked forward to before walking through the door.
My first visit was with my old friend JackBrad, who I haven't seen since I finished cooking school and left New Hampshire four years ago. Expecting the traffic to be terrible, we gave ourselves extra time to get there. As it turns out, traffic was uncharacteristically relaxed, and we got there over an hour before our scheduled reservation. That considered, we were happy to wait. But the hostess decided to seat us immediately anyway, giving us a choice between "the foutain table" and "a table in the back". We opted for the fountain table, situated squarely between the hostess stand and what seemed to be some sort of prep room for the wait staff. Oh, and it was right next to the small fountain in the front of the restaurant.
The restaurant seemed to have been opened several years ago, with no rennovations since opening day. It was nice, but perhaps just a little worn. Not surprisingly considering the restaurant name, the water glasses were dark blue. The bread basket had sourdough, some kind of yellowish bread (challah?) and some kind of triangular, crispy sesame chips. The sesame chips were surprisingly flavorful. The yellow bread was okay. The sourdough was pretty good. The man who filled our water glasses made sure we never ran out. Our waitress checked on us regularly. It was shaping up to be a good meal.
We started with "Fragrant Thai Mussels with Lime Leaf and Green Papaya". Our waitress brought us a fresh bread basket, making sure to note that with mussels, the best part is dipping bread in the juice from the mussels. We did not attempt to dip the sesame chips, but the sourdough bread soaked in mussel juice was awesome. However, the yellow bread was not a good companion to seafood. In fact, it reminded me of a wet sock. Stick with the sourdough.
I went with the "Chile Rubbed Duck Breast with Fresh Plum Sauce and Peach Teriyaki", and on my second visit, my wife ordered the same. We agreed that it was easily the best duck we'd ever had. Remember when I said that proper duck should be medium rare? Thanks to this dish, I don't know that I will order duck anything but rare again. The spices that it was encrusted in were not overpowering as I expected. In fact, they were nothing but complimentary. While the duck was good on its own, it only got better when dipped in the accompanying sauces. It was served with a Johnnycake made with crispy duck confit and a grilled haricot verts salad that would be so amazing on its own as to make me consider vegitarianism. Fortunately, the duck helped me keep my senses about me.
On my second visit, my wife and I arrived just a few minutes early. There was a table just finishing up dessert, so we waited at the bar. I ended up ordering the house ginger ale while waiting, mostly because I'm a sucker for really good ginger ale. It was strong, but not spicy strong. It had obviously been made with fresh ginger, and just the right amount. I would really have loved it had it not been so sweet. In fact, it felt a little like drinking candy. I'm a big believer in very dry ginger ale, and this wasn't it. But it was still good.
We started that meal with "Crispy Fried Calamari with Thai Dipping Sauce". The calamari was good, though honestly nothing special. Its purpose was obviously to let the dipping sauce shine. Unfortunately, the sauce was little more than lime and cilantro, and perhaps a bit overpowering at that. Before long I had figured out just how much dipping sauce to put on each piece of squid, and it ended up being quite tasty overall.
I'm not a big fan of lamb by itself, but regardless I decided to try out the "New Zealand Rack of Organic Lamb with Three Mustard Sauce". The lamb was okay, but not enough to make me forget about the duck. Next visit, I will likely order the duck again. The veggies with the lamb were okay, but nothing to get too excited about. It makes me think that perhaps a little too much thought went into the dish, and it ended up perhaps just a little contrived.
We didn't have enough room for dessert on my second trip, but it would be criminal not to mention the dessert from my first meal. JackBrad and I both ended up getting a "Bittersweet Chocolate Cake" with a sugar crisp and cardamom ice cream. I highly suspect the cake did not have any flour in it, it was so dense. It might have had sugar, but not enough to call it sugary; just enough to keep the chocolate from being too much. The cardamom ice cream cut through the chocolate, making a pleasant contrast that was both smooth and spicy (but not hot spicy, of course). I wanted to order it again the second time, but I wouldn't have been able to hold it all.
The service was decent for my second visit (on a Saturday), but not nearly as good as my first (on a Tuesday). We did a lot of waiting, and I think the food might have suffered for it. It certainly didn't look any busier on Saturday. If anything, it looked just a tad less busy. It reminds me of Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential talking about how Tuesday is one of the best days a person can dine out. Blue Ginger might just have been proof of that. But all such theories aside, it was still an excellent meal.
If you happen to be in the Boston area, you would do well to stop by Blue Ginger. Make sure to call ahead, reservations are required. It's a little pricier than your standard Applebees, but worth every penny and then some. Ming seems to run a good kitchen, and his floor staff seem to think highly of him. He reminds me of why I became obsessed with food in the first place. Blue Ginger gets 4 1/2 Rhulmans.