Blue Ginger (Wellesley, MA)

(Update: Ming Tsai closed Blue Ginger in 2017. Several of his other restaurants remain open, but I always enjoyed that Ming Tsai himself was usually working Blue Ginger)

To celebrate Carol’s birthday last month, we took another trip down to Boston to enjoy some more culinary adventures. We started off with a repeat brunch visit to Sofra, where this time I did get the shakshuka, which was excellent). After a pleasant day of sightseeing, coffee drinking (I rather recommend the fairly new dwelltime in Cambridge), and shopping, we ended up in Wellesley, MA at Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger.

I’ll be honest, I’m generally not into the whole celebrity chef scene, since usually by the time a chef becomes a “celebrity”, almost by definition they are spending more time outside their kitchen than in it, and few chefs seem to be able to do that without quality suffering. But we’ve always liked nicely done East-West fusion food, and for a variety of reasons, Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger has been on our “We should try it out” list, despite the fact that it has rather mixed reviews(on most every Boston Globe). Well, we finally had the opportunity, so we figured it would be a good place to celebrate.

Our first observation upon arriving at Blue Ginger was that it has quite the inviting interior, with nice lighting (dim, but not dark), nice furniture, and most of the seating looks over either the bar or the kitchen. We settled into a rather nice table directly next to the kitchen, which gave us a good view of the food preparation and the expediting. The other thing we noticed right away was that Ming Tsai was actually the person expediting, so at least for our night, he was carefully checking each dish as it came out of the kitchen (indeed, we saw him send back lobster, twice, for being overcooked). In general, we took that to be a good sign, and it was rather enjoyable to watch him inspecting the food and coaching the cooks.

Starting off, I rather liked the cocktail and wine list at Blue Ginger. Predictably, about half of the cocktail specials involved…. ginger But I’m one of those people that proudly proclaim that in the English language, the phrase “too much ginger” is logically inconsistent, so I rather enjoyed this, and started off with a Ginger Collins. A variant of the standard Collins with gin, ginger and yuzu Juice, served up in a glass rimmed with sugar, ginger, and black sesame(!), this was actually a rather enjoyable cocktail. The Goslings Ginger Storm I followed it up with was similarly good. Carol opted instead for the beer list, going for a Pretty Things Jack D’or Saison, which was quite good as well.

After the cocktails, we moved into the appetizers. I opted for the spring rolls, which are another house specialty. These were basically fried shiitake-leek spring rolls, cut in half after cooking, and served up with a chile dipping sauce. While good, these weren’t earthshaking, since I can now get very similar dishes from any number of Vietnamese-inspired restaurants (which seem to be popping up in most any metro area).

Carol fared a bit better with her duck confit appetizer, which was a soy and yuza glazed duck leg served up with a salad. This was a perfectly done confit, soft and tender and starting to fall off the bone, with a very delicate glaze that had just enough yuzu tang to make it

Moving into the main courses, I opted for the Szechwan chicken. Szechwan spicing (especially peppercorns) is one of those things that’s easy to overdo, but here it was executed with the right amount of balance, with just enough of a Szechwan hit to give it a slight kick. The chicken itself was nicely tender, while having nicely crisped skin. The sauce was primarily sriracha (if not straight from the Huy Fong bottle, it was a very close homemade approximation), but it really worked with this dish. Paired with a packet of very flavorful sticky rice with seasoned pork belly, and a nice pile of braised mustard greens in a soy-based sauce, and this was a rather enjoyable entree for me.

Carol got one of the house specialties: the butterfish. This has been one of their specialties for a long time (although when they opened, this dish was the then-popular but now considered particularly unsustainable Chilean sea bass), and it’s been generally served up the same way: marinated in a miso-soy mix, served up with wasabi oil and a soy-lime syrup, and paired with a soba-noodle maki roll. It’s worth noting that this dish is still a bit of a controversy (Blue Ginger got roped into the Boston Globe’s mis-labeled fish controversy), so the servers made it almost painfully clear that the “butterfish” we were ordering was actually “black cod”, but aside from that drama, it was

We finished with donuts. Yeah, donuts. Five spice donuts. Overall, these were just donuts, but it was a very nicely done example of said pastry. A really fluffy interior. A nice crispy exterior, with a good coating of five spice powder. And cooked up in some fresh oil (no odd lingering flavors of other things cooked in the same oil) with out a lot of excess greasiness. The result was a pleasant dessert that wasn’t quite as heavy as I thought it would be.

Overall, Blue Ginger gave us a rather enjoyable meal served up by a very attentive and capable staff, and everything we had was well prepared. The dishes were well-conceived, and the flavors were good. However, it wasn’t terribly avante garde; it may have been so 10 years ago when they opened (and when we originally placed it on our “hit list”), but much of the menu is pretty straightforward fusion food now, albeit well-executed versions. I have a feeling Blue Ginger has lost a bit of it’s luster, but it’s still a reliable and enjoyable dining experience.

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