Mastering The Art Of Tongue Twisting
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
For every industry, there is a pinnacle of achievement. In the restaurant business, many chefs believe that they have only made it when they open a brick and mortar in New York, San Francisco, or (increasingly in recent years) Boston. Yet for all his popular and critical acclaim, former Iron Chef and owner of Blue Ginger, Ming Tsai, is a black sheep who shrugs at convention and is steadfastly confident in his Wellesley location, despite calls for him to open a second location in nearby Boston to claim greater foot traffic. It’s a confidence that pays off in dividends for both the performance and the flavor of Blue Ginger.
With a weekly rotating menu, Blue Ginger takes advantage of seasonal and local produce, but still relies on a core of dishes that highlight its unique French-Asian fusion, such as the Crispy Fried Calamari with Thai dipping sauce. To create this single-bite, multi-ethnic explosion in another appetizer, Tsai takes arguably the most classic French ingredient—foie gras—and jazzes it up with shiitake mushrooms and wraps the succulent mix in a perfectly portioned shumai. To re-envelope the French flair of the dish, the shumai is brought to the table in a bamboo plate that is hiding a sauternes-shallot broth underneath. Completely different from the traditional soy sauce put on top of shumai, this broth adds a rich and slightly sweet flavor to the dish, mixing tantalizingly with the savory mushroom.
There is also a great deal of flexibility within the kitchen, as demonstrated by the self-named Blue Ginger Charcuterie Plate. The artfully arranged platter highlights duck prosciutto, foie gras torchon, and country pate with tangy and almost spicy mustard as well as a sweeter cranberry spread that each draw out different flavors of the same meat. The simple wheat bread accompaniment is the perfect closer to the sensational dish since it maximizes the speed from table to taste buds.
This kind of bait and switch dominates the menu, taking what diners know about either French or Asian cuisine and turning it on its head. In the main course, Tsai chooses hearty dishes that rarely dominate a high-end restaurant and leans heavily on the Asian flavoring, using hoisin, soy, curry, and Thai spices. In the pan-seared scallops, it is not the meat that gives the dish such a cutting flavor (although the scallops are perfectly cooked to have a slight resistance at first bite that gives way to a tender inside), but rather the accent foods: a coconut risotto and ponzu broccoli rabe with Thai lobster bisque drizzled over it all. Likewise, Tsai takes a simple staple—the chicken breast—and layers the hoisin glaze on the bird with soy-ginger sauce for a multi-flavored experience in every bite.
Under the expert experience of pastry chef Michele Fadden—whose journey to Blue Ginger was a rambling path leading from a love of chocolate to a full fledged career—the dessert course is as seamless a combination of East and West as the rest of Tsai’s creations. Fadden’s only prior restaurant experience was at Via Matta in Boston, but she was snatched up by Blue Ginger after converting Tsai himself to the merits of fruit and chocolate combined. The five spice apple fritters with cider glaze is the quintessential fall dessert and does not disappoint, with the silky smooth texture and perfectly accented cinnamon ice cream.
Perhaps the most impressive cog in the culinary machine that is Blue Ginger is how smoothly everything runs with an incredibly large floor. Some chefs are forced into smaller spaces to accommodate city locations, such as the big three culinary centers of the country (perhaps another reason Tsai is uninterested in moving his restaurant), and as such, many chefs are never tried at high-scale and high-quantity. But with the astute help of general manager (or food-bouncer, as some might mistakenly interpret his serious demeanor) Daniel Adelson, Tsai gives an attentive, individualized experience to every single diner who unwinds at Blue Ginger.n