Wellesley: Blue Ginger

Let's Eat by Kitty Kaufman

Ming with the other Julia Ming Tsai: Here he is, framed with Julia, the other one. No, they're not in the same story but they could be. It's what he was up to in the spring of 2000 while the pretty woman was scoring another accolade, and really, would you object? The advent of Blue Ginger brought the renewing of food as theatre without flames, and exploring other people's kitchens. We'd had Asian food, of course, but not Asian in the age of Ming. Thanks to him, we all grew in ways we hadn't known we could. It turns out, at least for me, the growing goes on, kitchens beckon and the subtlety of a margarita made by one who takes the time to squeeze limes is not taken lightly.

blue ginger blues Diane and I are here for lunch. Ming's east/west creations still set standards for originality. You're missing out if you think this place is just for special occasions; a mid-week lunch for no reason works. No detail is too small and yes, you can tell. I remember when it opened in 1998, the press, scoring a reservation and drooling. Urban legends remind us to be thankful. Legends, when they're lucky, get to live on. Until they move on but never mind.

Ginger big salad The dining room is formal so we'd rather the bar. Someone's wishing it were later so we could watch the bartender. Our server is prompt and Diane orders a big salad, the Asian chopped chicken salad with candied cashews and hot mustard vinaigrette. There are crispy wontons not like any other wontons you know, with lime. Not that it needs it: the dressing is spectacular with honey, hot mustard, maybe vinegar. Someone roasted that chicken moments ago and laid it in an array of ice cold lettuce. Diane says when salad comes all chopped, it's a winner and that means everything: the lettuce, the chicken and the nuts. It's a meal and then some. We ask for more dressing so we can quiz the server on what's in it.

Ginger leek + shiitake The purist starts with shiitake leek spring rolls with three chili sauce. The server suggests wrapping the rolls in lettuce. He's right. Since when did lettuce fail to cup anything? Never, and with its crunch and a core of mushrooms and leeks that mellow in the wrap, it's more than the sum of its parts. We find the combination stands on its own and a corner dipped into sauce confirms all chilis present and accounted for.

Fried calamari: we're taste testing it everywhere (along with meatballs and margaritas). Here's a finalist in the category of so lightly breaded and fried as to not contribute to today's run-up of calories. Pieces are right-sized. Even better: No peanuts, no red sauce, no peppers, no garlic, just fish. What a meal, what an appetizer. What's left, because it's back to work, packs to travel and tomorrow's lunch relived today's with ease. It comes with Thai dipping sauce. I can't remember calamari anywhere needing dip, this doesn't, but it's one of those things you wait for. The variety of who is serving what is curious too.

Ginger calamari On the light side, you'll find other Asian salads including Vietnamese steak, chicken sesame Caesar and Japanese noodle. You can have a burger with kombu tomato, tofu and wasabi as well as pork chimichurri. Big eaters will go for sake butterfish, drunken noodles, lettuce cups, Indonesian curry and Faroe Island salmon. Sit in the bar, the dining room or on Washington Street where the sidewalks are wide enough for a party with all your friends. Of course.

Ming's downtown digs have their own charm with similar but not matching food. We lunch at Blue Dragon on A Street which you find after the post office and before the Seaport in Fort Point. I wrote three years ago, "Ming does uncommonly well in an informal setting that shows its provenance and caters to its audience." Then A Street was hard to find and now it's not. In the eighties, who could fathom why there was nothing was near the water, except Anthony's, where an accessible waterfront was weedy raw? Boston developers finally saw the lofts and manufacturing spaces useful. It reminds me of lower Manhattan before, when you heard sewing machines from lofts with slanting metal steps, and freight elevators came right up to open on the sidewalk.

When you're well-known, reporters want to know everything . . . and not just what you serve. Last month, Boston Magazine asked Ming what he eats, what he eats for breakfast. He follows the rules: “It’s probably 30 things — turmeric powder, açaí berries, a green powder, a protein powder, rice milk, and almond milk. I throw a banana in and I throw some ice in.” Okay, I feel bad since I break the rules with coffee and a bialy. Not bad enough to stop but still. Not that anyone's asking. Here's to green smoothies and sake miso anything, ditto drunken, kimchi and umeboshi.

January 2021: Blue Dragon downtown in closed right now. We hope to see them soon. Blue Ginger is gone and has been replaced by Smith & Wollensky.

Blue Ginger
583 Washington St
Wellesley, MA 02482
781. 283. 5790

© June 15, 2016 - Diane Babigian's down in the mouth in Boston. Kitty Kaufman is a Boston writer. They met 30 years ago. This was their first lunch ever. See more of their adventures at Corporate Edge and follow Kitty on Twitter
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