3 weeks at Camp Tanamakoon in Ontario, Canada, a 3-day canoe trip, multiple hours of swimming in lung-paralyzingly cold lake water, and approximately 200 camp songs later I was at the tender age of 10 and highly vulnerable to homesickness. I remember returning home and spending three days suctioned to the warm, white couch in my parent’s bedroom trying to feel comforted by the touch, smells, and cushioning of home. With nothing more comforting and inextricable to home than food, I turned on the Food Network.
Images of food and the motions of cooking and eating replayed over and over across my corneas and I felt the comfort of home and soul that I so vigorously craved. My early favorites included “Two Fat Ladies”, “Molto Mario”, and Ming Tsai’s “East Meets West”. Soon after my Food Network addiction really kicked off, for either my birthday or Christmas present––I can’t remember which—I received Ming’s cookbook, Blue Ginger. 10 plus years later I finally visited the acclaimed Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Food compatriot, J, accompanied me on this much-anticipated journey.
Driving to Wellesley, my mind wandered as nostalgic memories of old Food Network-loving days buzzed through my thoughts. Cheery thoughts and intermittent chit-chat with J was abruptly disturbed when a Brook’s Brother –clad rush hour madman slammed into the back of my car. The jolting experience left little souvenir on my sturdy bumper, but a brash mood took over almost as quickly as the hit occurred.
Aggression ceased as J and I were seated in the open, and yes, very blue, dining room at Blue Ginger. As we pondered the menu, and with only appropriateness in mind (wink) we sipped on ginger-infused vodka martinis, adorned by lip-lickingly scrumptious, homemade crystallized ginger.
To begin, J ordered the tuna poke with a crispy rice cake and peppercress salad. While the rice cake was rather dense for such a light starch, the citrus glaze atop the fish was fresh and vibrant. Meanwhile I dug my tiny fork into the Thai mussels with lemongrass and green papaya. Licorice-y Thai basil was strung about the crispy sticks of papaya and hits of spice were interspersed with the delightful acidity from cherry tomatoes. The broth had a garlicky depth but was far more salty than just the hint of ocean you would want to taste.
So far my expectations of Blue Ginger had stayed closely aligned with my childhood’s expectation, until I realized the fender-bender from the previous hour was actually a fateful foreshadow. The glutton in me ordered the lobster entrée, but not even a true master glutton could have expected the monstrosity of a dish this turned out to be. The plate seemed as though it crashed onto the table, an entire carcass spilling forth like a volcanic mess of brownish, kaki-ish glop. With the head upright, the poor crustacean’s glossy, black, beady eyes were staring into mine, as if saying, “you’ve made a huge mistake!”
The meat was decent and the pea tendril salad quite nice, but these greens were the dish’s only saving grace. The brownish mesh was a garlicky stew of, to tell you the truth, God knows-what! And the rice could have fooled my for a box of instant Zatarain’s dirty rice. It was overly salty and an entirely too large of a portion. When I order lobster I expect the buttery yet delicate meat to be the showstopper—why absolutely clobber it in…anything?!
On the other side of the table, J ordered a plump piece of butterfish that sparkled with a sharp wasabi aioli and a contrasting sweet glaze. We were 3 for 1 and happily sipping on glasses of Sancerre from the Loire Valley.
As we got chatting with our waitress we learned a bit about Ming’s involvement with his oldest establishment. She mentioned that he still comes in rather often and when he does, runs the place like a ship. Nothing goes out to a table untested by his taste buds—perhaps they’ve become numb to salt? He also makes sure the entire staff tastes the components of each dish each night, which baffled me as she earlier stated that she hadn’t tried the oxtail that had been a seasonal staple. Inconsistent and contradicting—I felt a bit uneasy about the managing modus of this place.
Luckily the dessert literally left a good taste in my mouth for Blue Ginger. While I ordered the sesame macadamia caramel nut tart with toasted coconut ice cream, J ordered an equally seductive choice: the bittersweet chocolate cake with cardamom ice cream. Accompanied by dessert sake, this course was by far the highlight of the meal. J and I exchanged the type of eye-rolls that say, “There are no words for how delicious this is!” Ending on a high note, and one that was finally not salty, I wanted to know more about the pastry chef not than I did about the Food Network alum.