Craving a way to perk up from the midwinter gray? Try Ginger Asian Bistro. That is, if you can get in the door.
The restaurant and its sushi bar are far from undiscovered. On a busy Friday night it’s not unusual for diners to cram the small waiting area and even spill out into the night waiting for a seat.
It’s worth the wait.
The Asian-inspired dishes are packed with tender meats and fresh vegetables, served up in generous and beautifully arranged portions. Sushi rolls are a study in excess, with a nice assortment of raw and baked rolls and presentation that makes some look almost too good to eat.
During a lunchtime visit, a chicken teriyaki bento box would have been enough for two of us to split ($10). It was served with a choice of miso or egg flower soup and included a generous portion of tender chicken with a just-right teriyaki sauce, steamed rice and a nice mound of perfectly steamed vegetables. It also came with California roll.
We shared a standard crunchy roll ($8) packed with shrimp tempura, crab and cucumber, as well as a Rock’n roll ($9). The menu didn’t hint at it, but the Rock’n roll came topped with spicy scallops. Cucumber, avocado, scallions, yellowtail and pickled radish were rolled inside.
Neither of us are sushi experts, but the result was an explosive burst of flavors we loved. The scallops were delicate and fresh with a hint of sweetness behind the spice.
It left me wishing for a slightly smaller roll or a bigger mouth. The fat sushi roll and generous scallop topping made it hard to enjoy in one bite.
The combination was spicy to me even though it wasn’t starred on the menu and it made me nervous about trying any of the dishes with more stars. Meanwhile, my husband soaked up every last bit of the spicy sauce.
Ginger’s understated star system warns (or tempts) diners with one star for “somewhat spicy” dishes; two stars are “more spicy”; three stars indicates something that is “pretty spicy”; four is “very spicy”; and five means “super spicy.”
Even though the Rock’n roll challenged my heat tolerance, I managed a one-star Las Vegas roll ($11) and a two-star 007 roll ($10) without bursting into flame.
My advice: Navigate the menu with care if you have a delicate palate. The restaurant’s manager says the spicy dishes are a draw for those who like to crank up the heat.
During each of our visits, servers were intuitive and deft in the tiny, busy dining room. At a quick lunch stop, our server steered us away from baked sushi rolls that would have taken longer to cook.
When misspellings or confusing menu descriptions left us with questions, the servers were quick to offer clarifications and recommend their favorites. Our tea cups were never empty.
There are plenty of baked sushi offerings and other cooked seafood for anyone squeamish about raw fish or those who must worry about food-borne illness.
The menu also includes an eclectic array of other Asian offerings. We were only able to get started exploring them in three visits.
There’s Chicken Pad Thai ($8/lunch), Yellow Chicken Curry ($8/lunch) or Thai-style Cashew Chicken ($13/dinner).
Or, try Chinese standards such as Szechwan chicken or beef ($12/dinner), Moo Goo Gai Pan ($13/dinner) or Szechwan-style dumplings ($7). General Tso’s chicken ($12) and Shang Hai fish ($15) are a draw for diners.
A lunch portion of yellow curry chicken had a wonderful creamy peanut sauce and the chicken breast was surprisingly tender. Our fried cheese won tons were crispy, substantial and packed with crab meat and cheese.
We tried the Cashew Nut Shrimp ($14) during a dinner visit (it can also be ordered with chicken instead). The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the oyster sauce had a nice consistency. The celery, green pepper and cashews offered a crunchy contrast – and did I mention that portions are generous?
If you’re not in the mood for sharing your conversation, the dining room quarters can seem quite close. The space was once home to the intimate fine-dining Paprika and more recently 1228 Tapas.
Sitting at the sushi bar can be distracting since servers are whipping along behind you and the door opens and closes with arriving and departing diners.
The good news is that the tight space makes it easy to covet the dishes that are arriving at nearby tables and friendly neighbors can make for fun community-style dining.
And parking? Well, it is challenging, to put it nicely, but they’re doing the best they can with the cramped lot.
It probably keeps the number of diners waiting at the door in check. Takeout is always an option.