Blue Ginger

583 Washington Street
Wellesley, MA 02482
781.283.5790

Monday-Thursday
Lunch 11:30am – 2:00pm
Dinner 5:30pm-9:30pm

Friday
Lunch 11:30am – 2:00pm
Dinner 5:30pm-10:00pm

Saturday
Blue Ginger Lounge: 12:00pm-10:00pm
Dinner 5:00pm-10:00pm

Sunday

Dinner 5:00pm-9:00pm

For those of you foodies out there who are familiar with the Asian-European fusion chef Ming Tsai, you probably know of his first restaurant called Blue Ginger.  Located in the quiet suburb of Boston called Wellesley, when the restaurant first opened in 1998, it drew rave reviews for its exceptional and (at the time) new fusion type of food.  People would come in from all around the country to try this place and its blend of French and Asian flavored cuisine.

In 2013, Blue Ginger doesn’t have as much of the fanfare as it used to have, but the food is still held at its highest standard.   It’s very pricey, so for those of you who make a decent living, Blue Ginger is a special occasion type spot.  For those of you that make more than a decent living, you probably aren’t reading this review because you’ve been there a dozen times already.  I’d say that if you’re visiting Boston, Blue Ginger is only worth coming out to try if you’re in Boston for more than a week, otherwise there’s far more that you should see first in the city.  If you’re local however, give it a go for an anniversary celebration, graduation or milestone birthday.  Here’s a rundown of what we tried:

Hawaiian Bigeye Tuna Poke with Crispy Sushi Rice Cake and Microgreen-Tosaka Salad – This was probably the favorite dish of the night (including the entrees).  It was a strange, but very tasty combination of a huge hunk of sushi style tuna on top of what could be best described as a hot, sticky-rice tater tot.  The crunchiness of the rice cake with the soft, light tuna made for a really delightful appetizer – one which I would have been happy having a couple of as the main course.

Blue Ginger Charcuterie Plate – Duck Prosciutto, Foie Gras Torchon and Country Pâté – This is where the French influence comes out.  The arrangement of the platter was well done and I thought the extremely rich foie gras was the best of the group.  The platter also came with a really good spicy mustard that went well with the prosciutto and pate.  I wouldn’t bother too much with the random Texas toast that came with the plate; instead I’d opt for spreading the pâté and foie gras on the sesame seed crackers that are on the table when you first sit.  The Texas toast was just too buttery and took away from the flavors of the expensive stuff.

Sake-Miso Marinated Sablefish (a.k.a. Butterfish) with Wasabi Oil, Soy-Lime Syrup and Vegetarian Soba Noodle Sushi – This butterfish is considered Ming Tsai’s signature dish, and I could see why.  Of the three entrees we had, it was easily the best.  There wasn’t anything too fancy done with the fish and you’d probably be able to find a similar dish at a number of restaurants, but they do get points for perfect execution.  It was cooked exactly the way it should have been – a nice, light char on the outside and light buttery meat on the inside.  They did try and get cute with the Soba Noodle Sushi side, but I didn’t actually care for that all that much.

Garlic-Black Pepper Lobster with Lemongrass Fried Rice and Pea Tendril Salad with Tamari-Ginger Vinaigrette – The waitress said this is also a favorite of customers coming to Blue Ginger.  Lobster is never bad, so I’ll say that while it wasn’t disappointing, there was just a little too much garlic for my taste getting in the way of the lobster.  I’m sort of a lobster traditionalist where I want just the meat and a little butter, or a plain ol’ lobster roll.  Again, that being said, just because it wasn’t my cup of tea doesn’t mean it wasn’t very delicious.

Seared Duck Breast with Sweet Wasabi Sauce and Applewood Smoked Duck Leg Wild Fried Rice with Shiso-Bartlett Pear Purée – This third entree was probably the most “eh” of the three.  The flavor of the duck was very pronounced which saved the dish, but the meat was a little too tough/chewy and the skin wasn’t crispy enough for our taste.  If they had slow cooked the duck a little more like Peking duck style, it could have easily been the best of the three.

Overall though the food was excellent.  That being said, these days there are so many new restaurants, television shows, and food celebrities that Blue Ginger almost feels like an aging veteran.  This is both a good and bad thing.  It’s bad because despite its success, the menu and atmosphere feel “standard” with nothing nuanced and that nothing has really evolved since it first broke down the barrier between French and Asian cuisine.  The good thing though is that it’s still a sure thing.  What they do well, they’ve done well for years, and it’s the kind of place that I’m sure very rarely disappoints.  Grade: B+

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Tao Restaurant

Tao Restaurant
42 East 58th Street
New York, NY 10022-1910

Hours:

Sun 5pm–12am
Mon-Wed 11:30–12am
Thu-Fri 11:30–1am
Sat 5pm–1am

Recently, I took a little trip up to New York City to catch up with old friends and, quite honestly, just go for the hell of it because it had been a while.  The one thing that I had forgotten in the two and a half years since I was last in New York was the energy of the city that you don’t find in Washington, D.C. or most other metropolitan areas.  It practically hit me in the face the moment I walked out of Penn Station.

I spent the weekend doing mainly touristy things such as Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, checked out Ground Zero and the building of the Freedom Tower, and roamed around the East and West Villages.  But of course the highlight of any trip to NYC is the food – and there was plenty of it this weekend.

Since I hadn’t seen a bunch of New Yorker friends in a while, I organized a dinner for us all.  At the suggestion of my one college buddy, we made our way to Tao Restaurant in midtown Manhattan.  Tao, like New York City in general, is pretty much what you’d expect from a trendy NYC restaurant on a Friday night: noisy, busy, vibrant, pretentious, and super gaudy, but fun nonetheless.  As my one friend who has lived in NYC for the past five years put it – “This place is so New York” with a little tone of “I would probably never come here in general” thrown in, kind of like how I can’t remember the last time I was in a Smithsonian museum even though I’ve been in D.C. for years.

There are a few things you should know about places like Tao before I continue.  They’re expensive and regardless if you have a reservation, there will be a wait (especially on a Friday night).  And even more so at this place because of the popularity (sightings of Jay-Z, Madonna, etc and a feature in Sex and the City – a fact I found out AFTER I had left NYC, so don’t go thinking Sex and the City is any draw for me).  I should also note that I sadly was not able to get any good pictures because my new phone’s case was covering the flash so none of the pics would show up.  The website has plenty in its gallery however.

So yeah, we had a 9:15 reservation; we were seated around 9:45-10:00 with the maitre d’ telling me, “Just a couple more minutes” every time I asked how much longer.  And the bar waiting area is not nearly big enough to hold all of the people waiting to get a table along with the folks just trying to grab a drink.  So be prepared to do a little bumping.  Our buzzer went off just as we were contemplating going somewhere else.

The main dining area a Tao is pretty expansive, but still packed so that there was probably only a foot between chairs and tables for one to squeeze through.  And overlooking the entire place is a GIGANTIC (and I emphasis that word) Buddha, which I’ll have to admit was pretty impressive, despite being as Las Vegas showy as it was.

The Tao menu isn’t huge, but hits all the typical Asian food types from sushi to noodles. With a group our size we decided to do it sort of family style and order several things to share.  Our waitress was very helpful telling us her favorite recommendations, and her suggestions were excellent.  Considering the hysteria in the place, the service was remarkably quick with the food coming out within a few minutes of us ordering our first round of appetizers.

The food at Tao is excellent; no doubt about it.  I’m going to make your life easier and just list out what we ate and give a quick impression.

Peking Duck Spring Roll – I love Peking duck, so yes I loved this.  The order came with 3 large duck spring rolls and the duck was perfectly fatty and savory.  The one thing I wish was that the duck skin inside would have been a little crispier.  Same goes for the egg roll wrap itself – I suspect they were trying to make make the wrap like a Peking duck pancake, but it didn’t quite work.

Pork Potstickers – these also were excellent, and considered by most at the table the best appetizer of the bunch.  They were larger than your typical gyoza, stuffed with a generous portion of salty, tender pork inside.

Spicy Tuna Tartar on Crispy Rice – what makes this more than just what amounted to a tuna sushi roll was the rice.  It was toasted giving it a delicious flavor and crunch.

Shrimp Pad Thai noodles – Not too bad, but not anything that you couldn’t get anywhere else.

Crispy Orange Chicken – same with the Pad Thai.  If you order it, you won’t be disappointed, but it’s not anything that is stand out.

Satay of Chilean Sea Bass with Wok Asparagus – now THIS was standout – the fish was cooked to perfection, super-flavorful and melted in your mouth.  The side of asparagus that came with it was actually not needed, but I do like a little crunch with my dishes so it worked.

Wasabi-crusted Filet with Tempura Onion Rings – another standout.  The filet was very good, and in most cases I would have said it was excellent but nothing special.  What made it special?  That wasabi crust was awesome – totally different, and gave the meat a real kick.

So food wise, everything was pretty amazing.  The plates came out in very easily sharable portions; I’m not sure if that’s how they are normally served or if our waitress was savvy enough to have the kitchen make it that way knowing we were all sharing from the start.

The one thing I could have done without were the the guys walking around banging drums next to us while we ate.  Totally unnecessary, really annoying, and as my one friend put it “They’re not even beating the drum to the beat of the music!”.  Also, the bathroom was a little weird.  I’m putting this in writing because my other male friends disagree.  Personally I don’t like having to urinate into a trough that lights up when you walk up to it, with a waterfall raining in front of you into the trough, while a bathroom attendant stands two feet away from you ready to pounce for a tip.  Maybe my friends have been in NYC too long because one of them said “What about it?  It was just a urinal.”

All in all though, great place for an excellent meal, a fun vibe if you’re willing to deal with the noise and wait, and very good service amid the chaos in the venue.  Food: A- Overall: B+ (because of that drummer banging away)