The name of the restaurant, Wild Ginger, conjures up visions of pungent, spicy Asian flavors (and perhaps also redheads on deserted islands). The décor of the Asian bistro, on the other hand, is very calming. Shades of green and burned orange are accented with teak and bamboo. Everything is angular, simple and quite cozy. The lighting is soft, and conversation quietly buzzes around your table in an intimate way, which somehow envelopes each table in its own dialog.
Wild Ginger, the newest venture of Lemongrass owner Dao Yee, opened right around the corner from the Lemongrass on Madison Road in Hyde Park. It sports a similar Thai menu with the addition of sushi and Vietnamese dishes.
Mr. Husband was excited about getting sushi when it wasn't even his birthday. Unfortunately, our server told us that the sushi chef hadn't arrived, so it wasn't an option that evening. Apparently the original chef had bailed, and the new one was making his way from Florida.
Undaunted, we next tried to order beer, only to be informed by our ever-helpful server that they don't serve alcohol yet. But we could have brought in our own. He recommends bringing your own corkscrew and wine glasses as well, if you bring wine. Lucky for us Hyde Park Wines is located right across the street, so Mr. Husband sprinted over to grab a few brews to wash down the spicy food we anticipated.
We started off with Shrimp Dumplings ($4.99), Winter Rolls ($4.99) and the Beef Lettuce Wraps ($7.99). Our friend, known to enforce the five-second rule by diving under the table for a dumpling that hit Shanghai Mama's floor, wasn't so sure she'd take the plunge for these. The Winter Rolls were tasteless, fried egg rolls with chicken, sweet potato and onion.
But I can't say that I found any chicken, even when I scraped out the innards with my finger. The Lettuce Wraps were better, even though they did arrive several minutes after the other two appetizers. The stir-fried beef was garlicky, and the vegetables were crunchy. While none of the starters had a flavor to win us, they were all appealing to the eye, with plates garnished with radish roses and fluted carrot slices.
After our server came back to joke about stealing one of the beers he had stashed in the cooler for us, we ordered our entrées. By this time the server's slacker sardonic wit was grating on Mr. Husband, but we were all still feeling hopeful about the meal. I decided on the Pad See Ew with chicken ($8.99) -- wide rice noodles stir-fried with egg, broccoli and carrots in a soy vinaigrette sauce -- at a 5 heat level. Mr. Husband went with the Tamarind Duck at a 3 ($13.99); our friend ordered the Seafood Choo Chee ($13.99) at an 8. She had just been telling us that the night before she ordered a 10 at one of the city's Indian restaurants and was barely able to eat it -- I think she was daring Wild Ginger to bring her to her knees as well.
When our dinners arrived, Mr. Husband's was delayed again, and before his meal hit the table, I was flagging down the server to take our friend's food back because it was cold. By odd coincidence our server came over to apologize -- for a mistake he made at another table rather than our cold food.
When we finally got situated, we were all happy with the various heat levels we picked, but we weren't able to give the overall taste of any of our entrées a 10. Mr. Husband's duck was gamier than most I've tasted and covered in a layer of fat that was ... well ... sort of disgusting. It's one thing to cook the duck in fat for flavor. It's another to have to look at it on your plate.
My rice noodles weren't bad, but the chicken slices in my dish were pretty rubbery. Our friend seemed to fare the best. Her plate was topped with glistening mussel shells, and the large shrimp, calamari rings and scallops floated in a pool of coconut milk curry sauce with flecks of red pepper. Once the dish was heated, the sauce was very tasty. But there was that pesky issue about cooking protein again -- the mussels were rather chewy.
Some reviewers use stars to rate restaurants. CityBeat has a letter system. I have my own bizarre personal system, based on Woody Allen movies. A really great restaurant gets a Manhattan or Manhattan Murder Mystery. To be fair, once Wild Ginger's sushi chef arrives things might look up. But on this particular evening we left unable to award a Woody rating and with a less than satisfying experience under our belts. The best I had for Wild Ginger was a noncommittal shrug. ©
Go: 3655 Edwards Road, Hyde Park
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday;4-10:30 Saturday; 4-9:30 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Inexpensive to moderate
Payment: MasterCard and Visa
Red Meat Alternatives: Chicken, fish, tofu
Accessibility: Building is fully accessible.