Two of us had dinner Saturday, March 30, 2002, at Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, MA. Street parking in Wellesley was, as usual, nearly non-existant, but there were a number of spaces available in the lot directly behind the restaurant, which can then be easily entered through a rear door. It has been about three years since my last visit to Blue Ginger, and I am happy to report that the food, which I felt at that time to be among the best I have ever eaten, seems just as good now as it did then. Our reservation was for 9:30 p.m., and, since they close at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, I was halfway prepared to be told that the kitchen was sold out of a number of dishes. However, I was delighted to find that everything on the menu was still available. Although the restaurant was packed up to and well beyond closing time, service was friendly and attentive without appearing frantic.
After being seated a few minutes earlier than our reserved time, we were promptly served a basket of three different breads (french bread, sesame flatbread, and a dense, peppery bread) along with unsalted butter. There are a couple of touchpoints I have when rating the overall quality of a restaurant. Two of the most important are the bread and the coffee. I can only say that we (OK, mostly I) had no trouble finishing this basket and could have easily eaten more if we hadn't been afraid of ruining our appetites. Our first drinks order was a whiskey sour for my companion, and for me a bottle of Chimay Rouge from Blue Ginger's superb beer list.
Here is the rest of our meal, as described on the menu.
Grilled Rare Squab with Foie Gras Fried Rice and Pomegranate Molasses Syrup
Curried Shrimp Samosas with Mango-Almond Salad and Raisin Sambal Puree
Grilled Long Island Duck Breast with Tangerine Jus, Warm Salad of Asian Duck Confit, Wild Rice, and Haricots Vert
Tea Smoked Jamison Farm Lamb Shank, Moroccan Dried Fruit Couscous, and Minty Cucumber Salad
The combination of flavors in each of these dishes was exquisite. At no time was any particular ingredient so dominant that you could easily say, for instance, "Oh, that's the pomegranate"; instead, our taste buds were continuously bombarded by a gestalt of harmonious flavors. If there is one thing that sets Ming's style apart, for me, it is his incredible reductions, which show up in his soup stocks and sauces. In the past I have had at Blue Ginger some of the most intensely flavored soups I have ever tasted. While we did not order soup this time, I must admit that I used some of the french bread to wipe up the remaining sauce of both the squab and the duck dishes. The squab and the duck were perfectly cooked (assuming that you like these items rare), browned on the outside, the color of cabernet on the inside. The braised lamb was properly falling-off-the-bone tender. I nursed my beer through our appetizers while my companion progressed from her whiskey sour to a glass of Chardonnay. With our main courses we shared a half bottle of an excellent 1999 Ridge Zinfandel Blend.
Having been judicious in our bread consumption, we actually had room for dessert. My companion ordered Bittersweet Chocolate Cake with Cardamom Ice Cream and Chocolate Ganache, while I salivated over Madagascan Vanilla Creme Brulee with Cookies (Ginger Chocolate Chip, Coconut Macaroon, and Macadamia Praline Chocolate Chip). I also had a latte, which passed the coffee test with flying colors.
The bill, for two with 20% tip: $196 (at least $50 of which was liquor).
Ming did not appear to be in attendance, so either we just didn't notice him, or he has trained his sous-chefs so well that his presence is no longer required on a daily basis.
For those who like to play along at home, we have owned the Blue Ginger cookbook for several years and have prepared a number of Ming's recipes for dinner parties, including soups, appetizers, and the afore-mentioned chocolate cake with cardamom ice cream. Provided you have sources for some of the more unusual ingredients, Ming's recipes translate quite well to the home kitchen and come out beautifully.