Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Lounge at Blue Ginger, Wellesley

The "Crispy Sake-Braised Pork Bao with S & S Tomato Chutney" (pictured above) offered the best of both worlds. It had the yeastiness and subtle sweetness of the softest steam bun combined with the seared crispness of a pot sticker. The sake-braised pork was so tender that it almost melted in the mouth. Just one bao seemed to be a tease. If I hadn't been with a group of friends on a tight schedule I may have ordered a second.

The disappointment of not being able to eat another bao was tempered by the fact that so many other of the small plates at the Lounge at Blue Ginger were also so good. Our waitress, Lauren, steered us towards the "Hawaiian Tuna Poke with Crispy Sushi Rice Cake, Kohlrabi Microgreens and Tosaka Salad." It was a perfect choice. Not only was it visually stunning, but absolutely delicious as the microgreens and watercress emulsion added a brightness to the richness of the raw tuna. The rice cake had just a trace of vinegar and provided a toothsome bed for the fresh fish.

Two other dishes were just as addictive. The first, "Edamame in Sweet Soy-Yuzu Glaze" hit every high note-salty, sweet, nutty, and delicious. Our group of seven quickly devoured two bowlfuls. Another dish of taro and sweet potato fries were perfectly fried and crisp without a hint of oiliness. The starchiness of the taro was the perfect foil for liberally slathering on the fabulous "Chili Aioli." Unlike aiolis that are dominated by garlic, this was creamy with just a bit of heat.

In another fabulous twist on food, the "Crab Rangoon" consisted of wonton skins stuffed with the freshest crab, a touch of cream cheese and a hint of tart cranberry chutney that was also served on the side. It seemed revelatory to eat these and actually taste the sweet crab rather than just cheese.Typical of Chef Tsai's attempts to both honor Chinese cooking while putting his own spin on food, are the "Ming's Bings". For $12.00, you get any 3 of 4 different stuffings placed inside the an incredibly thin, homemade, tender dough. One of my friends loved the "Blue Cheeseburger." (Yes, it was a cheeseburger inside of a wonton-style skin!) The roast duck was so good that even diners who weren't fans of duck enjoyed the sweet, smoky flavor of the dish. The pork was light, flavorful and moist.Two other dishes were simply less outstanding. The vegetarian bing, consisting of tofu, bean threads and Chinese garlic chives were very light and garlicky but they simply weren't memorable. The same held true of the spring rolls that were well made and full of vegetables but just weren't stand outs. A few of the drinks, particularly the homemade ginger ale, though, provided a sharp and sweet compliment to the meal.Blue Ginger is an outstanding restaurant that is out of the price range of many parents. The Lounge offers a nice alternative. In fact, many items cost about $12.00 (though that would be a light meal for most people), or you can order a "large plate" that average around $17.00.
However, what will bring me back to the Lounge wasn't just the creative and delicious food or even our knowledgeable waitress. What will bring me back is that the Lounge has a 100% dedicated peanut-free kitchen. To many readers this may seem insignificant at best. To other readers this is the natural evolution of Chef Tsai's work. After all Ming Tsai has been so forward thinking in his approach towards allergies that he was central in the fact that Massachusetts has just passed the nation's first food allergy law, Bill 2701. (Check out the How2Heroes site for a fantastic video of Ming Tsai explaining how restaurants can comply with the new law.) For 11 years, Blue Ginger and Ming Tsai have been at the forefront of demonstrating that an outstanding restaurant doesn't have to sacrifice quality for the safety of all diners. The staff is well informed on food allergies and on cross-contamination issues (e.g. if a knife is used to chop peanuts and then used to cut fish, a peanut-allergic person could go into anaphylactic shock). The staff is also well-acquainted with the 3 inch binder that Ming Tsai created which details every ingredient in every dish at the restaurant. Our waitress, Lauren, impressed all of us with her ability to comfortably and confidently answer our questions about preparation and ingredients of the dishes, as well as the training of the staff.

My oldest son is allergic to peanuts, which has made it almost prohibitive for us to take him to Vietnamese, Thai or Chinese restaurants-three cuisines that we savour. Yet the Lounge at Blue Ginger is now a place that we will go.

Blue Ginger and the Lounge at Blue Ginger 583 Washington St., Wellesley, 781-283-5790

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