An elegant offshoot of Seattle's Wild Ginger in Bellevue
The original Wild Ginger in Seattle and it new sibling at The Bravern in Bellevue have many of the same offerings but both have something the other doesn't.
Seattle Times food writer
Bellevue: 11020 N.E. Sixth St., Suite 90 (at The Bravern), 425-495-8889.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; dinner 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5-9 p.m. Sundays; happy hour 4-6 p.m. daily and late night Mondays-Saturdays.
Seattle: 1401 Third Ave., 206-623-4450.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; dinner 5-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5 p.m.-midnight Fridays, 4:30-midnight Saturdays, 4-11 p.m. Sundays.
It's 1989, and I'm seated at an exciting new experiment in pan-Asian pulchritude: the Wild Ginger. As I help myself to a skewer of Bangkok Boar and bury my chopsticks into the deep recesses of a seafood-heavy bowl of Malaysian laksa, I take in the scene from the satay bar — the beating heart of a restaurant set to define Seattle's food scene and propel it into the culinary consciousness of the nation.
Then, as now, I'm enamored of Wild Ginger, drawn to the elegant embrace of Chinese and Southeast Asian food cultures: a balancing act rooted in classic recipes, inspired by local color and given to interpretation by a melting pot of Asian chefs.
I still recall my initial taste of the little rice cakes and puckery pickled cucumbers that accompany that pork satay basted with fresh coconut milk. And the Fragrant Duck whose skin is stained with cinnamon and star anise, its moist meat meant to be slathered with plum sauce and tucked into clouds of homemade bao.
I remember the wine list highlighting grape varietals chosen to complement the flavors of fresh lemon grass, green papaya and galangal. And the many ways in which I've made myself at home here: on a date, alone, for a business lunch, a birthday or a comfort-food connection. Sometimes that comfort was dictated by delicate Dungeness crab wontons floating in a housemade-noodle soup. Other times from the simple pleasures of twice-fried Sichuan green beans.
Time flies when you're having fun.
This year the Ginger celebrates its 20th anniversary with a second location at The Bravern in Bellevue, where last week I celebrated with my 11-year-old son at the satay bar. There, we admired the intelligent design of the pagoda-like structure whose hefty hood is suspended from a soaring ceiling by slim cables. A nearby chandelier catches our eye, looking like a jellyfish in flight. "What'll you have, whiskey?" the satay barman asked my boy.
The chip-off-the-old-block ordered the Bangkok Boar and enjoyed the sticky-fingered fun of Indonesian fried chicken wings, quietly complaining there was no Dungeness crab on the menu. He's a pro at picking his way through the Ginger's Singapore-style crab, a marvelously messy, Chinese black-bean-stoked sensation served at the downtown location. Open two months, they're still getting their feet wet in busy Bellevue, the barman explained, and had yet to add the signature crab to the Eastside menu.
Other Wild Ginger wonders are touted by well-scripted waiters, led by managers who've been with the Ginger as long as I have. One enthusiastic fellow approached my party on an earlier visit to Bellevue and suggested the tenderly rendered Seven Flavor Beef, whose seven flavors include a hoisin highnote. "Have you eaten with us before?" he asked. Indeed I had!
In fact, that was the umpteenth time I've ordered the Seafood Thai Noodles — whose high-quality sea scallops, prawns and mussels make this neighborhood-café classic well worth $15.95. And it won't be the last time I have the Siam Lettuce Cup — a textural treat involving bites of grilled halibut, jicama and peanuts hinting of lime juice and tamarind.
I can't recommend the Chaing Mai wild salmon (a dry over-sauced expense at $26.95), one of few disappointments. Another? The bland and overly chewy kom pot short ribs satay.
But I can tell you that watching Rick and Ann Yoder's wild experiment move, morph and prosper has been a consistent source of happiness for this Gingerphile — one who initially mourned, and was later delighted by the restaurant's relocation in 2000 from Western Avenue to the royally renovated Mann Building near Benaroya Hall.
Mirroring its Seattle sibling, the Bellevue branch is a dynamic dual-level space with dueling cocktail bars, private dining and my beloved satay bar as focal point.
East is trumping West with a wine program no doubt designed to take advantage of this haute address. They're offering one-ounce "tastes" of fine wines (for as little as $3) from boutique labels culled from 1,000 world-ranging bottles, and a list that includes the oenophilic equivalent of an Hermès scarf or Jimmy Choo shoes. Which, not incidentally, are also available here at The Bravern.
About Nancy Leson
Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants. Check her latest thoughts in her All You Can Eat blog. Her column appears each Wednesday. Her restaurant roundups appear monthly, on Fridays, in the Restaurants and Entertainment sections.
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