One of my frustrations with restaurant criticism is that restaurants do not usually respond to it. By the time a new restaurant gets going, the owners have spent all their money (and all their friends' money), and can't afford to make more than minor tweaks. So when I knocked Banq for excessive noise and spotty menu execution (still enough fine food for two Phoenix stars), I wasn't glued to my rear-view mirror waiting for a turn-around.
|Ginger Park Kitchen & Bar | 1375 Washington Street, Boston | 617.451.0077 | open Monday–Wednesday, 5–11:30 pm; thursday-Saturday, 5 pm–12 am; and Sunday, 11 am–4 pm and 5:30–11:30 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking: $16 | Sidewalk-level access|
This time, however, was different. The owners of Banq found enough cash to open up the wall behind the bar, giving some of that noise a place to go. They also hired a New York chef (Patricia Yeo), and devised a new menu worthy of another star. The wisely renamed Ginger Park is now quite a fun place for drinks and small plates on a modest budget.
Although small plates comprise the menu, they do somewhat align themselves into salads, appetizers/bar bites, and platters maybe half the size of a shared main dish at a Chinese restaurant. Even without a dessert course, the alleged price point of $20 per person requires some discipline, especially around the wine list, which is both a little pricey and very tempting. Chef Yeo is at home in fusion because her own roots are on three continents — her culinary grandmother (every great chef has at least one) was in Malaysia, with a multicultural cuisine of its own — and because she has worked with street vendors in Malaysia and Thailand (another fusion cuisine), and with Bobby Flay, a very internationally minded American chef. Not everything she touches turns to gold, but her touches often turn to hot pepper — better than salt if bar bites are the object.
So in we went ordering all over the menu. Our servers organized this into flights of small plates, starting with a Thai green papaya and mango salad ($9) with the classic hot-sour flavors of a Thai Vietnamese shredded salad. Vegetarian spring rolls ($7) also had the cigar caliber and superb crunch of the Vietnamese sort, but the filling was a puréed mush of no distinction. The dip, a pink mayonnaise, was novel and fun. But a duck pastrami salad ($9) was less than the sum of its parts — dark red strips of cured meat underneath, red cabbage, rye croutons, and cress on top. If a salad doesn't have synergy, it might as well be redone as a soup.
The next dishes out were among the best we had. Moo shu beef ($11) was pre-rolled up in three cones, each held with a toothpick and garnished with a single, slender enoki mushroom. But instead of the usual shredded random, this was juicy slices of Vietnamese "shaken" beef, dripping with flavor. Get two orders of this one. Also perfect was miso glazed eggplant ($6), six fingers of tender, exquisite Japanese eggplant as only Japanese (and some Chinese) restaurants can make it, up until Ginger Park.