Next up was the duck meatballs ($14) with Massaman curry and smoky eggplant salad. Some real Thai experience must go into these, since in Thai restaurants Massaman curry is light and a little sweet, while this one is serious and hot enough to dominate the underlying eggplant purée without overwhelming the meatiness of the great meatballs.
Naan "pizza" ($10) is topped with an intriguing combination of lamb, feta, and spinach that doesn't have Greek spices (it does have lots of pepper), and doesn't therefore come off as a cliché. The only weakness is that naan is a soft, moist bread, and toasts up into too stiff a pizza crust. The whole fried fish ($17) gets to the table hot and aromatic, with the fish sitting on its stomach. Ignore the trimmings of sliced radishes, cress, and pickled ginger, and especially the sake bottle of deadly habanero vinegar. This kind of fish is most easily dissected with a fork, but the best way to eat one is really with your hands, to feel out the small bones. (If everyone stares at you, don't tell them the Phoenix made you do it.)
Silver pin noodles ($14) is a Nonya (Chinese-Malaysian) dish that's comforting in any culture — fat noodles like softer udon, creamy morsels of tofu, leaves of celtuce, and secret enrichments.
Since we had some time and appetite left, we split up a bowl of steamed littleneck and razor clams with chorizo and pozole ($14). Up to that last ingredient, this was New England Portuguese, with the meaty razor clams being the novel element. Pozole (big kernels of white hominy) is a clever addition to the winey sausage-clam broth, but too much salt did this one in. Confit duck and Chinese sausage fried rice ($14) is a silly bit of fusion, about half as much yang chow fried rice as you really need, with peas and bits of Chinese sausage, a fried egg slid on top rather than sliced in, and much larger morsels of undercured confit duck. Crispy shrimp and mushroom wontons ($8) were plenty crisp, but the wonton skins overcame the shrimp or mushroom tastes, so one might as well eat chow-mein noodles dipped in Vietnamese fish sauce and vinegar, or sweet-hot Thai squid sauce.
We tried only a couple of the cheaper glasses of wine, but both were worthy of note. The 2008 Txakoli ($40/bottle; $10/glass) is a Basque blend of three ancient grapes (Hondarribi zuri, gros manseng, and petit corbu, if you want to show off) that, with modern steel-tank technology, make a light white wine that smells like a high-end pinot grigio, but surprises with a long, tart, slightly bitter flavor. This is a wine for modern food, and production is expanding to fill demand from the hippest bistros around. Apparently you wouldn't want it much older than a year. On the red side, the 2006 Mingo tempranillo ($32; $8) is a soft wine with all kinds of dusty fruit, and a little age such as you need with Spanish reds.
Instead of our last three dishes, we should have gone straight to the only dessert, which is complimentary sake cups of creamy hot chocolate just slightly spiced.
Service at Ginger Park is now quite good, with our server explaining some of the oddities of the menu and concept, organizing our selections into something like a sequence, and getting the fried items to the table pronto. The atmosphere has gone from oppressive to busy and human with not much more than a drop in the decibel level. It's still a loud room with techno background music and a fascinating plywood rainforest canopy. But now, with more interesting food, it works. ^
Robert Nadeau can be reached at email@example.com.