Out in Inman Square, there's a sleek Asian fusion eatery where Montien used to be. Or maybe it's a sports bar. Albeit a sports bar that offers tempura with trivia night.
Either way, it's clear the Ginger Exchange has an identity crisis. It flounders between trendy pan-Asian joint and happy-hour watering hole. The direction gets lost somewhere amid the artfully lit sushi bar, doo-wop playlist (a server said it's been the soundtrack for several months straight), and Saturday-evening Ladies Night — because nothing says "Let's go, girls!" like free edamame.
But just because the vibe is a hot mess doesn't mean the food suffers the same problem. While the scope of their menu is daunting — Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean — standouts are easy to spot.
The U.F.O. (described as "sushi pizza") is interesting enough for its preparation. Imagine a pizza cut into slices, but instead of doughy pie crust, you've got a thin layer of tempura-crusted rice and seaweed. Version one of the U.F.O. ($10.95) comes topped with a bitey mix of tuna, salmon, spicy mayo, sriracha, avocado, tomato, and jalapeños. Version two ($9.95) substitutes unagi for the tuna and salmon, ditches the jalapeños and tomato, and finishes it all off with cream cheese and eel sauce.
For a light and refreshing but filling lunch, try Joe's Bao Bao ($8.95). Juicy teriyaki chicken, lettuce, and fried onions are stuffed into three bao bao buns — a soft, white, almost foamy bun cooked in wet-steam heat. A side of crisp and airy shrimp chips plays crunchy foil to the semi-sweet chew of the bao bao.
For dessert, the ice cream–stuffed mochi sampler ($5.50) boasts a lineup of strawberry, green-tea, and mango mochi patties, accompanied by — I kid you not — cherry tomatoes sculpted into bunny rabbits. Is there some tangential relation between bunnies and chewy-soft, powdered mochi? Hell if I know. But put tiny, edible rabbits on a plate, and you've got a sure win for anyone with a soul.
With a little atmospheric tweaking, the Ginger Exchange could carve out its own niche. Their strong menu has just enough quirk — and plenty of variety — to distinguish itself.
THE GINGER EXCHANGE, located at 1287 Cambridge Street in Cambridge, is open Monday–Wednesday, 12–3 pm and 5–11 pm; Thursday–Friday, 12–3 pm and 5 pm–12 am; Saturday, 12 pm–12 am; and Sunday, 12–10 pm. Call 617.250.8618 or visit thegingerexchange.com.