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Wild Ginger

February 20, 2014

In doing some research for our trip to Seattle, I told my husband to find us a place to eat dinner in downtown Seattle for one of the evenings.  After I sent him off with that task, what does he come back to me?  A suggestion for gelato that’s only 2 blocks from our hotel.  Ok, that’s terrific, but gelato isn’t dinner (though that gelato place ended up being Gelatiamo, which was fantastic).  So, he goes back to do bit more research and comes up with a restaurant called Wild Ginger, across the street from Gelatiamo.  My guess, the restaurant had him with the word “ginger” in its name as my husband has to be the biggest ginger fan I know.  Being located across the street from Gelatiamo, I was ok with anything that wouldn’t require too much walking into strange parts of town we weren’t familiar with.  However, the name Wild Ginger triggered something in my head, like I had heard of it before.  And that’s when the light bulb went off, I had heard of this restaurant before as I remember having made reservations for dinner for my boss for a business meeting a few years prior.  I made it a point to ask my boss about the restaurant, and his immediate reaction was that he really liked the restaurant and thought that my husband and I would as well.  That was a good enough endorsement for me.

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The story of Wild Ginger is that the owners of the restaurant took off on a trip to SouthEast Asia and came back with a great appreciation for the food and culture they experienced while overseas.  Upon returning to Seattle, they decided that they wanted to open up a restaurant to bring the flavors of SouthEast Asia to the Pacific Northwest.  Wild Ginger Asian Restaurant and Satay Bar was born in 1989.  Over 20 years later, the restaurant has become a pillar of the Seattle dining scene, having moved into their current location across the street from Benaroya Hall in 2000.  I was super excited to give Wild Ginger a try.

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Drinks up first.  I probably ordered what my husband wanted to order, but since I beat him to it, he decided he’d try something different.  Boylan Bottle Work’s Creamy Red Birch Beer ended up being his drink of choice.  Much like root beer and ginger beer, the term “beer” is a bit misleading.  Creamy red birch beer is actually a non-alcoholic creamy root drink that is a mix of something between root beer and cream soda.  Boylan describes the creamy red birch as a smoother and creamier version of their original red birch beer by virtue of the addition of a hint of vanilla.  I think my husband liked it well enough.

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I ordered a specialty non-alcoholic drink called the peachy keen.  Described as a mixture of orange juice, lemon lime soda, peach and raspberry it was a little bit carbonated and a little tangy and sweet.  It reminded me a bit of the “Shirley Temple” I got at the Seawall Bar & Grill in Vancouver.  That combination of orange juice and lemon lime soda creates a nice fizzy, carbonic and slightly sweet drink that’s really refreshing.

Because Wild Ginger is a satay bar, we figured that instead of ordering appetizers we should give a couple of their satay dishes a try.  If the restaurant has the word satay in its name and half the appetizer menu is a list of different satay’s, I’m going to have to assume that this is something the restaurant thinks that they do well and wants to highlight.  For those who don’t know, satay is an Indonesian word which translates to “skewered.”  Found in many SouthEast Asian nations, different types of meats, poultry and seafood can be found skewered on wooden bamboo sticks which are then grilled over an open flame.  Here at Wild Ginger, these grilled skewers were served with a rice cake and pickled cucumbers.

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Our first satay was salmon.  We figured that since salmon is so prevalently found in the area and that fresh fish is always available, that a grilled salmon skewer would be perfect.  The salmon satay was served with a teriyaki dipping sauce.  The pickled cucumbers are something that you commonly see served with satay in SouthEast Asia.  The salmon and teriyaki sauce was the perfect combination, with the sweetness from the salmon and the tangy bite of the teriyaki.  I really enjoyed the rice cake, which was more like a rice ball made of sticky glutinous rice and the pickled cucumbers was refreshing with the tang of the vinegar combining with the crunch and slightly sweet cucumber.

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The second satay we chose was Saigon scallops made with 3 fresh sea scallops per skewer that are lightly grilled.  The dipping sauce with the scallops was a soy and black vinegar sauce.  The soy and vinegar combination made the sauce very thin and light, and with the scallops, I wished we had a thicker type sauce that actually would coat the scallops.  But the scallops themselves were amazingly sweet and tender and perfectly grilled so it had a bit of char flavor.  My husband and I both thought that the scallops were ultimately better than the salmon.

As Wild Ginger serves food family style, we decided to go with a variety of entrees so that we could touch upon several of Wild Ginger’s specialties.  All entrees come in two sizes, small and large.  We opted to go with the smaller size on all of the entrees, and it’s a good thing we did because they actually ended up being quite large for just the two of us.

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The first dish is Wild Ginger’s most popular and what they call the house specialty, the Wild Ginger fragrant duck.  I think this is definitely the first time my husband and I have ever ordered a duck dish to share.  My husband is a duck fan and has certainly ordered duck for himself, but I’ve never been a huge fan of duck and have never ordered it for myself.  The dish contains succulent fresh duck spiced with cinnamon and star anise.  Along with the duck, the dish was served with steamed buns, Sichuan peppercorn salt and sweet plum sauce.  The idea is to take a steamed bun, open it up, load it up with some of the duck (the meat as well as the crispy skin), add some cilantro, mix together the peppercorn salt and plum sauce, and add the sauce to the duck and create a duck sandwich inside the steamed bun.  Generally, I’m not a fan of plum sauce, but the combination of the peppercorn salt and the plum sauce was amazing and matched perfectly with the spiced duck.  The crispy skin created a nice texture contrast to the rich duck meat.  And the steamed bun was a thing of beauty, light and airy with just a hint of sweetness to it.  This had to be one of the better duck dishes I’ve ever had, and my husband thought it was one of the best dishes we had the entire trip.

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Our second entrée was something called seven flavor beef, another one of the dishes Wild Ginger is known for.  In fact, the menu descries it as a Wild ginger favorite.  The dish is from Vietnam and is composed of sliced flank steak marinated in the seven flavors of lemongrass, peanuts, chilies, hoisin, basil, ginger and garlic.  That’s basically the holy trinity of SouthEast Asian flavors.  The beef is served on a bed of sautéed bean sprouts and onions.  Neither my husband nor I could believe just how incredibly flavorful the beef was.  You could taste the lemongrass and the basil and the ginger and garlic and just a faint touch of the chilies.  It was just amazing.  I also enjoyed contrast in the crunch of the onions and the bean sprouts that were served with the seven flavor beef.

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The final entrée we ordered was the seabass.  According to the menu this was certified sustainable seabass, which is a big deal in Seattle as many of the restaurants pride themselves on serving only sustainable seafood.  The seabass was pan-fried and topped with aromatic SouthEast Asian herbs and crushed peanuts.  Oh my gosh this was amazing.  The seabass was literally melt-in-your-mouth.  The flavor of the herbs and the peanuts complimented the buttery texture of the seabass so well.  I probably could have eaten a couple of filets of this seabass if not for the fact that we had beef and duck as well!  It’s amazing to see how a few herbs can really infuse flavor into a dish.  This has to be one of the most flavorful seabass dishes I’ve ever had.

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After dinner, my husband did something I’ve never seen him do before, and that’s order an after dinner drink!  I think he was pretty full from the meal itself, but as soon as he read the drink menu, he just had to order the first drink on the list called the satay separator.  The satay separator is a drink made with Grand Marnier, brandy, Kahlua, whipped cream, chocolate sauce and all served in a chilled martini glass.  My husband really enjoyed this drink, I think partially because the drink was straight up alcohol, there were no mixers, no fruit juice, no syrup.  Every ingredient was alcohol.  But he said it was nice and smooth and a good mix of different types of alcohol to make a really good after dinner drink.

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To go with his satay separator, for dessert, my husband ordered a very simple mango sorbet garnished with some lime zest.  Originally, my husband was thinking that he might not finish his dessert because dinner was filling and he had his cocktail.  But, I assume he must have really liked the sorbet because the next thing I know, it was gone.  I was able to sneak in a spoonful of sorbet before my husband devoured it.  I found it to be smooth and sweet and a bit tart.  That told me that they used fresh ingredients in the sorbet rather than some sort of mango syrup substitute, which was nice.

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For my own dessert, I chose the rich chocolate torte.  The torte was a bit more like a flourless chocolate cake than a torte, but that didn’t make it any less chocolate-y!  The desert was garnished with fresh whipped cream and orange zest.  I’m going to say that the whipped cream itself probably had some orange juice in it too because you really could taste a hint of orange infused into it.  The rich chocolate torte stood up to its name as it really was rich.  As any torte or flourless cake is, it was heavy because it was missing the air component.  But the chocolate was silky and smooth and rich and not bitter at all.  Obviously, this torte was made with high-quality chocolate.  And there’s just something about the combination of rich chocolate and a hint of orange that just creates a happy marriage.

My husband and I fell in love with Wild Ginger.  If not for a dish we had at dinner our last day in Seattle, my husband would have easily said that the fragrant duck was the best dish we had on this trip.  We loved the freshness and quality of the ingredients served at the restaurant.  The atmosphere of the restaurant was relaxing and inviting.  The concept of Wild Ginger and the satay bar was fresh and new and different.  The flavors of the food were bold, and unique and delicious all in one mouthful.  When I find myself in Seattle again, you can bet I’ll make a return visit to Wild Ginger.

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