It’s Whatever Wednesday, and welcome to our very first restaurant review. This won’t be a regular feature on Surviving the Food Allergy Apocalypse, as we’re somewhat geographically constrained, and there are other websites that do this sort of thing, but when we find a great place to go out and eat with food allergies, we plan to share it with you.
Blue Ginger, in Wellesley, Mass., was opened in 1998 by Ming Tsai, star of Boston public television’s Simply Ming. He’s also a spokesperson and activist for food allergy awareness who has written the standard protocol for food service staff for dealing with patrons who have food allergies. We were excited to go out for a (very) nice dinner and have our allergies dealt with easily and in a way that felt safe. Three of us went to dinner, our friend Laura V, who lives in the Boston area and who does not have any major food sensitivities, and both of us, Mary Kate and Denise.
Blue Ginger is upscale, but casual, with a clean and modern dining room and open kitchen. They have a gluten-free menu. Additionally, though, our server asked each of us about allergens, wrote down the list, asked about severity and cross-contamination, and was very well-versed in the ingredients of each dish on the menu. After discussing the dishes we were interested in, she checked with the kitchen staff before coming back to tell us what the kitchen could do with the dishes we were interested in and our allergens.
A bread basket was provided, and while they do not have a gluten-free bread, they did bring a basket of egg-free and dairy-free bread out for Denise, with olive oil for dipping. The egg-free and dairy-free baguette slices were homemade at the restaurant and contained flour, water, and salt, but somehow managed to taste buttery and melt in your mouth light. It was crisp without being overly crusty and soft but still having lots of air bubbles and texture.
Laura and Denise each had the Gosling’s Ginger Storm. Laura and Denise both have a high appreciation for Gosling’s Black Seal Rum in general. Gosling’s Ginger Storm was described on the menu as “Gosling’s Black Seal Rum blended with house ginger syrup, fresh lime juice and a splash of soda. Shaken and served on the rocks.” It was very good, but Denise would have liked just a tad more lime. It also made Denise and Mary Kate consider whether we could make our own ginger syrup (which Mary Kate wants over ice cream, not rum).
Laura also tried the Massachusetts Mojito, which was described on the menu as “Locally made Privateer White Rum, our Thai Basil Syrup and a touch of Cranberry.” Laura liked it, but said she liked the Gosling’s Ginger Storm better and that she thought the mojito could use more cranberry.
Denise had the Crispy Fried Calamari with Thai Dipping Sauce as an appetizer. The breading was sweet potato flour (which we need to find and experiment with), regular wheat flour, and tapioca starch. There was no need for modification based on Denise’s allergies. The sweet potato flour imparted a distinctly nutty flavor to the breading and the calamari was perfectly cooked, so it had exactly the right level of tenderness without being rubbery. It’s really hard to cook calamari without overcooking it. The dipping sauce had more of a lime vinaigrette feeling to it than a Thai Dipping Sauce, but it was still good, and complemented the calamari. It’s very hard to find dairy-free and egg-free fried seafood anymore, Denise was tickled to be able to have it. Denise ate the entire thing, which is why she didn’t end up having dessert, as noted below.
Laura had the Foie Gras-Shiitake Shumai in Sauternes-Shallot Broth as an appetizer. Laura thought that the foie gras made them very rich, and a little went a long way. The Sauterness-Shallot broth was excellent, with a sweetness that complemented the foie gras.
For the main course, Mary Kate had the Pan Seared Scallops with Tamarind Sauce, and Sautéed Haricot Verts over a bed of sticky rice (this was a substitution for a fancier rice with edamame, which Mary Kate can’t eat). The scallops were perfectly seared, having a gorgeous caramel color as a result. It was simple and phenomenal, with a tang and spice from the tamarind sauce and a brightness from the herb sauce. The fancy green beans were also great.
For the main course, Denise had the Garlic-Black Pepper Lobster with Lemongrass Fried Rice, Pea Tendril Salad with Tamari-Ginger Vinaigrette. The restaurant was able to substitute out all dairy products (i.e. a “great deal of butter” according to our server) for oil, and although that doesn’t really sound appetizing, it was luscious. The lobster was again perfectly cooked. Being from Maine and being a lobster snob, this was a huge deal for Denise. Whoever is cooking the seafood at the Blue Ginger really knows what they are doing. The garlic-pepper sauce was wonderful and the garlic morsels were cooked to perfection as well (Denise is feeling like Goldilocks at this moment and a bit like a broken record). Denise loved the Pea Tendril Salad. They were tender and the Tamari-Ginger Vinaigrette was a excellent complement. (How come restaurants in New Hampshire don’t use pea shoots or pea tendrils and you can only get them in the Boston area? It’s very annoying.) (I don’t know about restaurants, but pea tendrils are available at more than one local store. They aren’t cheap. -MK) [MK, where did you see them? -D] (Concord Co-op, Hannaford, and even Market Basket once or twice. -MK) [I’m blind apparently. -D] The Lemongrass Fried Rice was more like a rice pilaf and didn’t really have a lemongrass flavor to it. It was the only less than exceptional note to the dish.
For the main course, our friend Laura had the Grilled Marinated Beef Tenderloin with Peppercorn Demi Glace, Housemade Corned Beef Hash with Brussels Sprouts Pomegranate Salad. It looked fantastic. Denise and Mary Kate both sampled the Brussels sprouts with pomegranate seeds — the sprouts were separated into the individual leaves, which appeared to be pan fried to the point of being crispy in a flavorful fat, and the combination of pomegranate and Brussels sprouts frankly sang. That’s one to play with, for sure. Laura thought that the Brussels Sprouts Pomegranate Salad was excellent and that she could have eaten a whole plate of that alone. Laura thought that the crunchy sweet pomegranate seeds perfectly complemented the savory Brussels sprout leaves. The tenderloin was cooked perfectly to medium rare as requested. The only thing that Laura would have changed was the inclusion of the corned beef hash. She felt it was an unnecessary element, and she would have preferred more potato as well.
While the dessert menu did look fantastic, and the server had attempted to offer some accommodations for dessert, Denise and Mary Kate were quite full by then, and instead ordered tea. Laura, who does not share our dietary restrictions, ordered the Five Spice Apple Fritters with Cider Glaze, Cinnamon Ice Cream and Ginger Apple Compote. It looked wonderful. Laura thought that the spices they used cut the sweetness of the cider glaze and the fritters were crunchy on the outside and still moist and cake-y on the inside. (For anyone wishing to experiment, Penzey’s sells a great Chinese Five Spice blend. It really is great with apples. -MK)
The server graciously brought a small plate of the blood orange and yuzu geleés, which are outstanding (and normally part of the petite fours platter), and which complied with both Denise’s and Mary Kate’s restrictions. Mary Kate is currently looking up recipes, as this was an unintended highlight and perfect ending to the meal.
Although this was not a restaurant either Denise or Mary Kate can afford to patronize regularly, not to mention it being over an hour away, it was certainly a wonderful treat. The staff were very well educated and accommodating and we had confidence in their knowledge and did not have any anxiety about possible accidental exposures. Beyond that, the food was excellent and definitely worth writing home about — or, you know, writing on the internet.
Blue Ginger’s menu can be found on Ming Tsai’s website.
This review was not solicited and neither authors have received any compensation. Opinions are our own.