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2009 Fine Dining Hall of Fame: Blue Ginger

2009 Fine Dining Hall of Fame: Blue Ginger

ADDRESS: 583 Washington StreetCUISINE: East-WestCHEF/CO-OWNER: Ming TsaiCO-OWNER: Polly TsaiPHONE: (781) 283-5790WEBSITE: 1998PER-PERSON DINNER CHECK AVERAGE WITH BEVERAGES:$60SEATS: 120 in the dining room, plus 50 in the lounge and 80 in a private dining roomAVERAGE WEEKLY COVERS: 1,500BEST-SELLING DISH: sake-miso marinated butterfish with wasabi oil, soy-lime syrup and vegetarian soba noodle sushi

Blue Ginger’s celebrity chef-owner Ming Tsai is quick to share the credit for his restaurant’s long-lasting success.

“The key to the success is that I hired well and continue to hire well,” Tsai says, noting that his trusted staffers “ultimately are the success of the restaurant.”

Blue Ginger, which blends Eastern flavors and ingredients with Western techniques, has been humming along for more than 11 years. It is the first and only restaurant that the 1989 Cornell University graduate has owned.

Blue Ginger, which is located in the town of Wellesley, Mass., 10 miles outside of Boston, recently added 60 seats and a bar area that Tsai says allows him to offer lower-priced fare like Ming’s Bings, which are Asian-style steamed buns. The extension, which opened in May 2008, has helped the high-end operation weather the economic downturn.

Timing has always been one of Tsai’s strengths, he says. Just a few months after Blue Ginger opened in 1998, his inaugural television show, “East Meets West,” debuted on the Food Network.

“[That] was a good year for me,” he says.

Tsai calls “East Meets West” the most valuable marketing he could have imagined. Mat Schafer, restaurant critic for the Boston Herald, agrees that the exposure has been a boon to Blue Ginger.

“You can’t negate the influence of the TV show,” Schafer says. “Back when Blue Ginger opened, it was right at the time when people were getting interested in watching TV food shows.”

More recently, Ming has hosted another cooking show called “Simply Ming” on PBS.

Tsai says the location of Wellesley was a bit of a lucky break as well. He wanted to open in Boston proper, but in the heyday of Internet startup money, real estate was at a premium. He wanted at least 100 seats and couldn’t find an affordable space in the city.

“You can’t really make money on a 50-or 60-seater,” he says. “I wanted the magic formula that Cornell teaches you: 100 seats or 100 rooms for a hotel to make money. Obviously, I am not just in it for my health; I am in it to get my kid through college.”

The demographics of Wellesley also worked for Tsai.

“I don’t care if you are rich or not, but I do care if you are well-traveled,” Tsai says. “Because if you are well-traveled, you tend to appreciate your food more and you tend to appreciate life more. Wellesley was a gem of a community. It had tons of people that love food.”

Even as he lauds the people that make Blue Ginger successful, Tsai continues to keep a close eye on the restaurant.

“I [taste] everything I can possibly try,” he says, “including the boiling water, to make sure there is enough salt in it.”

Tsai’s motivation for that type of hands-on management is simple. He feels the pressure to perform every night.

“Half the time it is someone’s first time at Blue Ginger,” he says. “They just drove in from New York or Nebraska. If it is not a spot-on perfect meal, they are disappointed.”


APPETIZERS Wok Stirred Ginger-Soy Maitake Mushrooms with Truffled Parmesan Flan $12

Colossal Shrimp & Vegetable Tempura with Yuzu-Dashi Aïoli $15

Ming’s Tea-Smoked Salmon & Beef Carpaccio with Fresh Wasabi Emulsion $14Crispy Fried Calamari with Thai Dipping Sauce $11

ENTRÉES Tea Spiced Pork Loin and Black Bean-Garlic Pork Belly $27

Spring Pea-Wild Mushroom Fricassee and Two Basil Puree

Teriyaki Glazed Hanger Steak with Red Miso-Dijon Sauce $35

Tea Smoked Shiitake-Potato Croquette and Shiso Crème Fraîche

Rice Paper Wrapped Salmon with Lobster-Sake Sauce $32

Wild Mushroom Risotto and Shaved Fennel-Herb Salad

Asian Lacquered Poussin with Tamarind-Hoisin Sauce $26 Mandarin Chicken Orzo ‘Fried Rice’ and Three-Pea Salad

DESSERT Blue Ginger Strawberry Shortcake $12

Spiced Shortcake, Jasmine-Strawberry Soup and Ginger Cream

Blue Ginger Banana Mochi Sorbet Split $12

Guava-Lime Sorbet, Spicy Pineapple Milk Glace and Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet

Sesame Macadamia Caramel Nut Tart $12

Toasted Coconut Ice Cream

House-made Hot Fudge and Gosling’s Rum Caramel

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