Lunch at Wild Ginger (Bellevue, WA)

Over twenty years ago, Wild Ginger, then located behind Pike Place Market on the downhill side of Western Avenue, opened to rave reviews. It was the owners’ attempt to recreate the tastes they experienced throughout Southeast Asia in the late 1980s. Wild Ginger moved to new, more upscale digs on 4th Avenue 12 years ago, across the street from Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. The Eastside location in Bellevue opened a few years ago in the Bravern Shopping Center.

We’d been to Wild Ginger on several occasions through the years, original and newer locations. Nothing there has ever wowed me though the quality of the food is generally good. Just not great. I also can find something that’s equally good or better at many of Seattle’s Asian restaurants at more affordable prices.

Still, the foods of all Southeast Asia are on one menu, so you can sample diverse cuisines. There are those who swear by the Singapore-style Dungeness crab with black bean sauce. Ditto on Fragrant Duck, which I gather is similar to Peking duck. We’ve had neither.

Last week, Seattle Restaurant Week kicked off. At many of the area’s top restaurants, you can score a 3-course dinner for $28 or, at some places, a 3-course lunch for $15. Since both Wild Ginger locations were participating in the lunch special, we went there today.

For appetizers, we selected the house-made pickles and Otak Otak. The first was a trio of pickled vegetables: beets, green beans and daikon radish. Frankly, these were disappointing and uninspired. If the were meant to convey “Asian” flavors, it escaped me, except for the radish, which was reminiscent of less sweet Japanese takuan. Very underwhelming.

House-made pickles of beets, green beans and daikon radish
House-made pickles of beets, green beans and daikon radish

Otak Otak, Malaysian in origin, wrapped and steamed a piece of salmon, marinated in a light coconut curry, in a banana leaf with Asian greens (culantro, Thai basil, spinach and kaffir lime leaves). Thickened with egg, the curry sauce was fairly good. The fish was accompanied on the side by an artfully carved carrot garnish made to look like a flower, more presentation than complement.

Otak otak, curried salmon steamed in banana leaf
Otak otak, curried salmon steamed in banana leaf

Next came the main dishes. Pineapple Prawns were dressed in a another kind of curry sauce, thick and delicious, with tomato chunks and red pepper flakes, topped with shredded basil. A very good dish, though the pineapple chunks were cut too large.

Pineapple prawns and pineapple in curry sauce
Pineapple prawns and pineapple in curry sauce

Warm spices infused the sauce that napped Northern Style Pork Kurobuta, revealing flavors of star anise, cinnamon and cardamom. The pork was accompanied by delicious and mild house-made pickled garlic, silky onion slices and peanuts. This was an excellent entrée, our favorite, if stingy with the pork.

Northern-Style Pork Kurobuta
Northern-Style Pork Kurobuta

Our desserts were single scoops of mango sorbet and ginger ice cream. The sorbet was intensely mango-flavored, reminding us of the superb mango shaved ice that Facing East used to but no longer serves.

Mango sorbet and ginger ice cream
Mango sorbet and ginger ice cream

In summary, the entrées were done well enough, preparations that I admit I’ve never had before, but outside of the value provided by promotionals, I still won’t list Wild Ginger as an Asian restaurant that I’d go to often.

Wild Ginger
11020 Northeast 6th Street
Bellevue, WA 98004

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