Ginger Bistro takes "Asian fusion" to the next level: Down

Ginger Bistro takes "Asian fusion" to the next level: Down

Ginger Bistro describes its cuisine as "pioneering Asian fusion." It might be the first Asian fusion restaurant located inside an old Blockbuster video store, which I suppose would make it a pioneer of retail development. Its food, however, isn't what we mean by Asian fusion. Yes, you can find wasabi mashed potatoes on the menu, along with a few of the other ideas that helped turn the concept of "fusion cuisine" from an intriguing intermingling of ingredients and techniques into a cliché or a punch line (or both). For the most part, though, the menu reads like a roll call of America's most loved Asian (and "Asian") dishes: kung pao chicken, California rolls, pad Thai. There are even a couple of nods to current trends, such as banh mi.

Except that this banh mi has honey ham on it.

Ginger Bistro opened in late September of last year in the Delmar Loop, and as soon as you step inside the restaurant for the first time, you can understand why the kitchen has dumbed down its banh mi sandwich with American-style cold cuts for a broader appeal: The place is enormous, seating well over 100. (With its dim lighting and subdued décor, "cavernous" might be a better description.)

Ginger Bistro steps into the Loop.
Jennifer Silverberg
Ginger Bistro steps into the Loop.

Location Info

Map

Ginger Bistro

6665 Delmar Blvd.
University City, MO 63130

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: University City

6665 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-222-2588.
Hours: 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight Sun.

Related Stories

More About

The banh mi was fusion cuisine before it had a name, a hybrid of Vietnamese and French traditions: meat (often a combination of ham, headcheese and pâté) and several different vegetables, most notably chiles, cilantro and pickled daikon, inside a crusty baguette. At Ginger Bistro you can choose either the aforementioned honey ham or beef bulgogi, a Korean dish. Teeth gritted, I opted for the honey ham. It was in the ballpark — or at least, in the neighborhood in the vicinity of the ballpark — of an authentic banh mi.

The menu did mention pâté, but there was none on my sandwich. There wasn't that much honey ham, either: a few tissue-thin slices, pale and watery and wrinkled. Worse than the meat was the baguette: It wasn't at all crusty and had the dull chew and insipid flavor of grocery-store white bread. Its blandness smothered whatever pop the vegetables might have provided.

A pall of white-bread blandness settled over almost everything I tried at Ginger Bistro — so pervasive was this pall that when a order of the "Hot and Spicy Calamari" turned out to be inedibly salty, it provided a moment of relief: The calamari were awful, but at least I knew my taste buds still worked. Contrast this with another appetizer, "Korean Hot Chicken Wings." The menu promises wings in "hot, spicy Korean sauce." Leaving aside that "Korean sauce" sounds like it is made from actual Koreans, those who love pungent gochujang paste or belong to the cult that worships fiery Korean-style fried chicken will be forgiven for licking their chops. Yet what arrive are tiny wings, battered and then fried, with a strong whiff of up-from-frozen about them. The "Korean" sauce is served on the side, barely hot, barely piquant, barely worth mentioning.

"BBQ Pork Bamboo Pot," one of the "House Special" entrées, combines shockingly flavorless slices of (allegedly) Cantonese-style barbecued pork with vegetables — which vegetables don't matter, you can't taste 'em — over rice. This is topped with a beaten and runny egg. This looks like snot, but it does give the dish a touch of sweetness. "Spicy Coconut Curry Chicken," another of the house specialties, tastes like a Thai yellow curry if you left out the curry paste and cut the coconut milk with water.

"Sweet and Hot Pepper Chicken" achieves a trifecta, being neither sweet nor hot nor peppery. Instead the dish, which besides chicken contains mushrooms, zucchini and red and green bell peppers, has an unpleasant flavor reminiscent of burnt soy sauce. Kung pao beef is passable, with some actual kick — ask for it extra hot — but undercut by the main ingredient, the texture of which I found discomfitingly soft.

On my final visit, I tried yet another house specialty, the bulgogi. It wasn't the worst dish I ate at Ginger Bistro, yet it crystallized what bothers me about the place. First, the good: The beef's texture was, well, beef-like, tender but with some chew; its flavor suggested garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce. Yet if I didn't know that this was a grilled preparation, I'd never have guessed it. The meat had no flavor of char, no sizzle of ambient heat. The presentation couldn't have been less inspired: one pile of beef strips, two scoops of white rice, a pile of limp vegetables.

It goes without saying that, unlike bulgogi (or any entrée) at a traditional Korean restaurant, there were no ban chan, the half-dozen (or more) hot and cold side dishes that accompany the main course. That might not be a fair complaint — after all, Ginger Bistro doesn't claim to be a traditional Korean restaurant. To which I reply, "True," and, "So what?"

A decade ago, maybe, you would celebrate a restaurant introducing a mass audience to banh mi or beef bulgogi, however debased that restaurant's specific examples might be. In 2011, thanks to the explosion of food-related books, TV shows and blogs, we expect more of our restaurants. We expect them to respect our growing knowledge about food. We expect them to reward our curiosity to learn even more. We expect them to understand that if they try to pass off a banh mi with honey ham in it as a cultural lesson, we are going to take to Yelp or Urbanspoon or this here column to call them out for it.

Ginger Bistro might not be an Asian fusion restaurant, but it has one very important thing in common with that cuisine: It is a relic.

 
My Voice Nation Help
13 comments
Mcamp
Mcamp

My husband and I went to Ginger Bistro today since I was in the mood for some Asian cuisine. The food was less than appealing! It reminded me of a really bad knockoff of P.F. Chang's. I was hungy and wanted to try several items off the menue, so I ordered the lettuce wraps, and the spicy tuna roll for an appetizer. My husband ordered the Vietnamese chicken wings. My lettuce wraps tasted alright but the presentation reminded me of dog food. The spicy tuna roll was disgusting! On the other hand, my husband's chicken wings were delish! For mymain course, I ordered the lunch special chicken and my husband ordered the shrimp and chicken lo mein. His was much more delicious than mine, which tasted like something I could have whipped up at home. If you can help it, please do not dine here!

muttseye
muttseye

Wow, sounds like someone was sad that Bockbuster is really never ever coming back. I've been there twice now, once for dinner with the family and again for lunch by myself.

Both times the service was great and the food and portions were great as was the price. Attention to detail was great, from the utensils, state of the art air filtration system and curteous help.

Blockbuster ain't coming back, get over it and enjoy some good Asian cuisine.

Shyelegance
Shyelegance

I dined here on two separate occasions, and it was an extremely unpleasant experience. The food is mediocre at best. The seasoning and spice do not agree with the corresponding dishes. I would recommend saving your money and dining elsewhere.

Alan Buxbaum
Alan Buxbaum

I was very disappointed when I ate there. I had the only bland Pad Thai I have ever eaten. My entire party agreed that their food was universally tatsteless. With as many good Thai and Vietnamese restaurants that we have, this one is worth ignoring.

Eric
Eric

Flurry of indignant comments from the restaurant owners' friends in five. Four. Three. Two.

(As a near-lifelong resident of U. City and recent inhabitant of the Loop, I'd just like to remind everyone reading that if you're in the mood for bulgogi or a killer bibimbap, the delicious and ever-underrecognized U-City Grill is, as always, just around the corner from Cicero's.)

Stacysnyders
Stacysnyders

I have to say the food is really good. The Beef Bulgoki was excellent---and the reviewer fails to mention the egg on top! I have also tried several other menu items and found them to be just as good. It sounds to me like this reviewer is having a bad day!

Jim
Jim

I love seeing a brutal review like this every once in a while. It shows the reviewer has some balls. With that said, I some at least DECENT restaurants would move into the Loop. I like Blueberry Hill, but it shouldn't be the best place to eat in the entire neighborhood.

Alan
Alan

Try Thai Pizza!

BV
BV

Damn...That's too bad since I go to the gym upstairs. But, I feel better now about walking out the door when I found that people were smoking at the bar. I was looking for a sushi bar experience and couldn't understand how you could have that with smoking.

Mantelli
Mantelli

Thanks! My husband and I felt as if our tastebuds had gone to sleep the night we tried the place as well. We tried in vain to get them to up the spiciness on some dishes, but no dice. I had to add a lot of rooster sauce to one dish to get it down at all.

What's really sad is that St. Louis Bubble Tea next door serves a handful of really excellent Chinese dishes, but nobody seems to know about them. If these dishes were on Ginger Bistro's menu, they'd redeem it from mediocrity. On the other hand, if St. Louis Bubble Tea had Ginger Bistro's glitz, maybe somebody would notice the good cooking.

stl_eater
stl_eater

have you ever ordered from the Sichuan menu at Joy Luck (avoid the buffet at all costs!)? very tasty dishes that get you much closer to authentic Chinese cooking then any other restaurant i have tried--was first introduced by a good friend from the Sichuan region. if you go, the garlic eggplant is delicious!

lilywonka
lilywonka

Also try the Cumin Lamb. And if you want really authentic Chinese pork belly meat, go to Panda Palace at 141 and Manchester. Try the Mao Style Red Meat. This is as close to mom's cooking as I have tasted in St. Louis.

Eric
Eric

Word. The mapo tofu from Joy Luck is better than any I've had in town.

 
Loading...