Ginger Island

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Note: This restaurant has closed. A new restaurant named Eccolo by former Chez Panisse co-chef Christopher Lee, will open at its location in mid-March 2004

Ginger Island had been on my list of restaurants to try for several years. I was seduced by its cheery name which evoked in my mind images of tropical beaches and exotic Caribbean cuisine. I don't know why I would have assumed that it was a Caribbean restaurant (it actually seems to serve Asian fusion food), but even once I realized my mistake, I thought it was worth a try. I changed my mind, however, when I read the SF Chronicle review of the restaurant a few months ago. It said the food was drab and that the food combinations did not work well; underdone duck, soggy potatoes and so on just did not sound good, so I scratched the restaurant from my list. A few weeks ago, however, SF Magazine featured an article indicting Michael Bauer, the SF Chronicle food critic, and calling into question his methods and integrity as a critic. It's impossible for me to judge how accurate the article was, but it at least made me realize that I shouldn't take these restaurant reviews too seriously - therefore I decided to try Ginger Island last Friday night (early August, 2001). I am glad I did. I found the food to be rather good, though not terribly exciting, the ambiance to be pleasant and the service to be excellent. Still, I didn't find anything to make me want to make a special trip back to the restaurant - though I'll certainly go there again for lunch when shopping on 4th Street.

We had made reservations for 7:30, and got there about half an hour early (you never know how traffic will be in the Bay Area). The restaurant wasn't crowded - though it was busy enough - so we were able to be seated immediately. The dining room where we sat was nice but simple, its nicest feature is a receding glass ceiling, which can be opened when warm and dry, and closed when its cold or rainy. The tables were a little bit too close together, but we didn't feel intruded upon by our neighbors (and hopefully they felt the same way).

Service was brisk, efficient but still friendly. Water, drinks, bread were replenished almost immediately; the different courses were well-spaced, though the waiters seemed to be perpetually rushing. The only criticism I can legitimately make, however, is that our waitress should have warned us that we ordered too much food. The portions at Ginger Island are more than generous, and it's almost impossible to finish an appetizer, main dish and dessert.

The menu that evening was only a little bit different from the one available online. It features dishes that draw from European, Asian and Latin American cuisines. I am not crazy about fusion food in general, but the offerings seemed interesting enough.

As appetizer, I ordered the baby back ribs ($9) and Mike had the calamari ($8). Mike found the calamari to be pretty tasteless, though the accompanying ginger sauce was very good. The portion was very large and he ended up bringing some home. We also liked the baby back ribs, though I am not sure they worked as an appetizer (indeed, they are accompanied by fries and served as a main dish in the regular menu). They were basted with a sweet Asian-tasting sauce that was quite distinct from most common bbq sauces. It was very pleasant, but I daresay that eating a whole dish of the ribs would have been boring. Still, at 9 ribs for $9 it was pretty well-priced.

I had been planning to order the duck for my main dish, but it wasn't on the menu that evening. Instead I opted for a cheeseburger (about $10) and it was a very good choice. The huge burger came with a wonderful zesty sauce and was delicious. The accompanying thin fries were crispy and very good. Mike had the Szechwan Roasted Chicken with mashed potatoes and black bean sauce ($16). The chicken was tender and good, though not outstanding. Mike really liked the sauce. What we both found weird were the mashed potatoes. They had a strange, ginger flavor, that was alienating at first though we grew to like it. We didn't finish them, though.

For dessert, we shared a hot fudge sundae. The fudge was delicious but it was not hot, it felt as if it had sat on the glass for quite a while. Other than that our main complaint was that the sundae was pretty small, specially for $6.

We were pretty tired so we didn't have any wine, just soft drinks. The dinner, with tip, was about $60. In all we had a very pleasant experience.

Ginger Island
1820 Fourth Street
(510) 644 0444