Friday Food Porn: Eating Pac-Man at Wild Ginger

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

Wild Ginger has spent years doing the same thing, bucking every trend and ignoring every crazy fluctuation in the fickle tastes of the dining public. It started out doing Asian fusion back in the first bloom of its cool and simply never stopped.

Today, the rest of the world seems to have come back around again to the appreciation of this kind of roots-level cuisine. And today, Wild Ginger stands as the single most popular restaurant in Seattle (by at least one measure). You can read all about it here, in this week's review. Or, if you're feeling lazy, you can just click on through and take a gander at these snaps of what Wild Ginger has always done best.

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"The best expression of the forethought inherent in Wild Ginger's genesis is the satay bar: a dozen-odd dishes, all wickedly overpriced, which offer the widest possible tour of the influences at play in the kitchen. I eat prawns, perfectly cleaned, butterflied, skewered, and grilled. They are served with a Cambodian dipping sauce that tastes like a chunky version of an Indonesian peanut sauce cut with a shot of Vietnamese Sriracha, and with a perfect cube of Thai sticky rice and a small mound of pickled cucumbers on the side. I chase it with Vietnamese Hawker Beef--one piece of rare flank steak, stabbed through with a skewer, tasting of lemongrass, yellow curry, and its sauce of peanuts, coriander, and hoisin. You know you're in a place that has committed to its concept when the plates are designed specifically to hold the dish you've just ordered--with a well for the sauce, a flat pedestal for the rice cake, another well for the pickle, and half the plate given to holding the skewers, which fit perfectly into their assigned slot. It's a custom plate. It couldn't be used for anything else."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Asian fusion was not invented at Wild Ginger, but it was, in a way, codified there. Owners Rick and Ann Yoder took off on a trip through Southeast Asia in the waning days of the 1980s. When they came home, they decided they wanted to start a restaurant that would combine everything they'd eaten and everything they'd seen while traipsing through strange latitudes. What was unique then was the odd purity of their vision: doing their best to recreate the flavors of the Mysterious East in a jumbled and borderless fashion where Thai chicken can rub shoulders with scallops dripping with black vinegar, where pot stickers, crab cakes, Malaysian laksa, and Mongolian noodles can all come together without it seeming the least bit weird because the entire board, taken together, just comes off like a huge, mildly psychotic dinner-party menu thrown by someone so jet-lagged and travel-chapped that the thousands of miles between the cultures that created the Mandarin chicken and the green papaya salad seem like nothing. It is a whole cuisine made of pieces, done in the shapes and colors of a dozen overlapping passport stamps."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Wild Ginger is huge, with a seating capacity in the hundreds and more overflow space, private rooms, and extra tables than most big restaurants have on their entire floor. Yet on weekends, during prime time, the place still fills with regulars fighting for tables on the upper deck so they can look out across the heads of the less fortunate and think themselves kings of this tiny, lemongrass-scented corner of the universe."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"The Singapore-style Dungeness crab comes dressed in a black bean sauce with tomatoes--shot through with ginger, garlic, and chiles--and requires implements to get at all the meat inside. I could've done fine with a hammer, but the claw-crackers and thin forks are a more dignified option. By the time I'm done, you can read the history of Southeast Asia's various expansions, contractions, and diasporas in the stains and spills I've left on the table: the shapes and flavors of Cambodia, India, Japan, a Vietnamese street corner, a Thai kitchen, and the hot alleys of an Indonesian market all mixed together, like tea-leaf-reading for the food-obsessed. Even after that, I am hungry for more."

For more pretty words, check out the review of Wild Ginger here. And for more pretty pictures, click through to the full Food Porn slideshow here.

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