Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Ghost Ship

A wacky Black Friday weekend had Joey re-entering the Great White North with a consolidating cold, and I had just the cure for what ailed him. Him and my own trembling heart. Food I had come to know and love quite well, striking the wok for two good years of my life. So it was no wonder when, just a week earlier, we passed what I had reviewed last February as the Sushi Boat, sunk, and salvaged now by the Red Ginger Modern Thai Viet Cuisine restaurant. Yes, another place built on what seems to be one of the city’s many cursed locales. Will it last? Time, obviously, will tell.

At the risk of sounding redundant, I was nagged by the strange feeling that I had been there before. I was jaded, yet again. Black and red walls, dim lighting, inappropriate, but clearly unintentional ornaments. Those fish stenciled on the walls were still there, as if ghostly pulses still stirring from the dreaded place it once was, and, strangely, still was. It was Joey and I, and no one else gazing at a long, somewhat familiar menu. Long, familiar, and more expensive than I would have liked, which may be one of few thrilling setbacks to Red Ginger restaurant. Yes comrades, I’ve had my fill of 3 dollar Vietnamese coffees and can’t help but feel a little cheated when similar restaurants scatter the city’s landscape with much cheaper cheques. So before you enter, be marginally prepared.

Before we were well on our way to ordering, Joey strained with the waiter for soup, soon calmed by my suggestion that he get a small bowl of pho, lest he want something he couldn’t finish. But admittedly, I was wrong. Finish he did, in no time, and while I waited for my papaya salad, sticky rice, and tamarind sauté, the smells were breaking my heart, reminiscing with my past self about the cold days I spent in Mummy’s kitchen- my old Thai employer- warmed by chili peppers, wok hei, and insurmountable amounts of coffee mixed with coconut milk and honey. But pleasant remembrances were few and far between, my glazed gaze broken by the chintzy soup Joey was slurping. Barely any onions, greens, and no coriander to be seen. I told him he’d be better off eating it at my house. But again, eat it he did. 

And it seemed a good eternity before my papaya salad was brought to me, especially since we, like the fish on the wall, were the only other specters occupying the restaurant that night. 

I was visually apprehensive about the look of the thing, piled atop a julienne of crunchy pale green papaya, were dull whole peanuts, squeezed together with immature tomatoes, garlic, more fish sauce than I would have liked, sugar, and the squashed rinds of lime. How those, along with the knarly end piece of garlic wound up in the dish wasn’t beyond me, but it certainly did a good job of adding to my frustration with the pricey appetizer. I hoped my rice would get me back on track to a pleasant meal, but I was served with another fickle purchase. A knobby square of sticky rice, steamed to dryness in some corners lay in wait, and all I could think about were the mounds Mummy and I would pile into a wicker basket and give to customers. Still, I did what I could to enjoy it, rolling it and dipping it in the sweet salty dressing.

There's that rind again . . .

The tamarind sauté was a fabulous change, and not something I catch in many other places. Slices of beef battered and deep fried were stir fried along with red peppers and deep fried onions in a sweet tamarind sauce. Charred by the wok, and nuanced by ginger, each airy protuberant piece delivered that bright sugary flavor I wanted with anything tamarind, and any chewiness helped it all linger. It was a fabulous choice, and everything I expected. Two could have easily shared it, but it was for my stomach only. The Red Ginger on the other hand, isn’t wholly for my heart.

Red Ginger Modern Thai Viet Cuisine
465 Highland Rd W,
Kitchener, ON
N2M 3C6


SUN-THU: 11:00 am- 9:30pm
FRI & SAT: 11:00 am- 10:00pm

Red Ginger Modern Thai + Viet Cuisine on Urbanspoon


Carla White said...

You've showed your face! Nice new header. :)

weezee said...

I should put a face to the terrorizing name, because I'm so mean, yknow?

Robertson Davies said...

Love the new header, now I can feel good inside not just because you review the crap out of most places. It is a relief to see your face above the wonderful words that you spew.

weezee said...

Thanks, Robbie,

That means so much lately! I do it for you.

inlimbo said...

Having been there twice now, I do agree with your assessment. I will admit that while I only had their more pedestrian offerings (pad thai and *gasp* Pad Siew..) I was impressed by their slightly different selection. I was, however, dissapointed by the two dishes I had ordered.. and am now definitely more hesitant to try the different menu choices.

Also.. Is it wrong that I expected to be let down due to the decor? Shouldn't judge a book by its cover should we?

weezee said...


to answer your question, unless otherwise rhetorical: no. You can, however, be leery. With enough perspective of eating at places, one can get a sense of knowing when decor is a performative thing. When I was first ushered into the world of Asian cuisine for example, a friend told me that Asian Rstauranteurs don't care for decor, or tipping, because in Asia it was just about whether the food was good or bad. That said, some places attempt to rely on it because of where they are and what they expect us to expect through decor. For some it can matter, for others, it can make for good writing. Paying attention to rhetoric in food culture is one of my joys, which is why I usually deconstruct it, albeit cynically. If I do it polemically it's because I don't like the idea of business manipulating people with fantasy for profit- it's up there with calling customers naive fools (CHEESES MURPHY, that hallowed hipster hangout, comes to mind); anyway . . . I don't think Red Ginger cares for decor matching the persona of the food, which I respect, because it means they won't depend solely on outward appearance- just their food, which is how I think it should be. Unfortunately, poor decor turns customers off, even with good food. There are a myriad of factors that affect the business of restaurantism which absolutely fascinates me- aside from academia, reviewing places is the only way I can practice and scratch any kind of surface. Unfortunately, people tend to read me the wrong way. Alas.

So, is it wrong to be let down by the decor? I don't think so. But we all seek adventure in different ways, some like the fantasy of a clean well-lighted space, others, the grittiness of an unkempt Yakuza-esque dive. In the end, it's all fantasy.

Thanks for the comment, you make this worth it.