Ginger Hop (MSP)
The new Ginger Hop is in the space formerly occupied by The Times Cafe, in Northeast Minneapolis. I am not privy to the reasons for The Times end, but it was somewhat of a sentimental place for me. So hearing of it's demise had me feelin' sad. But then...it's almost like the god's themselves heard of such sadness, and decided to make it better. Way better, by opening a THAI place in NORTHEAST MPLS. I could barely contain my excitement at such a rarity. So barely, that I went there 3 days after it's grand opening on Sept. 21st.
I have so many thoughts about this place, it takes work to organize them. In order to do so, I'm doing this blog in sections.
There have been no extreme renovations to the structure, so the layout is the same as The Times. Which is good...but weird. The dining area has been revamped into an attractive, modern, clean looking dining space. Comfortable and romantic. Dark and inviting. Versatile, as you could just as well snack at the bar, or have a special night here. The vibes are good, and stress free. Stress vibes are not my friend. In the bar area, there are Asian fans on the ceiling, individually waving back forth in unison. Very cute. The biggest revamp is in the bathrooms.
The only critique I have is for the bar area. It needs something. If I remember correctly (which i often DONT so dont throw stones if I am wrong!) The Times had some back lighting behind the bottles and whatnot. My companion for the night (and Ginger Hop waitress, Christy Hunt) pointed out it needs some lighting. It is a new place, so I'm not concerned about tweaks such as these.
Well - I sat at the bar. My bartender was one of the prettiest girls I've ever seen, and most importantly: they pour wine with a heavy hand. Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!
The cuisine is primarily Pan-Asian. Some appetizers are ceviche, spring rolls, wontons (cream cheese, or cream cheese and carmelized onion with no price difference.) and all are on the cheap. I'm pleased the menu is brief, but not so brief that there's only one thing I would order. In fact - I would like to try about 90% of things on the menu. Specifically, the banh-mi! I have heard of banh-mi, but only imagined eating it one day, since it's not common fare here. For those not familiar, it's a Vietnamese baguette sandwich, with pork, carrots, lettuce, cilantro, something pickled (memory lapse, forgive me) and other dreamy things. Their spin on the reuben is innovative, using kim-chee, which I hear is local along with other ingredients. Other fare includes 2 curries, some noodles, asian salads and soups. The wine list seems extensive, affordable and user friendly. They have a standard cocktail menu, and some sake as well. I had the Red Tree cabernet, which was lovely.
Since I was a little money shy, I decided on the spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce ($5), and a chicken satay with peanut dipping sauce ($2.) The spring rolls were HEAVENLY. Some spring roll no-no's = gummy rice paper, loosely wrapped, lettuce/good stuff ratio being 75/25. None of this occured. NONE! The spring rolls were light, cold, and fresh. The balance of flavors, exquisite. The chicken satay was delightfully fragrant. When my food was placed in front of me, I immediately inhaled the delicate scent of yellow curry which the chicken is marinated in. It is delicately flavored. Not dry, not overpowering, and not bland.
I was concerned about recieving the same peanut sauce. But no. The spring roll dipping is a thin asian sauce, with some chopped peanuts in it. The spring roll sauce was the best I've had, harmonizing all four S's perfectly. I was so pleased, I wanted to do some harmonizing of my own! The satay sauce was a thick peanut sauce, which tasted like unsalted peanut paste. It was very complimentary to the satay.
Sometimes, you just go to a place where everything just works. I have no complaints about my visit to Ginger Hop. I'm even more excited for it's smaller counterpart, Honey (formerly Jitters) to open. I forsee going back many times, bringing many people.
There is no website for Ginger Hop yet.
My wife and I tried Ginger Hop earlier this week on their second night open. The beer list alone is a major improvement over The Times. I was excited to see they have many local craft brews available.
We started off with the chicken satay w/ peanut sauce and an order of regular cream cheese wontons. The satay was satisfying and the peanut sauce was quite tasty. The wontons are larger than what most places serve and were good, although they weren't very warm when they arrived at the table.
For dinner I had a the kim chi reuben. The kim chi idea is great and makes complete sense, I think I prefer it over sauerkraut. Despite the kim chi, the sandwich fell flat. It was overly dry, and I was left with a lot of bread without corned beef between the slices. and like the wontons, the temp was off when it arrived. Unfortunately, the corned beef used is deli style sliced meat, not brisket like the version at nearby Mac's Industrial sports bar. Some sort of Asian dipping equivalent to the standard thousand island dressing would've been a savior to this sandwich. At least the sweet potato fries it came with were excellent.
My wife had the basil fried rice, which was terribly under seasoned. It was so bland they must have forgotten an ingredient or two. This dish should have been sent back.
Overall I'm happy they opened in the neighborhood and look forward to trying them again after they've had time to work out the kinks in the menu. The service was very good, and the nice selection of beers gives us a good alternative to the Bulldog and Mac's.
GI-- you can get great bahn mi at pretty much any vietnamese restaurant in town, most vietnamese-owned corner stores and groceries, and other types of places as well will happily riff on banh mi. i recall a banh mi special at strip club in st paul, and i'm very fond of the banh mi sold at seward co-op. lots of my friends had bahn mi in their regular school lunch rotation because it's cheap & easy to pack-- so folks in msp have literally grown up on bahn mi for 20+ years or so. i agree w FishMPLS, it's really common here!
good thread. i want to try this place out but i'll give the menu a minute to settle.
GreenIdentity, it's true that banh mi is relatively rare in NE. But it's not that far away. Head over to SE Mpls for banh mi - Jasmine Orchid on Oak & Washington has a great version. For fusion-style, go to Bun Mi around the corner (closer to campus).
Or scoot through downtown to Nicollet Ave for an amazing array of banh mi joints. My favorite is Jasmine Cafe, but several of the many Vietnamese places have it.
For a big excursion, head to University Avenue in St. Paul. The best banh mi (IMHO) is at the Saigon Restaurant (near Dale Ave).
Have fun exploring banh mi in the Twin Cities!
Good Asian places are few and far between in NE - the only Vietnamese places are Cali's (the old Vo's), Kim's (on central) and Que Viet (which I don't know if that's even Vietnamese.) There is Village Wok on the campus, and a few other asian places there - but I have never seen banh mi at them.
Thank you guys so much - I am eagar to start my banh-mi excursions!
While there may not be any good Vietnamese joints in NE yet, a 5 minute drive can bring you to either Nicollet or University where one can find numerous places serving Banh Mi. Also, Bun Mi is about 2 blocks from Village Wok.
Heck, 112 may still have their Banh Mi on the menu.
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Chowspouse and I went on Saturday night, just before their one-week debrief.
Ambience - kind of the look and feel of a higher-end French Indochinese colonial space. Nice.
Service - excellent.
Beer and Wine - great selection.
Food - well. We had the smoked duck potstickers, the spring rolls, and the crispy tofu laab salad. The spring rolls were quite tasty. Full of stuff, could have used more shrimp, the dipping sauce was light and flavorful without being gloppy. The potstickers were a disappointment. The innards - the smoked duck - was terrific! Very flavorful. And the sauce was tailored to the duck and not just some generic dumpling sauce. Again, light and not syrupy. But the wrappers were like a quarter inch thick and as chewy as play dough. But there's room for improvement there. When they get the wrapper right, they'll be a heavenly taste delight. The laab was so-so. The crispy tofu at one time had been crispy, but now had gone soft. The rice noodles seemed a little thick and chewy, like maybe glass noodles would have worked better. And the overall flavor was lacking. Both the dumplings and laab seemed to have the texture of having sat around too long before being served, although they both came pretty quickly.
Our comments to them were apparently consistent with what other customers have been telling them. Go deeper into the ethnicity and experience of the cuisine. It's hard to bridge the gap between what some of us would perceive to be the typical nordeast palate, and the intent of an "ethnic" resto. But looking around at what truly constitutes their local clientele, we thought the truly local locals, in the condos and townhomes of St. Tony and the coops and houses on Nic Island and the apartments and lofts of near Downtown could definitely handle a more, well, cultured experience. Not watered down for what some might think the midwest taste buds would like, but really quite punched up.
They were quite generous in comping the dishes in favor of the feedback.
I think it has the potential to be an exciting place. I hope they can capture and maintain the momentum! We'll definitely go back.
Four early-thirty-somethings, food-educated--we went here last night.
I cannot for the life of me come up with a single scenario whereby this restaurant in its current form exists for a single month more. It is that wretched.
Menu seems what one might imagine as an Asian Applebee's, but we were excited nonetheless to sample its wares. Why not?
The lone appetizer: Calamari--toothsome as rubber and indistinctly fried. Not one of our group, two of which were self-proclaimed calamari lovers, had more than a single try of this. A poor, but not dooming, start. Perhaps a misstep?
Two us of ordered the "Green Curry," and two the Tsing Tao Chicken. I'm unsure why this lack of variety was about to occur in our ordering at a new place, but, as luck would have it, the waitress awkwardly broke the news that they were out of the Tsing Tao Chicken, though it was only about 6 p.m. She also broke it that they had been out for a full two days. Do they not make it every day? one of us inquired. 'They should, but I'm not sure what's going on,' was the reply.
There's five entrees, not including sandwiches, on the menu, and this had been out for TWO days? Hmm.
I got instead the Pad Lao--basically a pad Thai with the addition of purple cabbage; my friend, the won ton soup and the ceviche.
The soup was passable, if oily, and the ceviche passable if too citrusy (unbalanced).
The green curry had a semi-pleasant heat, but the dish was as basic as you could possibly get away with and still morally sell it--eggplant, red bell pepper, and white chicken breast chunks on top of white rice in the curry sauce, which, it seemed, was basically a scoop of curry paste out of a jar in some coconut milk.
My pad lao was an utter abomination. It lacked any semblance of flavor but for a sharp sodium bark steaming up from the platter. This is the sort of food product that makes one question what the heck these people were thinking in even opening this restaurant, if not for the lonesome hope that college kids and their underdeveloped palates might suffuse it with enough business to stay afloat. Hence, perhaps, the "hop" portion of the restaurant--the beer (To be fair, my Anchor Steam Porter, which I was glad to see on tap, was delicious.) There was throughout the meal absolutely ZERO indication that the 'chefs' behind this restaurant understand at all even the basics of what one might lump together, as the menu seems to suggest they do, as "Asian" ingredients or cooking.
I understand that there are bumps along the road to success, but if there is justice in the food world this junker of a restaurant ain't gonna get very far.
I blogged about my 2nd (and much less positive) visit to Ginger Hop.
Given my previous excitement about Ginger Hop, I had the notion that I HAD to take as many people there, and as SOON as possible! See, when I get excited, I want to share that with everyone else. Not always so endearing though, trust me. So, my victim (Mr. H) and I found ourselfs there on a chilly, sleepy Monday evening.
This time around, I was eager to try an entree. We agreed to get a few appetizers, and share one entree. As always, with no further ado!
Cream Cheese Wontons:
I found these to be quite good. One gripe I have with wontons is that they can be too crunchy, ruffin' up me mouth faster than 2 bowls of Cap N Crunch. These were still crunchy, but still soft enough not to hurt the mouth. And when you get to that bomb of cheese in the center, it's cream cheese bliss, as a cheese wonton should be. The dipping sauce was again, a winner. It was sweet and spicy and just perfect. My only gripes are that they came out quite lukewarm, and that they were a tad greasy. Which brings me to the next appetizer!
The Walleye Satay:
This was a very good satay, though nothing asian about it at all. The taste of the true walleye really popped here, and it was soft and delicate. However, it too was a tad greasy (i know thats what you get with fried food - but I napkin'd it up even more than I usually do) and also kind of lukewarm. This came with a wasabi mayo, and was again a winner, with very delicate hints of wasabi. For $2 apiece, these are awesome little nibblers when with friends, or just a simple companion to an entree.
For the entree, we decided on the Almond Chicken Stir Fry:
Unfortunately, I have more bad than good to say about this. First off, the rice portion was small, especially for 2 people who are going to share. The rice came tented under a small square plate, and was just very...meager looking. I found this dish overall to be bland. They do give you a spice rack (with thai chilies, crushed reds, sriracha sauce etc) so you can spice it up. However, I found the flavor really lacking. Maybe some more garlic? Ginger? Basil? Definitley needed more spice, more savory, more substance period. The chicken was in larger chunks than I like. This dish was also served to us lukewarm, and the rice was downright hard and cold by mid-meal. On the plus side, there were plenty of water chestnuts in the dish.
I am hoping to attribute this to simply being brand new. I was hesistant at first about whether or not to attend such a brand new restaraunt, without knowing why. Now I know why. My enthusiasm hasn't totally dimmed for Ginger Hop, and their appetizers and sauces are winners in my book. I am hoping to visit this place in a few months and find some of these kinks worked out.
I would love to give the benefit of the doubt to any restaurant that seems like it's putting its best foot forward, but it just didn't seem like the case here. The dishes seemed to me completely uninterested in flavor (how do these dishes make it out of the kitchen tasting so bland?), rather than providing mock-"asian" food products to those intrigued by the restaurant's location. The tofu that came in my pad lao when I was there was crinkled and tough--the effect of sitting out and awaiting addition to a dish when called upon. Actions like this are unnecessary shortcuts that, at least to me, connote a not-very enthusiastic food-plan. It's a slop-together attitude that seemed to be reflected in the interview the owner gave on Heavytable.com recently.