In a tiny strip mall at the entrance of an upscale neighborhood in Chesterfield County is a restaurant that would have made Samuel Taylor Coleridge smile. To infer that Wild Ginger resembles the pleasure dome of "Kubla Khan" might be pushing it, but who knew what culinary adventures could take place in suburbia? Close your eyes and imagine a bar filled with attractive grown-ups sipping cocktails that are balanced on a golden, underlit countertop. The 65-inch plasma TV might have the game on, but this crowd is filled with ladies enjoying a night out or neighborhood couples starting date night with a Blue Orchid martini.
The list of small plates is extensive and interesting, with most options falling into the $8 to $12 range. We tried the Sunshine Shrimp on two occasions to raves both times. The portion is generous, and like all the food we ordered at Wild Ginger, it was beautifully presented. A mound of mouth-watering tempura fried shrimp with toasted coconut and drizzles of both honey and Chardonnay-aïoli sauces made this appetizer a winner with everyone from 9-year-old Cary to 74-year-old Granddad. The grilled-lamb "lollipops" came just two per portion, but they arrived perfectly cooked to order — so if you like them rosy, don't be shy; the kitchen is spot-on with requests. Served with a creamy curry dipping sauce that complements the richness of the meat, they aren't the slightest bit Asian, but I'm all for taking liberties when the food is so good.
The bar is large, but the sleek dining room is open and even bigger. The centerpiece of the tastefully understated room is the sushi bar, complete with an enormous water sculpture that sends thousands of bubbles dancing up clear tubes to form a mesmerizing visual that would render any other form of wall décor redundant. This dark and dashing Xanadu is replete with cushy Cabernet-colored banquettes, an impressive glass-enclosed wine cellar, and a team of attentive servers in lavender shirts and dark jeans. I can't remember the last time a manager stopped by my table to ask about our meal, yet it happened on both of the evenings I dined at Wild Ginger recently. And if you experience déjà vu at Wild Ginger, it's because its sister restaurants are the Osakas at River Road Shopping Center and in Short Pump, and Sushi O in Midlothian.
The Peppercorn Calamari we ordered was a little thick-cut and heavy for my taste, but we all appreciated the untraditional and yummy soy sauce-based gyoza dip. Our table of six devoured two orders of this appetizer while we contemplated the tempting list of specials and decided on our entrées. My dad's pan-seared salmon with mango-truffle sauce bordered on decadence, but the freshness of the ingredients and the accompanying grilled asparagus and dendrobium orchid decoration made the dish a true showstopper that he really enjoyed. My daughter Halle loved the Malay Fried Rice; I liked the addition of edamame and appreciated the ample amount of shredded chicken, but the overall sweetness just didn't work for me.
Chef Ken Liew's Asian short ribs are slow-roasted, fork-tender and slathered with a house-made sauce loaded with Grand Marnier and a half-dozen spices that made for sticky satisfaction. The accompanying mashed-potato wontons were also delicious, and the two served to reinforce the overall theme at Wild Ginger: Pan-Asian might be the inspiration, but taste is the priority.
Wild Ginger's signature Maki rolls could be called overtly American, but that doesn't make them any less satisfying. The Blue Oyster Cult roll was to-die-for. Tempura-battered fried oysters are wrapped in goat cheese, then topped with thin strips of seared filet mignon and a dollop of black caviar and served with a spicy garlic mayonnaise.
If the specialty rolls give at least a nod to the East, the desserts, from local bakeries Jean Jacques and Lucille's, don't even pretend to go with the theme. But all the ones I tried were just plain dreamy. Coleridge might have been in an opium-induced haze, but mine came from copious amounts of chocolate. The Chocolate Bomb was a family favorite and the Mexican Chocolate Torte, a pâté of chocolate with Kahlua, was deep, dark and dangerously delightful. But the Chocolate Hazelnut Cake, five layers of moist torte sandwiched with hazelnut frosting and topped with ganache, was the one I'd order again.
Coming this month (mid-June) is a fifth restaurant for the group: Blue Goat at 5710 Grove Ave. It will offer locally sourced European comfort food in what the owners describe as a "nose-to-tail concept." This sets high hopes, and I'm betting that Wild Ginger's new cousin will deliver.
3734 Winterfield Road, Midlothian, 378-4988
Prices: Lunch salads, sushi and entrées, $9 to $16. Dinner small plates, soups and salads, $4 to $12; rice and noodle dishes, $11 to $17; sushi platters and entrées, $12 to $35; desserts, $7. Sunday brunch menu, $6 to $18.
Hours: Lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday; Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.