Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Think She is on to Something

Who is she? And what does she know? She is Chuck’s cousin Barbara Pauly. And one day she remarked that if she had to eat one cuisine for the rest of her life it would be Chinese. I can’t argue with her here.

Two days ago Chuck wrote that we were staying a few days near San Juan Bautista to visit Point Lobos and Gilroy, CA. Now Gilroy might seem like an implausible place for us to visit until I tell you that one of our favorite Chinese restaurants is located in that city.

The “Ginger Café (is) a family-run restaurant specializing in Chinese cuisine with Southeast Asian influences. Ginger Cafe’s distinct style of cooking has its roots in history. Years of migration by ethnic Chinese brought their food into various corners of the globe, where it mingled with local ingredients, predilections, and cooking techniques. As Chinese immigrants moved ever westward, their cuisine acquired a distinct personality. While Ginger Cafe’s menu is rooted in the Chinese culinary tradition, it is broadened, flavored, and inspired by its ‘travels’ through the Asian countries of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore. And of course, being in California, it’s hard to ignore the bounty of fresh ingredients that is grown nearby, so you will notice a strong affinity for seasonality” (

While located in an outlet center, the restaurant’s décor is understated and stylish. A writer at gave this description: “Stepping inside the Ginger Cafe, I expected stark white walls and a glass buffet counter displaying fare typical of what you'd expect at a restaurant housed in a strip mall. To my surprise, the atmosphere was clean, soothing, dimly lit and tastefully decorated. Although the bright window seating in the front of the restaurant was inviting, we were happy to let the polite staff seat us in the more tranquil section near the rear, away from the view of the parking lot.”

We had enjoyed two meals at the Ginger Café last year and had sampled both the lunch specials and the dim sum items. (Have you noticed that when the name dim sum or tapas is substituted for appetizers, the price goes up?) Our game plan on this visit was to order three dim sum items and then “chew over” the idea of dessert.

For dim sum, we had our choice of: Scallop Puffs with scallops, potatoes, onions, cilantro, cheese, and curry in wonton skin; Pan Fried Blue Crab Dumplings with crabmeat, celery, mushrooms, cheese, and vermicelli; Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf with sticky rice, pork, chicken, Chinese sausage, and shitake mushrooms; Bok Choy Shrimp Dumplings with bok choy, shrimp, and pork in wheat starch skins; Ha Gao with shrimp, pork, and bamboo shoots in wheat starch skin; Siu Mai with pork, shrimp, and shitake mushrooms in wonton skin, and a long list of other options.

Our first choice was the proverbial
“no brainer”—
the Minced Chicken Lettuce Cups that we enjoyed a year ago. Tiny nuggets of chicken meat (larger than a mince and smaller than a chop) are stir fried with soy and other seasonings and presented on a bed of fried rice noodles. You spoon a large portion of the chicken and rice noodle mixture into a lettuce cup, fold the cup into a tidy packet (some of mine weren’t so tidy), and enjoy. Here you have the soft and juicy chicken pieces balanced with the crunchy noodles and lettuce. The chicken is warm and the lettuce is cold. All of those contrasts that I like so much in food.

Our second choice was the soft shell crab rolls. These were a version of the familiar spring rolls with a rice paper wrapper encasing romaine lettuce, soft noodles, and pieces of fried soft shell crab. These came with two dipping sauces—one a spicy chili paste and the other more sesame-based. Again, you have the hot (fried crab) and cold (romaine and noodles) and the crisp (romaine) and soft (noodles). And the crispy pieces of crab were moist and had the slightly sweet and very fresh and clean flavor of blue crab.

For our third choice we stayed with a perennial Chinese restaurant favorite—pot stickers. While these were certainly better than the awful pot stickers we ate in Napa, we still thought that the wrappers were a bit thick. And, while the ground pork filling was beautifully seasoned with garlic and ginger, we thought that these were the least interesting of our three selections. Especially when we contemplated the items that we didn’t pick.

Did we have room for dessert? (I am writing this while watching Nadia G. on Bitchin’ Kitchen on the Cooking Channel. Did you know that “desserts” is “stressed” spelled backwards?) Interesting desserts are not usually found on Chinese restaurant menus, but here there were four intriguing choices including our favorite from last year—the Red Bean Shaved Ice. “The café ‘shaved’ a quantity of ice to a consistency larger than a snow cone or Italian water ice; this was drizzled with sweet red syrup similar to grenadine; next came a layer of sweet gelatin chopped into small cubes; and, finally, this was topped with sweet red beans. Wow. You have the crunchy ice balanced by the soft gelatin and beans. This was light, refreshing, and not ultra sweet. Just right to share” (from last year’s blog).

We still have a few more days in San Juan Bautista and hope to make one more visit to Ginger Café. Good Chinese food is hard to find. And while the pot stickers were a let down and resulted in the café’s 4.0 Addie rating, this is one of the best we have found.

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