Restaurants these days are low-key, minimalistic spaces where waiters glide effortlessly through efficiently designed floor plans. The atmosphere is calm, the music unobtrusive, and the interior, done in a subtle palette of wide color swaths, emphasizes interesting and sometimes quirky focal points.
Wild Ginger, like its siblings, Osaka Sushi & Steak and Sushi-O, is no different. It's a mix of coppery and steel-hued walls, with deep, purple-brown breaks stenciled almost invisibly with plum blossoms. A column of glowing blue bubbles rises dramatically behind the sushi bar. With its black tables and superlative service, the restaurant becomes a place to stay put and perhaps enjoy an extra glass of wine from its glassed-in cellar between the bar and the dining room.
Although ostensibly a sushi restaurant, Wild Ginger's emphasis is more pan-Asian, and the dishes from the kitchen get as much attention as the raw fish. The fried oysters ($9) are sauced with a bit of soy, vinegar, garlic and ginger, and arrive atop diced red pepper and onions in a noodle basket. Pork chops ($18) are hammered thin and glisten with a savory-sweet coffee sauce. A minute or two less on the grill would be better, but the light tempura squares of sweet potato piled under them have a delicate crunch. The seafood curry pot ($21), stuffed full of seared scallops and shrimp, has just a bit of heat and a fragrant, classic Thai coconut sauce, and a big bowl of rice topped with nutty sesame seeds comes along for the ride. There are even a whole slew of steak options, including a filet mignon ($27) and a New York strip ($25), all cooked perfectly.
The sushi and sashimi are also expertly prepared, and most of the special rolls are Japanese-Western amalgams that are, along a spectrum, very good to somewhat questionable. Goat cheese works — especially in the sashimi Napoleon ($12), where it's mixed with olives, tuna and salmon atop a fried wonton. Although the raw state of the fish might be a little unusual, it's no more or less than an over-large canapAc, and you could argue that the flavors find a compatible union that succeeds brilliantly.
Not so successful is the Wild Ginger roll. I'd like to state, for the record, that blue cheese has no business being near sushi. Ever. Tart goat cheese works, surprisingly. Blue cheese is just awful paired with raw fish, rice and the bit of fried oyster in each bite. Add a little soy and you want to tip your plate into the nearest trash can. I imagine the cream cheese you find in Western-style rolls inspired the attempt, but you know, cream cheese in sushi is pretty terrible, too. There are so many other wonderful combinations on the maki menu, however, that the blue cheese missteps can be forgiven.
It's a big menu. There are 16 appetizer selections alone. One great option at Wild Ginger is to graze around the menu, sampling a little dish here and there, paired with a different and appropriate glass of wine. There's some minor repetition on the menu — all of the steaks come with the same sauce, for instance — but with so many things to choose from it's hardly a problem.
I recommend making a reservation. The bar, wide and glowing golden, is a lovely place to linger — if there are any stools available. Ditto for the couches and chairs near the hostess station. I wish I'd planned ahead a little better, or at least managed to get out of the door before 7, because apparently a lot of other Richmonders had the same idea I did. Wild Ginger teams the old, the young, the well-dressed and the flip-flopped, all looking for good food. As he's proven at Sushi-O and Osaka Sushi & Steak, owner Chris Tsui can deliver it all: a menu that soothes and still surprises, matched with skilled service and gleaming, memorable design. S
Wild Ginger $$-$$$
3734 Winterfield Road, Midlothian
Lunch: Thursday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5-9:30 p.m.