Ginger – Is This What Health Tastes Like?

Ginger “Taste of Health”
521 Bloor Street West
Lunch for two with all taxes, tip and bubble tea: $35

I never liked this location when it was Juice for Life. I found the place cramped and loud and terribly claustrophobic, the chance for any type of conversation that didn’t involve screaming an impossibility over the noise of the juice blenders. So when we stuck our heads in the door while cruising Bloor Street for a place to eat, the décor won us over immediately. Shiny white tables actually had space between them, walls of orange light panels gave the place a warm glow and futuristic ceiling fixtures made this once stuffy room feel sleek and spacious and clean.

Despite the weird name – what exactly does “health” taste like? – we were hoping for the same from the food.

I’d never been to one of Ginger’s other locations before, although the original Yonge Street noodle joint has spawned locations on Parliament Street and at Church and Wellesley. This annex location is fairly new, but in a neighbourhood where the student clientèle want their food fast and cheap, it will likely do quite well.

With an odd combination of counter and table service – you order at the cash register, but the food is brought to your table – we were a bit confused at first, but the number of vegetarian dishes on this pseudo-Vietnamese menu left us pleasantly surprised and we rattled off our choices.

The crispy vegetable roll ($1.50) as well as the cold yam and avocado salad roll ($1.75) arrived almost before we had the chance to sit down. Both were served with a sweet sauce and were quite good. The fried roll was crispy, with no signs of grease and the yam and avocado roll is something I’ll be copying at home.

Green mango salad ($4.50) was crisp and clean and perfect, with hefty toppings of peanuts and Thai basil. I don’t think there’s any dish more refreshing. The salad was quickly followed by massive glasses of bubble tea ($2.95). The lychee version mixed with milk was a bit too sweet, but the ginger and coconut water drink was clean and sharp. Someone needs to either get smaller glasses or longer straws though, as the standard bubble tea straw was too short for the glass and made the chase for those last blobs of tapioca rather frustrating.

Compared to the appetizers, mains were somewhat disappointing. The Spicy Honey Tamarind Tofu with Udon ($5.75) was a massive plate of noodles and tofu in a tangy sweet sauce, but it would have been much improved with the inclusion of some vegetables for both flavour and colour. The Spicy Lemongrass Tofu with Pad Thai ($5.75) was neither spicy nor pad thai-like and we found the noodles to be a glommy lump. Given the speed with which the kitchen turned out our dishes, it’s safe to assume that everything was pre-cooked and sitting on steam trays, thus the glommy noodles. Surely these could have been quickly refreshed in hot water to remove some of the gluten and unstick everything.

The mains weren’t completely awful however, and we plan on returning to try the asparagus shitake soup ($3.95) and the Fish Steamed in Banana Leaf with Green Curry and Grilled Eggplant ($12.95). And despite the Asian-fusion aspects of the menu which are so prevalent these days, we did notice some authentic Vietnamese pork chop dishes on offer.

One thing of note for vegetarian diners – while the newly-printed menu we ordered from at the Bloor Street location indicated that the vegetarian dishes (listed with a check mark) were 100% vegetarian as well as MSG-free, there have been issues at other locations where the dishes were listed as “vegetable” but not “vegetarian”. Our server did ask us if we were vegetarian, but it might be an idea to check beforehand if you’re concerned, as both animal-based stocks and fish sauce can find their way into a lot of Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

I don’t know if I’d consider Ginger for a swank night out, but for a quick lunch or dinner before a movie at the Bloor, it’s a great choice for some cheap and okay, sure, reasonably healthy fare, especially if you’re tired of the endless mediocre sushi and Thai places along the Annex strip. Did we figure out what “health” tastes like? Yeah… green mango salad.