Ginger & Garlic—Fine & Dandy

View more

Photos by Greg Shapps

While fellow above-the-number character @ has enjoyed more than two decades of prominence thanks to its central placement in email addresses, and even the put-upon pound sign has surged to new popularity as the leading man in Twitter hash tags, poor ampersand has been left behind. Sure, it still holds sway on the nameplates of stuffy old law offices and accountancy firms, and will always maintain a classic, if undignified, place alongside its brethren in the standard comic book expletive string. But as time marches on, happiness & respect seem to have eluded this lowly logogram.

So it’s nice to see the old grammatically confused curlicue get its due on the marquee of Ginger & Garlic, an Asian emporium on Naperville’s far northeast side. Would a proper “and” have been more suitable? In an English textbook, perhaps, but the use of the ampersand here rightly suggests the integral comingling of these key flavors in the restaurant’s mission—therein lies the appeal.

N2013_06_01_042TABLEBreadth & Depth

Housed in what appears to be the shell of a former Mexican restaurant, the incongruous southwestern motif shifts considerably upon entry, with several distinct dining areas and tasteful Asian décor throughout, providing the first unexpected delight of the evening.

For the numbers-focused crowd that judges the worth of an Asian eatery by the sheer number of available choices, Ginger & Garlic makes a strong statistical case with a whopping 284 selections. Not even counting the additional authentic possibilities available on the restaurant’s Chinese and Korean-language addendum sheets. But anyone can serve up countless variations on mediocre, which is why it was refreshing to find that the Ginger & Garlic menu is far from just a numbers game, diving into ingredients and combinations that often stray from common contrivances, and deliciously so.

N2013_06_01_041TABLETeam & Work

Our meal began with a visit from the first of what would grow to be quite a collection of servers, who took our drink orders and left behind a small dish of the fiery house-made kimchi, a Korean slaw apparently meant to serve as fair warning that dishes labeled with the familiar red pepper emblem as an indicator of spiciness should be taken seriously. A second server quickly returned with our drinks, while a third followed closely behind to accept and deliver our appetizer choices—a one-two punch of steamed pot stickers and edamame, the former light and flavorful, the latter fresh, hot, and generously salted.

As the evening progressed, our tableside team would round out to a rotating crew of no fewer than six different members, all were as professional and courteous as they were efficient. But if the number of servers seemed high, it was nothing compared to the array of options laid before us on the entrée slate. While a shared Peking duck at a nearby table beckoned, we ultimately went in different directions. My companion opted for the timeless appeal of orange chicken, while I ventured down a less-traveled road with an intriguing shredded pork and yellow chive combination.

The chicken was a well-executed take on an age-old standard, the generously applied sweet-enough sauce coating the tender fried meat without overwhelming it. The pork proved genuinely revelatory, however, owing in large part to the unique flavor of the yellow chive, its unassuming combination of garlic and onion complemented the meat perfectly. While the towering mound of this concoction seemed excessive for just one person at first blush, it wasn’t long before fork was hitting plate, and any thoughts of entertaining even a light dessert were soundly put to rest.

By that time, our satisfied appetites left room for just one more nod to the rejuvenated ampersand—over & out.