SCENE CUISINE

Tasty Liquid Ginger offers Asian Fusion, real liquid ginger


Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2004 at 10:15 p.m.
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Liquid Ginger server Jackie Emnas shows off Garlic Hot and Spicy Chicken, and Thai and Coconut Curry Chicken from the lunch menu at the Sun Center eatery.

ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun

Facts

Liquid Ginger

WHERE: 101 SE 2nd Place (371-2323) HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday
FOOD: Asian Fusion SERVICE: Good. LIBATIONS: Full bar. ATMOSPHERE: Upscale Asian. RESERVATIONS: Recommended.

Don't hold the location against Liquid Ginger. For some reason I don't understand, restaurants seem incapable of making a long-term go of it in the Sun Center's southeast end in downtown Gainesville. Despite its convenient parking and attractive decor, there have been at least five restaurants in that space in the past decade, and none of them has lasted very long.
I think Liquid Ginger just might buck the trend. This latest incarnation of the Asian Fusion fad deserves to succeed.
The cuisine is urbane. It is thoughtful and poised, sometimes delicate and sometimes downright brash, always conceptually interesting.
It shares influences from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Korea and China, but it also respects and even caters to the less internationalized palates many of us possess.
For every dish of Asian Barbecued Eel, a $6 item from the Tastings menu, there is a counterpoint, such as the Pork Chop with Mustard Caper Sauce, a $12 entrée. Liquid Ginger is a place you can comfortably take your cousin from Podunk or your friend from New York City. Your cousin may find it quite exotic, but your urban friend won't find it too mundane.
The values at dinner are excellent. At $12 to $16, the entrées include everything from soup to dessert, even an interesting presentation of various side dishes that might include marinated cucumbers, pasta with peanut sauce, cauliflower in cream sauce and steamed jasmine rice.
You'll also receive a salad of mixed baby greens with an excellent Asian dressing, coffee and a choice of light, fluffy cheesecake or an amazing almond-flavored liquid dessert.
Even with all that for such a low price, you should not forego the Tastings. These appetizer-sized dishes are among the restaurant's most interesting offerings. Get several and share.
The Szechuan Eggplant ($5) is not spicy but delicate and delicious. Ginger Scallops ($6) are seared in lemon butter and topped with ginger-scallion sauce, and the Saigon Spring Rolls ($5 for two) are among the best in the city.
Among the entrées, I found the aforementioned pork chop rather boring, but a rib eye or filet mignon served "Liquid Ginger Style" did not disappoint.
The Thai Red Curry was wonderful, spicy and brash, and so was Thai Basil Chicken (lunch only). Fried Rainbow Trout was lightly breaded and perfectly cooked, but its Sesame Oil Remoulade tasted a lot like tartar sauce to me.
The Spinach and Tofu Soup is an example of the delicate side of the menu.
A perfectly clear but immensely flavorful broth is delicately spiced with leaves of fresh spinach and tiny cubes of tofu. It's a masterful combination, and you can have it free with a lunch entrée ($7-$8).
The space has been beautifully remodeled in gray and pale green with soft, leather banquettes.
Servers were very good and quite knowledgeable about the food, but the pacing can be odd. On two of my visits, the meals did not all come at the same time, leaving my guests feeling awkward about whether to eat or wait.
Don't miss the teas. At Liquid Ginger, you really can get some liquid ginger.
I suppose I had just been deprived, but I'd never had real ginger tea until my first visit to Liquid Ginger. I loved it, and there are 15 more teas to try ($3 a pot).
David Carlson has been writing about food, wine and restaurants for more than a decade. He can be reached at dave@carlsonfamily.net.

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