With more than 100 whiskies behind the bar and George Clinton’s Atomic Dog funkifying the room, South Beach’s new Red Ginger may bill itself as an Asian-inspired restaurant, but it’s the party that takes precedent.
The host is Menin Hospitality, aka hotelier Keith Menin and his business partner/cousin, Jared Galbut, who have been picking up properties in the beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood like they’re on a Monopoly spree. Red Ginger is a few feet from their popular nightspot Radio Bar and within shouting distance of their French marketplace café, Bakehouse, coming this fall.
In keeping with its Japanese and Thai offerings, Red Ginger sports a temple-chic atmosphere. Glossy bamboo floors and an expansive coral-rock wall take on a trendy glow beneath hanging Edison bulbs. Wood panels with sea fan cutouts separate the bar from a 136-seat dining room decked out in monogrammed upholstered chairs and winter-white booths surrounding dark wood and stone tables. Young, enthusiastic servers are sharply dressed in Nehru-style jackets or all black.
The dinner-only menu is divided into four sections: informal izakaya plates designed for sharing; robata grilled meats and vegetables; larger entrées; and sushi and sashimi from a small sushi bar at the back of the restaurant.
Dishes are served as they’re ready. Many are so minuscule you’ll suspect that someone in the kitchen has put you on a portion-control plan. Be prepared for sporadic dining on small bites.
The tavern-style small dishes boast some of the finest choices, including a moist, protein-rich house fried rice with prawns, Chinese sausage and Japanese mushrooms, topped with a picture-perfect sous vide egg. Hamachi tiradito is rolled and standing upright in an orange chili sauce with just the right amount of spice cooled by an avocado cream.
Don’t skip your vegetables. Krispy kale blossoms crunch with the spicy saltiness of hot bean sauce and lime. Strips of grilled eggplant are drenched in earthy-sweet miso and topped with dried, salty bonito flakes.
Vegetable choices continue in the robata grill section of the menu, with broccolini in ginger-soy, white asparagus and charred cauliflower tossed in butter flavored with shiso mintiness. Chicken meatballs, also grilled and lightly peppered, paled by comparison.
Since Top Chef: Masters star Herb Wilson packed up his knives and left shortly after Red Ginger’s opening in June, chef Anderson Osorio (Makoto, Ceviche 105, Barrio Latino and SushiSamba) has repurposed the menu, expanding sushi options and ditching some larger dishes. We’ll cry no tears over the loss of meager, overcooked lamb chops, but we’ll miss the seafood curry with its tiger prawns sculpturally stacked in golden sauce.
While not terribly creative, two new seafood dishes — pad Thai with tender shrimp and bits of grilled pineapple, and snapper topped with minced peppers and aromatic fronds of fresh dill — add much-needed depth to the menu. Skirt steak with feta joins a mediocre filet for beef eaters.
Six sushi rolls go a notch above the norm with wagyu beef and truffle salmon. Desserts are pared down to two choices: a trio of mochi (green tea, mango and lychee) and fruit toban yaki, a comforting loose cobbler of berries and almond crumble in Peruvian cream.
Our sweet ending soured slightly when the bill came and we noticed a $2 “rocks fee” for whiskey with ice. Artisanal cubes or not, the unmentioned up-charge left us cold.
As a neighborhood eatery, Red Ginger makes a fine option. For those of us living beyond SoFi, this might be one of those parties you pass up for something closer to home.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense.