Michelle Jean did something very unusual. She opened a Chinese restaurant with her partners, Jorge Sun and Walter Edwards, in Harlem, the heart of Black New York City. Ginger Restaurant is no ordinary Chinese restaurant. Located at 1400 Fifth Avenue at 116th Street, this year-old spot offers a menu steeped in traditional Chinese food and a sophisticated ambience that reflects both Old World and New World China.
Jean is big on healthy eating. “Traditional Chinese food in China is very healthy. It’s all about having fresh meats, fish and vegetables. The reason I want to focus on being healthy is because there is a need for it in this community. Because there aren’t healthy [food] choices, there’s an epidemic of cardiovascular disease that exists in the Black and Hispanic community here, so we really wanted to make a healthy difference in New York,” Jean said.
Ginger uses cooking techniques that guarantee the healthiest meals: steam, wok, poached, braised. Classic dishes include Chinese five spice rotisserie chicken and Thursday’s special, Peking duck. Items from the wok are more classic stir-fry dishes, such as Hong Kong chicken and broccoli; shrimp and broccoli; orange beef; lo mein; and pineapple wok rice. The special from the grill is a whole fish, usually a two- to two-and-a-half-pound sea bass or snapper. Braised dishes include short ribs and pineapple and mango-glazed pork chops with coconut pancakes. Poached dishes include cold salmon with lots of vegetables, which also may be steamed. Smoked offerings are chicken and duck.
“Everything we prepare is natural, organic or grade A. That’s part of keeping it natural and authentic. Chinese in Mainland China pride themselves on using fresh ingredients. It’s really the art of tasting every ingredient in the meat, fish or chicken and that’s what we brought here,” Jean says.
The selections are tasty and the prices are easy on the wallet. Appetizers range from $3.50 to $10.95 and main courses from $9.95 to $16.00, although whole-fish specials range from $28 to $32.
One of the most distinguishing aspects of Ginger is its atmosphere. “We took Old World China elements and combined them with New World China material. Old World—we worked with bamboo, steel, slate and iron. For New World, lacquer. However, we kept a lot of traditional elements as far as the color. The color of the entire place is Chinese mandarin red,” Jean says with pride.
She describes the rest in glorious detail: Statues of foo dogs—one male, one female—sit on either side of the bar facing the door. They are there to protect the home. The back wall shows off the architectural structure of the moongate door, which symbolizes the after-life, a new beginning. The lighting on either side of the wall represents eternal sunset. The wall’s smoked glass gives a 3-D effect. There are antique Chinese shutters on the window and Buddhist prayers near the bathroom. Chinese scrolls, commissioned by Ginger and made by “a guy in Hong Kong who still does scrolls by hand,” line the window. The scrolls tell the story of the seven dragons—seven brothers—each of whom represents a different form of protection.
“We want to pay homage to the mythology of Chinese history. Overall, Ginger feels warm, soothing, modern, comfortable, but it also has a clean, sleek, modernistic feel. We won best new interior design by Interior Design magazine,” Jean boasts.
Ginger was among an array of Black-owned restaurants that participated in the Black Culinary Alliance’s Food & Wine Experience, held in October at Tavern on the Green. At that event, it served its popular “21 spice coconut noodle” and “21 spice coconut noodle with chicken.”
Ginger is open seven days a week. For more information call 212-423-1111, or visit its Web site at www.gingerexpress.com.