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Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008

Eclectic International

Ginger picks up predecessor’s reigns

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The local restaurant Barossa, named after the Australian wine region of the same name, quietly closed its doors several months ago. With that closure came the loss of a very distinguished wine list and a menu that borrowed ingredients from all over the world. But Barossa now has a follow-up act, Ginger. And Julia LaLoggia, former owner of Barossa, has a new partner: Rose Billingsley. Billingsley manages the bar while LaLoggia tends to the kitchen with chef Matthew Reddy, who has previous experience at Vucciria and Bayou.

The Cream City brick exterior remains unchanged, but the interior has seen a few modifications. With subdued lighting and backless seats near the window, this is a place for lounging. There are also booths and tables, although the former small dining area near the kitchen now sports a pool table. The new decor seems more unified.

The biggest changes occur in the menu, which consists entirely of international tapas and a few flatbread pizzas. Spain is absent in this picture, but Europe and Asia play major roles.

If Ginger was open for brunch, the prime starter would be the shrimp shooter ($5), a Bloody Mary with a generous dash of vodka and diced shrimp. The tomato juice is seasoned with togarashi, a Japanese condiment that is often served with noodle soups, creating a little spiciness with a hint of sweetness. Marinated tuna sashimi ($7) offers three skewers of raw, marinated tuna served in a white dish that seems designed for this presentation. There are sesame seeds and overtones of ginger, but the soy sauce could be less prominent. Perhaps the most clever item on the menu is the endive boat salad ($6). Leaves of Belgian endive are stuffed with blue cheese, minced radishes, sunflower seeds and strips of portobello mushroom. This is salad as a finger food—just grab a leaf of endive.

After the starters, diners can take many routes. South 2nd Street sliders ($7) consist of three Black Angus or vegetarian patties with lettuce, tomato and caramelized onion. The roll is a section of French bread cut into thirds. Cheddar jack cheese and bacon are optional extras. Grandioli ravioli ($5) is a single piece of ravioli stuffed with spinach and cheeses. The pungency of blue cheese is offset by mild ricotta. A decent marinara sauce finishes things properly. The perfect side for this is the lemon artichoke risotto ($6). Artichoke hearts are cut into tiny pieces and the lemon juice adds a pastel hue. The accompanying Parmesan cheese crisps will disappear in a flash.

A diverse creation can be found in the green coconut curry and wilted spinach ($9.75). The spinach is very European, the bed of couscous with eggplant nods toward Israel and the skewer of three grilled shrimp owes its hint of curry paste to Thailand. Think of this as three small plates in one. A vegetarian option substitutes tofu for shrimp, but you may want to pass on the tater tots—in spite of a roasted red pepper coulis, they never achieve liftoff.

Thoughtful service accompanies a leisurely pace: Not everything will arrive at once, but items will come in due time. The wine list is a mere shadow of the glory days of Barossa, but the wines are still adequate and prices remain moderate. The beer list has expanded, with a nice selection of imports and microbrews. Although Ginger is very different from Barossa, it retains the unifying characteristics of a novel menu and affordable prices. Welcome back.

GINGER 235 S. Second St. (414) 220-9420 $$ Credit Cards: All major Smoking: Yes Handicap Access: Yes

Photo by Don Rask

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