New Downtown Korean Restaurant Receives Rave Reviews

Ginger Grill Introduces a Different Asian Cuisine in Downtown New Bedford
By Pamela Marean, Contributing Writer

Jay Ghim grills some marinated chicken and beef at his restaurant in downtown New Bedford. Mike Valeri/The Standard-Times

Sharpen your chopstick skills. A new Asian cuisine has come to town, and it is renowned for being tasty, nutritious, and a powerful boost to the immune system. The clean, slick and modern but casual Ginger Grill at 778 Purchase St. in New Bedford has a short menu designed to introduce the American palate to affordable Korean food.
A family business started by Jay Ghim and his son JT, it all began, JT explained, because Ghim was encouraged to cook by friends who came to his house for dinner. “The majority of our friends are not Koreans. There are not many Koreans here. So our American friends were introduced to authentic Korean foods and loved it.”
Ghim emigrated to the New York/New Jersey area from South Korea 20 years ago, said JT, speaking for his father who still struggles to speak English smoothly. Eleven years ago, Ghim came to New Bedford, where he has been running J-Trak LLC, a commercial maintenance business.
The early morning and late night schedule for that enterprise allowed Ghim to start Ginger Grill, which currently is serving its fresh, made-on-the-spot meals between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Ginger Grill is also open for dinner on AHA! Nights.
What makes Korean cuisine different from the more familiar Japanese, Thai or Chinese offerings Americans generally have happily added into their diets? Korean eat mostly steamed vegetables and grilled meats, very low in fat but highly flavorful because of the marinades they use.
Unlike many Asian foods where ingredients are mixed together in a hot wok, deep fried, and liberally covered with sauces, Korean foods are usually neatly segregated on plates. Meals may even appear to the eye to be unseasoned but for a sprinkle of sesame seeds. In fact, the food is a delight to eat, since each vegetable has its own complementary flavorings added. White rice or noodles made from potato or wheat round out the meal.
Ginger Grill’s Bibim Bob offering is a perfect example of Korean fare: a small mound of white rice sits in the center of the dish surrounded by servings of vegetables each in their own colorful heaps, including carrot, cucumber, shitake mushroom, spinach, and yellow pepper. Add $3 to the base cost of $6.25, and you can have cuts of grilled beef short rib with your meal, or add $2 for slices of chicken tenders.
The same type of meal in Boston or New York City, where Korean cuisine is taking hold already, will cost more than $25 per person and likely be served for large parties since traditionally each of the vegetables come in large dishes for families to share.
JT said he and his father brainstormed their serving approach in order to keep Ginger Grill an affordable place for locals to eat often. And, it’s working. He said that even on Mondays, when most restaurants go through a beginning-of-the-week slump, the Ginger Grill is packed with patrons. “We feel very fortunate considering people in this area are not very familiar with Korean cuisine.”
Ghim also designed the restaurant to have spiffy, clean tiled décor and large leather-like dining chairs even though there is no table service. The staff consists of Ghim, JT and Mina Park. Park does most of the food preparation, Ghim runs the grill, and JT interacts with customers.
The uncluttered kitchen runs right along one side of the restaurant so customers can watch their food being cooked and plated, a feature that Ghim insisted upon so anyone and everyone can see the care they take with the food. “Nothing here is prepared in advance,” JT said.
In addition to the six-item menu, of which two are appetizers — homemade meat-filled dumplings and a vegetable maki roll — there are regular weekly specials that expand offerings to about a dozen selections.
Not on the menu, but there for the taking, are soy and hot sauces, plus kimchi, which has been called the Korean national food. Kimchee is a spiced and pickled cabbage dish that’s both hot and sour. It’s is served at virtually every Korean meal. An acquired taste, Koreans eat it regularly in small bites to cleanse the palate between mouthfuls of other foods. Though kimchi is now commercially available in specialty stores, the best is still made fresh, and Ginger Grill prepares its own according to a recipe that JT said is more difficult than many versions out there.
Only open since September, Ginger Grill is fast becoming a favorite downtown eatery. The next step, JT said, is for the restaurant to open a small market called Urban Essentials where neighbors can buy “the 40 ingredients people cook with most,” JT explained. Though there may be some Korean specialty items, JT and Ghim are not planning for the market itself to be Asian. Rather, JT said, it will offer regular foods for people who need someplace local to go for bread, milk and vegetables from SouthCoast farmers.
Environmentally minded, the Ginger Grill serves its meals in compostable recycled paper containers. Though some patrons have asked for traditional ceramic tableware, JT said most are pleased with their attention to caring for the planet. Ginger Grill makes party platters and does catering. For more information, call JT at (508) 993-9090.
JT Ghim claims that while there are many recipes available for making kimchi more easily, nothing works as well as the traditional method they insist upon at Ginger Grill. For example, instead of flavoring and entire head of cabbage leaf by leaf while it is still intact, some shortcuts advocate dicing the leaves ahead of time. Doing this, JT explained, will give you a kimchi that is too watery.
Because JT makes his kimchi in large batches to taste, he provided only a sketchy outline of the process. He urges cooks to experiment with their process to achieve a kimchi result they like. His advice:
“First you want to get some napa cabbages which are the only cabbages that are big enough to accommodate the fermentation process. You cut the cabbage in half and leave it soaked in saltwater with big sea salt over night.
“Drain the saltwater out before applying the marinade. The traditional kimchi marinade includes red chili pepper powder (Korean ones that are coarse and not too spicy), blended garlic, onion, ginger, and some sort of a fish sauce.
“Mix these ingredients and then apply to both sides of each leaf of the halved cabbage. You want to try to keep it intact for maximum fermentation.
“Store it in a refrigerated container a few days before eating.”
January 27, 2010
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