published Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Former Chinese buffet reborn as Red Ginger Bistro

Shrimp Shu Mai is one of the offerings on Red Ginger Bistro’s Japanese/Chinese menu.
Shrimp Shu Mai is one of the offerings on Red Ginger Bistro’s Japanese/Chinese menu.
Photo by Tim Omarzu /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

Where: Red Ginger Bistro, 1801 Dayton Blvd., Red Bank

Phone: 423-875-6480

Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily

Price range: $1.50 (five types of soup and garden salad) to $15.95 (sushimi roll)

Sushi is half-price at Red Ginger Bistro in honor of its grand opening -- and has been for months now.

The restaurant next to Crust Pizza at the intersection of Dayton Boulevard and Signal Mountain Road for years housed a Chinese buffet.

Under new ownership, the buffet has been banished though the sizable menu still provides a smorgasbord of choices.

So how long will the half-price sushi deal last?

English wasn't the first language of two servers working lunch there last week, so they weren't able to say.

Let's hope it's a while, because Red Ginger Bistro's food is fun, and the prices are right.

The menu

The Japanese/Chinese menu boasts a wide range of sushi rolls with inventive names and ingredients. The Christmas roll, for instance, is a mix of tempura shrimp, mango, crab salad and fish roe for $11.95.The Bagel is a $10 combination of smoked salmon, eel, cheese and scallion with eel sauce. (Both sushi prices are before the half-price discount).

From 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., you can order tried-and-true stalwarts from the restaurant's Chinese lunch menu, including General Tso's chicken and sweet-and-sour pork for $4.99.

Or you can splurge for lunch and get beef with broccoli or shrimp with lobster sauce for $5.50. All 17 items on the Chinese lunch menu come with ham-fried rice and soup.

Soups are a bargain at $1.50 for miso, wonton and hot and sour. The priciest is $3.50 for seafood soup.

While the bistro bills its menu as Japanese and Chinese cuisine, a few outliers have found their way on the menu, such as five types of Pad Thai, a popular dish from Thailand.

Sushi rolls range from futomaki, or jumbo-size, with the (pre-discount) priciest being a $15.95 sashimi roll. The least-expensive rolls are $5 (pre-discount), including the salmon, avocado and California roll.

You can get a deep-fried roll. The restaurant also offers bento boxes, sashimi, salads, moo shu dishes, egg foo young and a selection of hibachi meals.

Dessert includes three tempura, or deep-fried, items: vanilla, chocolate and orange ice cream for $6.95, tempura banana for $4.95 and tempura cheesecake for $3.95.

The order

With so much to choose from, deciding took a little while. And English doesn't appear to have been the first language of the person who wrote the menu (not sure what "finessed" eel sauce is).

I chose the shrimp shu mai for $4.95 as an appetizer and the jumbo-size sashimi roll for $15.95 (before the half-off discount).

The seven shu mai, or steamed shrimp dumplings, were delicious. And so was the sweet-flavored dipping sauce. But the dumplings were on the dainty side, which was disappointing.

The jumbo-size sashimi roll, which the menu describes as containing the following (verbatim with punctuation intact): "tuna salmon yellow tail, asparagus, cheese, yamagobo, green leaf, crab, finished tabiko and sauce on the side."

Didn't know what all that was until afterward, when I Googled tabiko (fish roe) and yamagobo (marinated ginger root).

It was delicious.

The only downside: It wasn't very "jumbo" in size.

Still hungry, I ordered the "Tiffany," a deep-fried California roll, for $8.95 (pre-discount) that seemed the same size as the "jumbo" roll.

It really hit the spot.

Aside from the portions being smaller than expected, the food was good.

The service

Though their English wasn't top-notch, the servers were attentive, fast and friendly. The restaurant is in a small space, so they're never far away.

The space

The restaurant is clean. The decor has a few miles on it, though. It doesn't appear to have changed from its days as a Chinese buffet. There's room for about 50 diners, who can choose among eight booths, three tables or a four-person sushi bar where they can watch the sushi chef do his thing. The tables are Formica with no tablecloths. Two TVs are on the wall. The hot water faucet in the men's bathroom sink didn't produce any water, so hand-washing was done with cold water only.

The verdict

Who can argue with half-price sushi? There's so much variety and the prices are so reasonable that you could come back over and over again without trying the same dish twice. It'd take more than two weeks to work through the 17-item Chinese lunch menu alone. If you're a fan of Asian food and looking for a variety of options -- including some inventive sushi rolls -- Red Ginger Bistro is worth a visit.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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