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$10 Challenge: Wild Ginger Sushi & Fusion

This challenge is a failure that is indeed a success. As the title suggests, my goal is to spend just $10 on a meal at a local Louisville restaurant. However, the expanded bento box lunch menu at Wild Ginger was an intriguing enough deal to spotlight for this column, even though the price surpasses my self-imposed limit.

Wild Ginger, located on Bardstown Road, is a sushi restaurant with a healthy heap of Asian fusion. Wild Ginger’s lunch menu had previously featured bento boxes, which owner Jenny Wang says were popular among with the midday crowd. A bento box is a single-portion meal common in Japanese cuisine that is served in a partitioned container. Bento boxes usually contain some combination of rice, fish, meat and vegetables. In response to the positive feedback, Wild Ginger expanded their bento box menu from just a handful to 11 different types of boxes.

The bento boxes are all $10.99, nearly a dollar over my budget for this column. But for the amount of food that one receives, the 99 pennies are well worth breaking the rules. The additional items quell any hesitations diners might have if they are underwhelmed with a meal that comes in neat portions that seem miniscule compared to American-sized entrees. The bento boxes (with a few exceptions) come with two fried dumplings, miso soup, fried or steamed rice and a house salad. The result is a meal that left me pleasantly full and ready to finish my work day.

Wild Ginger is a good spot to spend a midweek lunch hour. The expansive seating provides enough personal space to commiserate with co-workers about work without worrying about meddling ears. When the weather is nice, a patio is available in the back for outdoor eating. For inside dining, grab a seat at the sushi bar that’s right next to the door. You get a culinary show that ends in the delivery of your meal, and you have a prime position for Bardstown Road people-watching.

Though I had my eyes on the bento boxes, the sushi menu is impressive in its prices and roll combinations. Standard maki rolls such as the Philadelphia, the California and the spicy tuna are all under $10 for four to eight pieces. I promised myself that I would return for dinner soon to try a signature roll (starts at $12 per roll). These concoctions would make a sushi purist grimace with their use of sauces, mayo and crunch to jazz up each roll. Me? I’m down for some creativity thrown in with my raw fish. I’d love to sample the Wild Ginger roll ($14) with spicy crab meat, tempura shrimp, crunch, eel and avocado, or even the Tuna Tower ($14), which is less roll, more vertical column of spicy tuna, crab meat, cucumber and avocado stacked on a rice cake.

Fortunately, the bento box lunch menu is as impressive as its sushi roll counterparts. The bento box selections unite Japanese, Korean and Chinese influences into perfectly portioned boxes that satisfy a variety of cravings. There are enough choices to please the most finicky sushi restaurant customers who might shy away from raw fish or prefer something fried or can’t pick just one dish for lunch. Each box features a main dish, such as chicken, fish, or shrimp teriyaki, nigiri, sashimi or Korean-style bulgogi beef that is paired with a lighter, secondary item like a California roll or tempura vegetables. Vegetarians even have a vegetable bento box with grilled tofu teriyaki, vegetable tempura and vegetable dumplings.

My friend Branda and I shared two of the boxes — the #2 with bulgogi beef and vegetable tempura and the #7 with four pieces of chef’s choice nigiri and four pieces of a California roll. Before we received the bento boxes, our friendly waitress brought out the miso soup as a first course. The smooth, savory soup was dotted with a little seaweed and green onion and was perfect for warming up on the overcast day. We each received our two dumplings before I even made it halfway down my bowl of miso soup. The half-moons were filled with well-seasoned ground pork and fried to a golden crisp. The dumplings were delicious, and I could’ve easily thrown down a couple more.

The actual boxes arrived as I took my last bite of dumpling. Our salads, a pile of crisp lettuce with a few shreds of carrots, were served with the ginger dressing on the side, a perfect solution to sogginess upon arrival. The sushi serving satisfied that special sushi craving that had stirred up in my belly.

Branda and I agreed that the star of our lunch was the bulgogi beef bento box. This Korean dish is made up of thinly cut shreds of marinated meat with broccoli. Such slim slices made for tender beef. The tasty sauce in which the beef was cooked had a slightly sweet kick, but I could’ve done without the pool of the sauce that remained after all the beef and broccoli were gone. The vegetable fried rice was lighter than the more greasy variety I’m used to when it comes to late-night carry-out. It was a delicious accompaniment to both boxes. I’m usually weary when I come across fried vegetables, but the tempura veggies had a light coating that left each slice of carrot or stalk of asparagus closer to their original crispness.

The bento box menu at Wild Ginger might be one of the best-kept secrets of a Highlands lunch. This is a good situation for a group lunch setting. There’s ample variety and a lot of food to fight the midday hunger. It’s a meal that might fail the challenge, but it definitely succeeds at providing an interesting, filling lunch.

The Bottom Line:
Two Bento Boxes: Sushi Bento — nigiri sushi and a California roll, and the Bulgogi Bento — bulgogi beef and vegetable tempura (both served with fried rice, house salad, fried dumplings and miso soup).
Total (without tax and tip): $10.99 per person.
Mission: Failed

Wild Ginger Sushi & Fusion
1700 Bardstown Rd.
Louisville, KY 40205
(502) 384-9252
www.wildgingerky.com