GINGER 2 (403 Yonge, at Gerrard, 416-263-9999) Self-serve sequel to the inexpensive Yonge-and-Bloor noodle joint, this second location is not only much larger, but its menu's expanded, too. Though mostly pan-Asian, it occasionally wanders off track into macaroni 'n' cheese territory. And dig that kitschy day-glo Hello Kitty decor! Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and an iced Vietnamese coffee. Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Rain has one. So does the Rainforest Café. And now Ginger 2 joins that list of moist boîtes with waterfalls. The original Ginger (695 Yonge, at Charles, 416-966-2424) doesn't have a water feature but continues to pump out value-conscious Vietnamese noodle noshes at its uptown location.A sequel - Ginger 2: This Time It's Personal - has just opened north of Ryerson in the former Lindy's, the inexplicably long-running cheap steakhouse that finally kicked the bucket last year.
Anyone wandering in and expecting the old joint is in for a shock. Though the bones of the old spot remain - barnyard ceiling, fake-wood formica booths, mock panelling - the jukeboxes and Texas longhorn, er, horns have been junked.
Off-white walls are now festooned with garlands of plastic flowers. Multicoloured Chinese lanterns glow overhead as the waterfall burbles in its grotto setting. Think Hello Kitty meets the Easter Bunny. On disco drugs.
The other half of the room is dominated by a bizarre Baskin-Robbins-ish takeout corner where customers line up and place orders from a McDonalds-style wall-mounted menu. Take a number, grab a table and when your number's announced over the public address system get your tray at the open kitchen. Next, head over to the condiments and add squirts of fresh lime and Srirachi hot sauce.
Yes, there's the anticipated pad thai ($4.95), pho (expertly assembled beef, both rare and well-done, in anise-scented lemongrass broth garnished with Thai basil - $4.50 small/$5.50 large) and spring rolls ($1.25 each) stuffed with rice thread, leaf lettuce and mint leaf.
But check out the unusual extras: strips of deep-fried tofu with buttery avocado or nutty jicama, all dunked in sugary nuoc cham dip. Cabbage, onion and hot mint salad is easily the most adventurous thing here, a fabulously crunchy collision of napa, red onion and puffed black sesame crackers ($2.95/$3.95 with a grilled shrimp) tossed with coriander, crushed peanut dust and fiery, sweet mint dressing.
Follow with Special Vegetarian ($4.95), dense pressed tofu scented with lemongrass and a tiny but equally packed spring roll over rice noodles or cubes of soft barbecued bean curd paired with peanuty lengths of grilled Asian eggplant and short-grain rice ($6.95).
The only reason I can imagine why Seoul-food-style BBQ chicken with macaroni 'n' cheese ($7.95 with green salad) is on the menu must be to cater to tourists from Cleveland. They'll no doubt wash it down with a Canadian ($2.75) once the liquor licence goes into effect.
With its signature mix of solid food at wallet-friendly prices, Ginger 2 advances the palatable plot of the original. I'm already looking forward to Ginger 3: The Wrath Of Prawn.
- fresh dish -
The west side's Citron is permanently shuttered, and not closed for renovations as its owners claimed. In its place, Butler's Pantry (811 Queen West, at Manning, 416-203-0222) has returned to Queen after abandoning a year ago the hip strip space that now houses Modesto. And offbeat Pasta Rica, the Kensington Market take-away trat that somehow managed to sell credible pasta-and-salad combos for under seven bucks has folded. Maybe it wasn't such a deal after all.