My favorite cuisines are those that invite you to order a number of things and eat them all without requiring you to loosen your belt, pop a Lipitor or take a nap. This puts sushi at the top of my list, so I was stoked to see The Ginger Exchange open its doors in Inman Square next to Bukowski’s. It has the simple, clean décor you’d expect at a sushi joint, but a playlist you’d expect to hear at the 1369 down the street and a beer menu that would please its neighbor, offering a welcome blend of Japanese tradition and Cambridge character.
With the option of sitting at the booze bar, sushi bar, a table or banquette, I choose the banquette. Right away, I notice it’s pretty loud despite not being very crowded. My server is welcoming, and assures me he has tried almost everything on the menu and is happy to give suggestions. The menu is user friendly: In the specialty-roll section, icons indicate which ingredients you’ll find inside your roll and which will be on top (an exciting feature for a frequent fancy- roll eater).
I start with the signature lettuce wraps ($8.99/single, $14.99/double). I forget to ask for tofu and when it’s presented with chicken, the server (with zero hint of attitude) says he’ll bring a side of tofu, not to worry. The platter comes with a stack of iceberg leaves, fresh cilantro and piles of peanut noodles, julienned vegetables and crispy rice strings. I make my first wrap with tofu and immediately long for dipping sauce. I realize I should just dive into the teriyaki-drenched chicken and leave the bland bean curd alone. The chicken balances the dish out, but can’t quite compensate for the watery consistency of the vegetables and lettuce, making me question the dishe’s “signature” status. The miso soup ($3.49) is everything I’d hoped for. Clear broth that, when stirred, brings the miso to the top—a sure sign of well-made soup. The kelp and tofu are just firm enough, and it’s perfectly salted.
Moving on to the fish, I order hamachi (yellowtail) ($5.50/two pieces) sushi à la carte; a pyro roll ($14.95) with seared tuna and eel sauce inside, cucumber and avocado on top; and a Mt. Fuji roll ($11.95) with avocado and cucumber inside, spicy scallop and crabstick on top, baked. The yellowtail is fresh and just the right temperature—not too cold, masking the fish’s flavor, nor too warm (read: slimy). The pyro roll is beautifully displayed and gives me a new appreciation for the art of slicing avocados. The thin and perfectly ripe pieces combined with the crisp cukes and flavorful tuna make this a highly desirable, savory roll. The baked Mt. Fuji roll is mildly spicy, and its warmth de-freshens the experience a bit, making me wish I’d stuck with a classic roll like the “Over the Rainbow” ($11.95).
Not all of the fancy rolls seem worthy of their higher price point, but I am pleased to see the standard rolls—California ($4.75) and spicy tuna ($5.95)—within a moderate price range. I do recommend considering dessert, namely the cheesecake rolls ($5.95)—warm cheesecake with ginger caramel sauce.
With a range of fish, veggie and meat Japanese options, The Ginger Exchange has the sushi necessities down, and its location is prime. If noise bugs you [OK, Grandma—Ed.], steer clear of weekend dinners; there is always lunch (and Sunday brunch to come). Stick to the basics and eat your heart out, without worrying about how you’re going to burn it off.