Consciously or not, diners can sense thoughtfulness. It’s a sixth sense that plays a huge part in whether we decide to return.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been out to eat and had a conversation with friends about how certain aspects of the menu make no sense, or how acoustic panels would make a huge difference, or how the seating layout is awkward. We’re not intentionally looking for criticisms, but sometimes it’s glaringly obvious that the owners haven’t put themselves in the customers’ shoes.
Then there’s Ginza Sushi & Ramen Bar, a Grand Rapids restaurant on Michigan Street opened earlier this year that exudes thoughtfulness on every level. So rarely does a newcomer get it so right.
Just to be clear, this is an understated thoughtfulness. Ginza isn’t trying to be overtly hip or in-your-face modern — it’s just a cool place to be. When I walk into Ginza, I feel like I’m suddenly in a big city, but one I’ve lived in my whole life. The ceilings are high, walls are grey and decor is simple, but the lighting is mostly natural, the furniture is almost entirely made of wood and the barstools are lit by neon lights under the bar, all of which perfectly balances out the entire aesthetic. It’s all laid out in a very communal, yet comfortable arrangement.
Ginza clearly understands that atmosphere is nearly important as the food itself. Despite being so open, the room is kept at a perfect volume. No yelling required! New restaurants, take notes.
Of course, we wouldn’t be writing about this place if the food wasn’t top-tier too. Sushi, ramen, poke, bento, pho, hibachi — there is no single experience at Ginza. On my first trip, I actually “just” got a lunch bento box to go. That’s when I was hooked. My box was $9 and came with teriyaki chicken, white rice, a spring roll, an orange, four pieces of California roll, shrimp tempura AND a salad. How could you not be impressed?
Sitting at my office desk, I was totally lost in the sauce. The thought of even trying to get some work done while working my way through this miniature buffet never even crossed my mind.
On a recent visit, we dove in further, starting with the gyoza. I’m no Anthony Bourdain, but this was the best pan-fried gyoza I’ve ever had. They’re perfectly crispy on one side and tender everywhere else, with a light coating of oil and savory, soft chicken on the inside. Off to a good start.
In order to experience more of the menu, my girlfriend and I decided to split up, culinarily speaking. She ordered the Tonkatsu Ramen while I asked for sushi suggestions, prompting the server to bring me a brand new menu that would officially be rolling out soon (and surely has by now).
Of course, I went for one of the most dramatic rolls I could find: Fuji Mountain. Inside is tuna, salmon and yellowtail with rice, wrapped in seaweed and lightly deep-fried. Then the roll is cut at an angle and stacked to resemble a mountain, covered in a shredded daikon snowcap, scallions and three sauces: eel sauce, wasabi aioli and spicy mayo. Even though I typically go for a roll loaded with actual raw fish, I was there for an experience, and it fully delivered. The cooked fish flavor comes through strong, mixing with a different sauce in every bite.
Fuji Mountain Roll. Photo by Josh Veal
To balance it out slightly, I also got a California roll, which to me is always telling of how much a sushi spot cares. If the most basic — and I mean that in multiple senses of the word — roll is excellent, I know I can invest confidently in a $15 sushi masterpiece.
Meanwhile, the ramen was top-notch too. The milky pork bone broth is rich but not overly so, and the bowl is loaded with ingredients: tender roasted pork, egg, bamboo, mushrooms, nori and green onion. It’s a savory experience full of flavor and it made me excited to try some of the other options. Don’t judge, but I stole the leftovers from my girlfriend and they were still great two days later. Waste not, want not!
While Ginza is still waiting on a liquor license, I did head home with a tasty taro boba tea in hand. I’ve often lamented the lack of quality boba near downtown Grand Rapids, but I think Ginza’s is worth a stop for that alone.
After it all, when I look back on my experience and realize I had absolutely zero complaints, that’s a good sign. When I think about how I wish I was there right now, that’s a good sign. When I already plan to head back to Ginza to try more in the near future, that’s a good sign.
Ginza Sushi & Ramen Bar is thoughtful about everything it does so that when you step in, you don’t have to be. You can just sit back, relax and go on a culinary adventure.