Mystic Ginger spices up downtown Winston-Salem
By: Jennifer Zeleski
Every Indian restaurant experience is slightly different, but some things remain the same: the strong desire for naan bread and intriguing combinations of flavors. After a few weeks of long lines and busy tables, I couldn’t wait any longer for the chance to try Mystic Ginger, the new Indian restaurant in Winston-Salem located at 285 W. Fourth St.
Upon entering, the restaurant space gives off the impression that it is a great place for a date night, as well as a business lunch, considering its location and cuisine. It is not too upscale, but also not too casual. The interior of the restaurant is modern, with a black-tile wall and a digital mural of the New York City skyline, and subtle Indian music for ambiance. The bar is at the back and is awaiting its liquor license.
The restaurant is still in its “soft opening” phase, with a grand opening potentially at the end of September. Until then, the menus are on copy paper but are filled with options, such as chicken, vegetarian, lamb or rice-based. Having decided to go at dinner, my boyfriend, Peyton, and I were willing to take the time to choose our dishes carefully. There were a variety of appetizers to start, followed by a dozen or so dishes within each category, most of which I had not tried or been exposed to before. If most of the options make it on to the hard copy menu in the future, there will be plenty for everyone to choose from, hopefully satisfying those you bring along.
Peyton has a love for samosas, which typically come fried and are stuffed with potatoes, onions, peas or lentils. There were two options, traditional samosas, and a samosa chaat. Described as “mouth-watering, spicy, tangy, and sweet Indian street snack made with samosa and chickpeas,” we were excited to find that it would be topped with freshly-chopped cilantro, a bit of yogurt-based sauce, as well as other fresh ingredients for an “over the top” samosa in a sense. We also couldn’t give up the opportunity to try a flavor of naan bread and had to stop ourselves from ordering too much. Garlic seemed like the go-to option, although we could have happily shared the butter or cheese options as well.
As for our full-size portions, I decided on the chicken tikka masala, trusting that the more commonly-known dish is a good indication of the overall quality and one that many would order in the future. Of course, these dishes often vary from place to place, but I was interested to see Mystic Ginger’s own version. I had never ordered it as my own portion and was excited to dive into the creamy tomato-based sauce and tandoori-cooked chicken. Peyton was quickly convinced of the Kashmiri chicken, which was sautéed, and cooked in a cream sauce with Kashmiri spices. Both were steadfast options that were on the lower price range of the menu, which seemed notably higher than your average weekend dinner, but with the downtown location, were not surprising.
Before long, the appetizer made its way to our table. It was quite the creation, covered in both a brown sauce and white, as well as freshly-chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas and cilantro.
We could hardly wait to dig in.
The first bite was an overall combination of bright, fresh flavor mixed with a vibrant spice. It was soft on the inside, with chickpeas that melted in your mouth and a slightly crunchy exterior from being deep-fried. You really had to dig underneath the toppings to find the actual samosa, but you surely didn’t want to bypass the layers of flavors it added to the dish. It was a single samosa that was large enough to share, if not in a very messy fashion. We are not sure how well it would fare as a “street snack” due to its composition, but it was gone swiftly and without a single regret.
By the first impression of our full-size meals, we were a bit taken back by their size, but the bowls deceptively deep and filled with sauce and large chunks of chicken. The bowl of rice to share was larger than any portion of rice we had ever been served before, and as self-acclaimed rice addicts, we weren’t complaining.
The chicken tikka masala had a very strong tomato flavor, which reminded me of a well-made tomato bisque. It was not quite as heavy as a bisque, but it was very heavily tomato-focused and had a smooth yet substantial texture. The chicken tends to be a little on the tough side when cooked in the tandoori, but the flavor of the broth made up for it. It paired well with the rice, and was a solid option for my first try at the restaurant, and could be great for those going for something more recognizable on the menu.
On the other side of the table, the Kashmiri chicken was a hit, and I had to agree that it was the more flavorful and addicting of the two. It was very sweet, but had a few bites of fresh fruit (pineapple and a few grapes), and was reminiscent of a flavor that we just couldn’t put our finger on. It wasn’t until we both compared it to Thanksgiving dessert that we realize it’s almost eerie similarity to a pumpkin pie flavor. For those of you who are eager to claim that summer has officially ended, this could be the perfect international dish to ring in your favorite season.
Also similar to Thanksgiving was its feeling of comfort that came through in the warmth and savory flavors, which made it easy to love and clean the plate.
Last but surely not least was the warm and decadent garlic naan bread. It came covered in freshly chopped garlic, enough for each bite, and a heavy sprinkling of fresh cilantro. The edges were puffed and delicious, while the middle was thin and crisp with a focus on the garlic and fresh flavor. We split the piece in half and vowed to not leave a single bite behind, and my younger garlic-knot-obsessed-self was highly satisfied.
As is typically ideal at an Indian restaurant, we shared both of the dishes until we just couldn’t take another spoonful.
There are a few minor improvements for Mystic Ginger during the “soft opening” phase that I am sure will be worked out prior to the grand opening, such as wait-staff attentiveness and some organization. But it is safe to say they don’t have a mystical future, but a bright one.
If you’re craving your favorite Indian spices, looking for a vegetarian lunch, or just in the mood for a mango lassi and some crispy naan bread, it is worth taking an electric scooter to swing by.
Jennifer Zeleski is a student contributor to YES! Weekly. She is originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Communications at High Point University.