Wild Ginger, the pan-Asian restaurant that grew up on Western Avenue in the 1990s, is now thriving in the new downtown Seattle arts district, right across from Benaroya Hall. It's at home in a smartly renovated terra cotta treasure, the 1926 Mann Building, designed by celebrated Northwest engineer and architect Henry Bittman.
For Wild Ginger, the two-story storefront has been stripped down, opened up and fitted out for being seen and taking in the changing street scene. With the help of a design team from NBBJ, owner-managers Rick and Ann Yoder unpacked their popular restaurant in a multi-level dining space, with two bar areas and special rooms for groups. Most of the second floor has been renovated into rental offices.
Here was space to make many additions the Yoders had long needed for their burgeoning restaurant -- a larger kitchen, banquet rooms and best of all, a mezzanine. Despite their desire to create a music venue, the need for restaurant space took priority.
Design began with stripping away years of commercial accretion that obscured the gracefully framed bays of the exterior and filled the high-ceilinged interior. What remained were the exquisite terra cotta and granite outside walls and an interior dominated by classic flared "mushroom" concrete columns. The muscular structure of the two-story building was designed to hold yet another four stories, be added later if the need arose.
The large, glazed arch that frames the main entry to Wild Ginger on Third Avenue is now perfectly aligned with a steel bar at the back of the expansive, two-story restaurant space. A U-shaped mezzanine wraps the main part of the restaurant, providing many site lines for enjoying the lunch or dinner scene. Steel and wood cap railings define the mezzanine. Another flute has been added to the exposed mushroom columns, bringing more scale into the various views. A cozy bar is tucked against the partition behind, and another plush bar and seating area is perched above at the mezzanine level. It's more than double the space of the original Wild Ginger.
This is a downtown Seattle restaurant, and dressing runs the gamut from Armani to REI.
The spare, modern ambiance, with touches of Asian art, sets the scene. Subtle but strategic details put the spotlight on people and food. Over booths, light fixtures suspended from the tall ceilings shine through an etched square of glass that hovers over the center of the table. Set into beveled planks of dark wood, tables literally frame the dishes. A few art works, guache paintings by Susan Skilling on handmade paper, are framed on the walls.
The menu, which consists of traditional recipes from China and Southeast Asia, has been a consistent draw for at the prior location since 1989. It's the food that gets top priority in the design scheme at Wild Ginger -- the food and the people, according to NBBJ.
It's all part of the strategy to create an environment that extends and refines the ambiance that worked so well at the old location. But in spite of its elegant interior décor and exquisite menu, Wild Ginger is facing a tough competition with numerous high-class restaurants located on Pioneer Square.