Oriental calligraphy crawls across curvy, cream-colored banquettes expressing messages I can't read. No matter, the seating looks neat as does the rest of the swanky Royal Ginger. What's more, like its sibling Blue Ginger, Royal makes prettily plated and unusual (in a good way) Pan-Asian food.
In recently replacing a national chain in the Lane Avenue Mall - who got the Wolfgang Puck outta town about a year ago - Royal Ginger has wholly transformed its space. Now there's flattering, hushed lighting; fancifully shiny copper-tinted tables featuring colorful leaf patterns; and impressive, large-scale bas-reliefs of village scenes etched onto sandstone-y surfaces. There's also a long varnished wooden bar and an arc of a little sushi bar.
Holding up its end of the good-looking bargain is a lengthy menu replete with color photos of tempting food. That list includes a surprising selection of salads.
Visually recalling a haystack, the crackling Vietnamese Salad ($7) delivered big piles of fun textures. Crunchy rice stick noodles and mango planks doused in a thickish, semi-sweet dressing effectively mixed it up with sweetness-balancing bits of jicama, crushed roasted peanuts and cilantro.
Want a more bracing take on greens? Then pick the Yellowtail Samba ($11). Beneath a half-dozen strips of raw fish was a large bed of mixed lettuces tossed in a surfeit of thin, smoky, acidic and soy-saucey dressing.
Want even more bang for your uncooked seafood dollar? Then the Tsunami Roll ($14) would be a fine choice. Royal Ginger serves lots of sushi, much of it - like the beautiful, big and satisfying Tsunami Roll - on the busy side. Here, exterior waves of rich and soft textured elements (peppered tuna, spicy mayo and avocado) crashed contrapuntally against a more austere vegetal crunch (cucumber plus red, peppadew and jalapeno peppers).
For a starchier starter, opt for the pleasantly crispy and excellently valued Pan Fried Duck Gyoza ($5.59). The familiar Japanese-style dumplings were given a typically out-of-the-bento Royal Ginger spin with hoisin sauce and a dark and earthy filling of diced duck meat and mushroom.
You can get your noodle fix here, too ($8-$9). Nestled in the Asian-country-spanning menu are carefully made renditions of wide chow fun, wispy thin and curry-powdered Singapore Rice Noodles, comforting udon soup and a lively pad Thai. Standing out in these preparations are the proteins you choose to flesh out your dish.
See, Royal Ginger doesn't cheap out with sparse amounts of gristly bits. No, instead you'll get generous slices of five-spicy barbecued pork, good shrimp and chicken, and pieces of beef you can really sink your teeth into. And they'll all be expertly flash-seared.
Relatedly, stylish stir-fries (with a brown rice option) constitute a large portion of the menu. Basically you choose a meat (or the "house special" - chicken, pork and shrimp) or tofu and pair it with a saucing style.
Among these ($8 to $9 at lunch; $14 to $18 at dinner) I liked the smoky and salty XO (with onions, peppers, snow peas and asparagus); the sweet and spicy Mild Mango (with fruit, jicama and crispy vermicelli); and the unique and zesty Sambal Samba (with Asian eggplant, asparagus, jalapenos and Thai basil - all of it in a delicate, brittle and edible bowl).
As I opened my cliche-breaking fortune cookie (characteristically, Royal Ginger serves chocolate ones) I realized I didn't need to read the sofa to know this place is a great addition to the upscale fast-casual Arlington dining scene.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable