January 2010: Dining Out: Ginger Park: Patricia Yeo: South End restaurant: Banq: Ginger Park Review
I know that we Boston provincials are not supposed to be wowed when a chef who happens to have made her reputation in New York gets a job here. We have plenty of homegrown stars, after all. But I’ll admit I got excited when I heard Patricia Yeo was coming to town—and to the stylish South End restaurant Banq, too. (Yeo successfully lobbied for a name change when she came aboard.)
[sidebar]Yeo is a cook’s cook, not a household name but a trendsetter in the world of ambitious chefs. Born in Oregon, she attended boarding school in England and was pursuing a doctorate in biochemistry when she was seduced by cooking. Yeo worked for six years with chef Bobby Flay, whose southwestern chilies and cumin struck a powerful chord with the spices of her childhood.
She first came to foodies’ attention in 2000 when she opened Manhattan’s AZ, where—with expertise and confidence—she made a kind of fusion food no one else was making. AZ closed, though, and gaudy emporiums serving other takes on Thai and Singaporean street fare (such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s vast Spice Market in the Meatpacking District, and David Chang’s whole Momofuku empire) got all the attention and customers.
Now that she is in Boston, Yeo is injecting new life into the fusion formula, which has become rather tired lately. It was even getting tired at Banq, which started as a sort of Spice Market spinoff. Opened by the owners of the Indian restaurant Mantra, this spectacularly designed eatery in a former bank got lots of attention for its waves of light-colored pressed wood descending from the ceiling like Swinging Sixties stalagtites, but the food at Banq never made much of an impression.
Yeo told me she renamed the restaurant to both to give it her personal stamp and to flag the unifying theme in the cuisines she draws from. Indian food, for instance, often makes people think of cumin, she said, yet what she found during her travels to India was that ginger appeared in everything. Yeo keeps five kinds of ginger in the restaurant’s kitchen, she told me, mostly for the many Thai-influenced dishes she has created.