Bamboo Isn’t Just For Pandas
By Bill Gerdes
Imagine a European restaurant—that’s right, an enterprise dedicated to providing the entire European dining experience, from paella to Shepherd’s pie, from foie-gras to schnitzel with a dash of sturgeon on the side. Whatever the end result there would likely be a tumult amongst patrons, press, and most likely of all kitchen staff when the place opened. But when an “Asian” restaurant opens we barely bat an eye, except to perhaps cynically note that it’s more than likely not-so-great.
There’s a new Asian restaurant at Pechanga, Temecula’s Native-American gaming mecca. And it’s better than not-so-great. Bamboo has been open about a month, is located near a pit of low-slung gambling tables, (the type frequented by true gambling degenerates, short people, and the generally slouchy) and is a truly quirky and occasionally interesting new restaurant. And it’s relatively cheap, so there are plenty of nickels left over for the Wheel of Fortune slots, if that’s your bag.
The lighting is slightly subdued and there are white textile structure diagrams that hang from the ceiling—the décor feels like P.F Chang’s meets earth tones with a dash of Star Trek thrown in. The steamed BBQ pork buns mirror the décor—they’re subtle yet fun. The buns themselves are steamed little chunks of tasty, with slight hints of sweetness. The filling is even better—the sauce a mix of soy, sugar and oyster sauce is restrained—the opposite of the clichéd barbeque cooking in books and the Food Network. I could have simply scarfed down six of these and left happy. But I had seen Phở on the menu so leaving before trying some wasn’t an option.
Phở the culinary phenomenon has been heavily chronicled the last few years, best and most noticeably by Jonathan Gold in the LA Weekly. At its best it rivals the most intoxicating of foods. And at its worst it can still be a nice bowl of soup. The Phở Gau with brisket I sampled was something above a bowl of soup and something less than an epiphany. It was tasty enough but felt uninspired and in need of jazzing up. The cut of brisket seemed especially leaden. I had originally been told they were out, then informed they still had some, so perhaps this was simply the bottom of the phở barrel. Or maybe the averageness of the phở that night is the result of a kitchen that’s trying to do too much.
This almost multicultural menuism can work though—witness the Hong-Kong-style seafood pan-fried noodles I tried next. They’re really nice, crispy noodles meeting a variety of seafood including shrimp and calamari in an oyster sauce, a bit greasy but in a nice way, and with a street-food kind of feel. I was individually tasting each bit of seafood to get an idea of its quality when the incident happened. Seeing that I was not immediately crunching the noodle together to soften them and thus complete the cooking process my waitress came over, took (OK—seized) my cutlery and began to mix the noodles and sauce together, telling me that was how it needed to be done in a tone half-hectoring, half-helpful. I’d never in a restaurant have a server attempt to do anything close to that intrusive before—it was gracious yet rude, polite but annoying, and it ultimately put me off my meal, even as I knew she had done it with the best intentions.
So if you try Bamboo and I think you should, mix your pan-fried noodles as quickly as you possibly can. Although it must be said she did an excellent job of chopping up those crispy noodles. Far better than I probably would have done. Oh, and Bamboo is open till three in the morning—that is kick-ass.
Bamboo Asian Restaurant, 4500 Pechanga Pkwy., Temecula, 1 (877) 711-2946; www.pechanga.com/Dining/Bamboo.aspx. Sun-Sat, 11am-3am.