Continuing our culinary explorations of the City of Legends, loyal reader, my lovely wife and I went out last night to a little Chinese restaurant Erica had read good things about. Even better, it’s just down the street from us. Cold and wet from even a short walk, we entered Bamboo Garden.
Located immediately next door to Asian Taste, this Chinese restaurant is an unassuming hole in the wall. The decor is very minimalist. The walls are painted a pleasant peach colour, with some pictures hung here and there. The square tables have red checkered vinyl tablecloths. Overall, it’s very humble. Which is not necessarily a bad thing but it could use some freshening up: the walls have some scrapes and the paint job is pretty sloppy around windows and such. Overall, it’s a little bit hastily put-together and could use a bit of redesign. It could be argued, however, that it’s part of its charm, especially if it’s a place more geared towards the downtown lunch crowd rather than evening diners.
Our smiling hostess took our drink orders while we went over the menu. Bamboo Garden‘s menu focuses on simple fare such as soups, noodles, rice and fried vegetables and meats. It’s casual, affordable fare, the kind where your soft drink comes in a can.
For an appetizer, Erica chose a plate of steamed shrimp dumplings with lemon and herbs. I went with the hot sweet and sour soup (a specialty of the place that came highly recommended). For our entrees I selected a plate of fried noodles with vegetables and sliced pork, while my better half chose sliced BBQ beef and vegetables with some steamed rice. While taking my order, the hostess asked me if I wanted the pork mild, medium or spicy. Of course, I chose the latter option, as I love me some spicy food!
The appetizers took a bit of time ti arrive, about 15 or 20 minutes, which seemed a bit long since we were the only customers. Still, it wasn’t that long of a wait, but it did give me plenty of time to look around and that’s when I noticed the sloppy paint job in more detail.
I was a tad disappointed that my appetizer soup only arrived after we had finished Erica’s shrimp dumplings. Similarly, my wife didn’t receive her entree until a few minutes after mine. I wouldn’t go so far as saying the service was bad (the hostess was always smiling and checked on us to make sure it was good), but it could be tightened so that both diners get their food together.
That being said, the food we ate was absolutely fantastic and completely made up for whatever else Bamboo Garden could improve!
Erica’s shrimp dumpling appetizer was a pleasure for the palate. The dumplings were tender, the shrimp fresh and, best of all, there was this cool flavour layering going on: you ate a dumpling and it tasted like a delicious shrimp dumpling, and it’s only after you’d swallowed that you were treated to a refreshing lemony aftertaste! I love it when you get different sensations like that from the same bite.
The sweet and sour soup I had confirmed why Bamboo Garden is famous for it. It had a spicy broth, four or five shrimps and some shredded vegetables. It was hot, temperature-wise, and like the lemony aftertaste of the dumplings, the spiciness came after you swallowed as a hot but not burning sensation in the back of your mouth. It was well-balanced. I think next time I may end up simply ordering a meal-sized bowl!
Our entrees, despite not arriving together, were equally excellent. One word of advice though, if you order your meat spicy, make you can handle the spice. I’m a huge spicy food freak and my pork definitely ranked among one of the hottest things I have eaten in my life. I loved every bite, but it isn’t for everyone. Let me put it to you this way: it was spicy enough to give me a bit of a runny nose.
Erica’s dish, of course, wasn’t spicy and she loved it! I tasted it as well and I agree. The meat was tender, the vegetables well-cooked without any sliminess. And her bowl of steamed rice had a wonderful texture. I’m not quite sure was kind of rice it was, but I want more of it.
One great thing about Bamboo Garden, in addition to the smashing food, is that portions are very generous. Even a big eater like yours truly left sated. Our dishes were served in large bowls similar to pasta bowls and they were full to the brim!
Finally, another great surprise came with the bill. Two (very full) entrees, two appetizers and three canned drinks came to a whopping… $36.60! There was no mistake. For the quantity and quality of the food, it was a steal!
All in all, when I compare it to its neighbour Asian Taste, Bamboo Garden comes across not as competition but as an alternative. Taste remains my favourite Asian restaurant but it’s more of a dinner place, with sushi and more substantial fare. Plus it wins hands down for service and ambiance.
But Bamboo Garden is a different experience. It’s ideal if you want very affordable (I hesitate to say “cheap”) food that tastes delicious and you don’t care too much about the surroundings. And honestly, if they could tighten up the service and give the paint job a touch-up, they would be a presence to be reckoned with on the Asian scene.
I strongly recommend you give Bamboo Garden a try and see for yourself, loyal reader!