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Restaurant Reviews 

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The Bamboo Club                                                                             

Stepping into The Bamboo Club, which is located on the back side of the Park Place Mall, is aesthetically pleasing in that, once you are safely inside, you suddenly feel like you could be in downtown Portland or Seattle instead of just off the food court of a monstrous indoor mall in Southwestern AZ (it might have helped that rain was streaking down the high windows on this particular night). And despite the tropical name choice, being reminded of such gentler climed cities is a good thing in this case since the menu which the Bamboo Club offers is advertised as “Pacific Rim”. The high, dark industrial looking ceilings, tres chic back lit bar area, bamboo furnishings, and tasteful but minimized lighting make for a comfortable looking space. We were excited at first when we stumbled into the place since we were merely trying to kill an hour or two before a film and had been heading to the aforementioned food court to choke down some pre-made swill. We typically are fond of this type of “new asian” food and have a fondness as well for the Northwest so we had been slapping each other on the back at our good fortune. Under closer inspection however, what we found was a poor goliard’s P. F. Chang’s with some upside but that hasn’t quite worked the kinks out of its game.

Not that we are plugging a visit to P.F. Chang’s by any stretch. The place is always so crowded and such a hassle to enjoy because of the parking and wait and the whole place to be seen ordeal that we only get to sample their fare on a take out basis. Even that is almost not worth it because of the gauntlet you have to run just to pick up your grub. In this case however, we were much pleased to see that, although the menus are almost identical, the Bamboo Club had plenty of seats available and no hoards of people milling about the entryway like Chang’s always does.

The feeling is relatively casual at both eateries as far as décor, attire and service are concerned and each feature dishes from China, Thailand, Singapore and Korea in a multitude of woked, grilled, noodled and sizzled varieties. Each is vegetarian friendly and although neither is necessarily cheap, they offer enough latitude in price that most folks should be able to find something that suits them without going broke. And each is a definite step up from the Schezuan Omis, Seri Melakas and Panda Villages that used to set the standard in this town.

We were shown to a table immediately at The Bamboo Club and quickly descended on by a fresh-faced server who explained that she wasn’t our server but just came over to say Hi! and see if we wanted anything to drink from the bar. One of us was thrilled to find they offered a sexily contoured bottle of decaffeinated peach ginger tea, another titillated at the selection of FuFu drinks, and the third relieved to notice a tall draft Kirin sitting on a nearby table in a sturdy, sizable glass. We ordered same and were off and running.

As we waited for our drinks to arrive, we became slowly aware of the chairs. Perhaps made of actual bamboo, they were narrow and inflexible which proved genuinely uncomfortable for the tallest of the three of us and soon brought a whole new meaning to the concept of bamboo torture. If a tallish person of average girth from the hips down sits with their back flush to the rest, it is impossible to open one’s legs even slightly and a feeling of being bound at the knees or stuck in that old wicker furniture that people used to have on their porches ensues. Since the chairs are all identical and non adjustable, one ends up either sitting back with legs confined together or teetering forward on the edge of their seat in a position that makes a face plant into a platter of sizzling sauce seem a real possibility.

While we were squirming about, our new official server finally showed up to ask if we had any questions and to inform us that the bartender had just gotten a large order before ours and the drinks would be slightly delayed. When she returned awhile later, the tea and draught were as advertised but the FuFu tasted like “A whole bunch of red crushed ice” and had to be returned for something more flavorful. Once we got that straightened out we were ready to order. The menu isn’t long on description but we were pressed for time so we took the bull by the horns and ordered spring rolls, lettuce wraps, and Bamboo Beijing duck for appetizers, and shrimp pad thai, an orange scallops on crispy spinach, and a vegetable fried rice for the main course. We didn't ask for any specifics and came to partially regret this although we suppose we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

As is traditional even on the "pacific rim", the appetizers showed up first and made us mindful of a trend in spring rolls that should be discussed. Years ago, all one could hope to get were egg rolls, which were typically fatty, heavy and fried. Then the lighter, flakier but still fried spring rolls were released to much fanfare. Then all of a sudden, an order of spring rolls at some eateries would result in those cold translucent rice paper wraps filled with vegetables that are quite tasty and come accompanied by a tangy dipping sauce. At some establishments now, these cold offerings are called "salad rolls". Chang’s for example currently has both of the latter options. In any event, when you order spring rolls these days you no longer know what to expect. The Bamboo Club’s version ended up being the light deep fried kind and were disappointing and not just because they weren’t the type of rolls we were hoping for. The insides were overcooked and mushy and the dipping sauce reeked ever so slightly of fish oil. If you haven’t smelled fish oil before, open up a bottle and put it under your nose. It’s a great additive for Asian cooking as long as the wok is hot but has a fertilizer smell to it that is hard to forget. The crispy duck however was excellent and accompanied by a tasty plum sauce that greatly complimented and a separate plate of mini crepes that nobody really knew what to do with.

In other minor difficulties we found that in both the pad thai and the lettuce wraps, the menus had “shrimp and chicken” written adjacent to the item. We assumed this meant either/or but apparently it means both. Although we specifically remember asking for the shrimp pad thai and the chicken lettuce wraps we didn’t realize we were making a special order so perhaps didn’t emphasize it enough. As a result they both showed up with fowl and crustacean mixed together. Since one of the three staffers present has an aversion to animal flesh unless it comes from the sea and another is mildly allergic to shellfish, this distracted a bit from the meal as we had to pick and separate, squinting and poking through the gloam at our food before we could ingest it.

Another annoying trend not exclusive to the Bamboo Club but unfortunately practiced there is that after a server has taken your order, they disappear and eventually a sweaty (usually sullen) food runner shows up clutching your food as if he is being burned by the plates and blurts something like, “Uh who had this noodly stuff here?”. He then slops the dishes down pell mell around the table and goes away. Why do places do this? What could be a more perfect time to ask if anyone would like another drink or make sure that people are getting what they thought they ordered then when the waitperson that took the order in the first place returns to deliver the food to the customer's table? A half competent server will remember who ordered what eliminating the need to ask, patrons will feel comfortable asking a question, returning an item, or ordering another beverage, and the two parties will be able to build up a rapport. Instead a greasy interloper from the kitchen appears out of nowhere demanding to know who is eating what and then doling out the dishes like playing cards at a back alley rummy game (and invariably forgetting a side of something - ours actually forgot an entire entrée). The person then typically retreats like a beaten dog never to be seen again. Then of course the waitperson, who has been idling about with nothing to do, will appear and ask how everything is, either before anyone has been able to reorganize the dishes and sample the fare, or long after they would have wanted to send something back. It’s a ludicrous way to staff a restaurant. If management is that worried about food dying in the hot window then get an expediter to tray it up and have them deliver it to the waitperson at the kitchen door. Or have another waiter deliver it in emergencies without making it policy. Or give the waiters smaller sections. Do something other than have wait staff standing around while surly youngsters barnstorm their tables and do their jobs for them. Believe us, servers will make better money if they are allowed to provide some table maintenance and interaction rather than just taking an order and rushing off only to be seen again when they are dropping the check. Plus they’ll have to tip one less person out when the useless runner is eliminated.

Of the main dishes, the pad thai was tasty despite being made with the ultra thin angel hair noodles you normally find in dainty Italian dishes ending in "ini" instead of the traditional, fuller rice noodles. The BC also took an unorthodox approach starch wise as one isn’t normally expecting to scoop a noodle dish over brown rice. The rice however, which arrived on the side in abundance, was actually hearty with excellent flavor and made for a tasty lunch mixer the next day along with the rest of the vegetable fried rice which came in exactly as advertised. Nothing more nothing less. The effect of all the picking and poking involved in two of the dishes was that the goliard that ordered the scallops soon became self conscious as the other two of us continued to eye her meal with envy. We eventually convinced her to share and take some of our discarded poultry and shrimp in exchange. The scallops were plump and juicy and caramelized with an acute orange flavor served on a bed of crispy spinach that made for some good eatin. We’ll be having that if we return.

And we probably will. Despite the whiney tone of this review, the Bamboo Club is not a bad place especially when compared to some of the other choices in town. We just had high hopes when we made the discovery and now that we know the ropes a little we can work with the menu and the staff to have a better experience. There were some booths along the window that looked more comfortable and plenty of other dishes to try. We'll keep you posted. Unless of course we show up and they are as crowded as P.F. Chang's in which case you can find us in the food court.

 

The Bamboo Club is located in the Park Place Mall
(near Century Theatres, map)
5870 East Broadway Boulevard, Suite #524
Tucson, Arizona 85711 
Their phone number is
520-514-9665 

Copyright 2002. All Rights Reserved.