Bamboos inventive pan-Asian menu roams far beyond sushi, shumai dumplings, and satay skewers. And its knockout modern space makes diners forget they are eating in a mall anchored by a CVS and an Applebees.
Owner Daniel Chong is equally adept at cuisine and ambience. Hes the guy dressed like Che Guevarawith a cotton beret and cargo pants lounging around the front sushi bar every night. By day Chong runs his own construction company. He envisioned Bamboos unlikely but harmonious aesthetic: a high ceiling crisscrossed by silvery ventilation ducts, walls inset with bamboo stalks, and a slate floor with a walking path paved with sole-tickling round river stones.
Restaurants are in my blood, says Chong, 38, who grew up chopping veggies and shelling shrimp in a traditional Japanese eatery his mother owned in Wilmington, Delaware. Chong ran a pair of Manhattan sushi bars. When he tired of commuting to the city from his home in Englewood Cliffs, he brought pan-Asian chow to the northern reaches of Bergen County in the form of Bamboo, which opened in February.
With a Korean father and a Japanese mother, Chong jokes that he himself is pan-Asian. So for Bamboo he hired a pair of chefsHong Lee Kim from Seoul and Sura Sak Chatsawang from Bangkok, whom Chong calls Tonyto cook their native dishes. Kim is also a master of Japanese cooking. Bamboos sushi rollswith hits of mango and jalapeño, and dipping sauces such as wasabi aioliare Chongs doing. His menu tends toward sushi and Thai food, with a few Korean dishes, including beef short ribs.
Bamboos sushi rolls are made with softer-than-usual rice and are best eaten with the hands (standard procedure in Japan). I especially liked the tropical roll (tuna, salmon, avocado, and mango), the spider roll (soft-shell crab tempura and avocado), and the eel trio (lots of broiled eel and eel sauce). Kims beef ribs were tender and tasty. However, the walnut-crusted salmon entrée would have been more accurately described as walnut-sprinkled. The sesame-crusted seared tuna, while beautifully pink, proved bland.
It is the unconventional main courses that fuel the excitement at Bamboo. For pure palate pleasure, consult chef Chatsawangs Thai menu. Tom yum kung lemongrass soup is piquant with cilantro and loaded with shrimp. Tom kha kai, Thailands classic coconut-chicken soup, is velvety and subtly sweet, not cloying. The Thai noodles, curries, and stir-fries are almost up to this standard; I would prefer more chili spicing and less green and bell pepper in these dishes.
Still, pad thai is fun to eat, laden with savory chunks, rather than ground bits, of shrimp, scrambled egg, and peanut. Chatsawang prepares his satisfying curries in three regional varieties: green curry, with a basil note; red, with a kiss of coconut; and royal massaman, with potato and sweet onion. Flat-noodle dishes balance tender meat and crunchy vegetables well, and are tossed either with Thai chili-basil sauce or Chinese brown sauce.
Desserts are all over the map: uninspiring bistro-esque chocolate lava cake; so-so crème brûlée; Japanese red bean and green tea ice cream. None of Bamboos sweets transported me. But it didnt matter, because I was already in Thai heaven.