Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fine Dining Chinese Food at Bambudda

Bambudda on Urbanspoon To me, Bambudda is like Bao Bei in concept: Chinese food re-marketed for a non-Asian market. It's a sort of a niche asian food restaurant. You have "Chinese restaurants" filled with servers who can barely speak English serving people who can't speak Chinese to save their lives. You have bubble tea places serving Taiwanese street food to asian teeny boppers; with servers who may or may not be helpful to English speakers. Then you have places like Bao Bei and Bambudda with English menus and fluent-in-English servers. It's just so much more accessible and convenient for English-speaking North America. Plus the plating is comfortingly upscale, so you are unlikely to think "cheap crap" or "MSG".

Which is not to say it's cheap. Looking at the price versus the portion you get, it's definitely not on the cheap side despite being closer to the sleazy part of Gastown. What you do get is Chinese food that is "more expertly prepared", if you like. Whether you can taste the difference, care about that difference, and/or are willing to pay for that extra-something-special is what will probably make or break your experience at Bambudda.

Further adding to the convenience / ambiance / difference-from-a-regular-Chinese-restaurant is a full, spacious, bar; and a full separate vegetarian menu. Unlike many asian restaurants, vegetarians need not feel like second-class citizens scavenging for something they can order. On the vegetarian menu are a mere two items that are vegan, but at least there's something.
They also have made-in-house lemonade with the option of various infusions ($4.50).

Lighting is rather dark. Decor is interesting with enough Chinese influences to feel Chinese but not in an overpowering way. The washrooms are a winding way down stairs into the bowels of the place (apparently the same situation for all stores in that block). Slightly creepy and definitely not wheelchair friendly. Call ahead if you have mobility issues.

When I was there last Sunday, we tried a bunch of things, but as is often the case with group dining, attention was on fellow diners rather than closely sampling the food. There were a couple of items that stood out for me, however.

Skins ($4) oven roasted chicken crackling, salt pepper lime dip
  • The "salt pepper lime dip" was two slices of lime crusted with salt and pepper, which you could squeeze over the thin but wide sheets of chicken skin roasted to a crunchy, dry, and not-oily crisp.
  • If you are hoping for tasty chicken fat flavour, this won't be it. It won't be an artery-clogging experience, either.
  • More of a novelty, worth $4 only if you haven't had it before an find it fun/curious/interesting.
BBQ Pork Buns ($9) pulled pork in Chinese bbq sauce, seared buns and pickles (photo from EAT Visuals)
  • Came with a few chunks of poached pear. When would you get poached pear to accompany your buns in a regular Chinese restaurant?
  • The basic order is three (3) rather flat sliders. They aren't round like tennis balls and definitely nothing like char siu pao, which the name might suggest.
  • The amount of pulled pork is actually quite good. Rather sweet, and very tender meat.
  • Clear flavour of liver in there. An odd but interesting flavour choice.
  • Unless you will gag at liver, definitely try this.
Other items we tried: crispy pork belly ($15; Hong Kong bbq style, maple hoisin, pickled hot mustard), Chinese hangar ($19; hanger steak, black peppercorn demi, spinach).

Service was not just friendly and attentive, but cheerful and ready to help.

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