Restaurant Review: Bamboo Café

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

On the off chance that your family has been plagued by acrimonious disputes on whether to go out for Vietnamese or Thai, you can relax. Both national cuisines are now nicely represented at the Bamboo Café on Bethel Road.

One side of the menu is Thai and the other Vietnamese. The story is that the family running the place has members of both origins. The offerings were attractive, fresh and tasty.

On the Thai appetizer menu, I managed to sample everything. The chicken wings were hot and tasted fine, but showed no sign of ethnic influence. (A warning: Don't believe the menu when it comments "4 deep fried chickens." You only get the wings.) Mini egg rolls were crisp and tasty and the fried tofu satisfying. I ordered the pork satay (skewers of grilled meat with a savory peanut sauce and cucumber salad) and found it on the chewy side. Tod mun, a fried curried patty of chicken or shrimp mixed with chopped green beans, was perfectly lovely.

There were also items called "salads" that consisted of shredded vegetables with varying main ingredients and flavorings. I liked all I tried, but would particularly recommend two. The delicious yum nuer was built around tender and savory slices of hot grilled steak mixed with a fine hot and sour sauce and cold vegetables (onion, cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, cilantro and chili). Mango salad was even better-slices of sweet mango blended with shrimp and vegetables in a milder but tasty sauce.

The Vietnamese appetizers included good egg rolls and even better spring rolls (goi cuon tom thit). These uncooked rolls were filled with noodles, spinach, pork and sliced shrimp. Among the appetizer listings were three sizable dishes that could pass for main courses. Indeed, these "bun" dishes were my favorites on the Vietnamese side. You can choose from bun thit nuong (pork or beef), bun tom nuong (shrimp) or bun cha gio (egg rolls). It will arrive in a big bowl with the main ingredient on a layer of white vermicelli noodles topping a nice salad. Stir, eat and be happy.

Thai entrees included one of my favorites, pad Thai: stir-fried rice noodles topped with a whole lot of nice stuff, including shrimp or chicken, egg, minced bean curd, garlic, sweet radish, bean sprouts, scallions, a fine sauce and ground peanuts for crunch. Among other satisfying choices was gang ped-slices of chicken or beef and bamboo shoots in a wonderfully fragrant coconut milk with red curry sauce.

The largest category of entrees on the Vietnamese side was the pho noodle soups. These came in a satisfyingly large bowl of good soup, filled with noodles and toppings, and were accompanied in the ones I tried by a plate of fresh trimmings: Thai basil and other herbs, sliced jalapeño and fresh bamboo shoots. Particularly interesting was hu tieu hai san (seafood soup); not only did it feature shrimp, scallops and mussels, but it also had octopus and something chewy shaped like a little trumpet.

Other good Vietnamese choices were tender roasted chunks of duck with vegetables and rice and a pork sampler (com surongbi cha) that included an exceptionally tasty butterfly pork chop.

I didn't eat dessert because I fell in love with what Bamboo calls a smoothie. The fruit or vegetable was somehow transformed into a beautifully restrained and healthy milkshakelike beverage.

There also was "fresh V-8 juice" that somewhat resembled a greatly improved version of the familiar canned variety.

I'll stick with the smoothies, but I do intend to go back to try "whole fresh coconut" someday soon.

Bamboo Café

774 Bethel Rd.


Atmosphere: Charming, unpretentious, friendly.

Recommended dishes: Tod mun, mango salad, pad Thai, gang ped, goi cuon tom thit, bun cha gio, hu tieu hai san, com surongbi cha, smoothies.

Price range: Appetizers $4-$10; salads $8-$12; soups $8-$10; entrees $10-$14; desserts $4-$4.50.

Hours: Tuesday through Thursday 11 am to 9:30 pm, Friday and Saturday till 10:30 pm, Sunday noon to 9 pm; closed Monday.

Service: Excellent, personable and unobtrusive.

Reservations: Not accepted.

Rating: 3.5 Stars