Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, August 29, 2002
Blue Bamboo
Asian summer roll $6.50
Crispy beef with black pepper sauce $11.75
Grilled marinated calamari appetizer $7.25
Tangerine duck $17.25
Pricey Spicy

Blue Bamboo’s Asian entrées might cost a bundle, but they’re well worth it.


Blue Bamboo Chinese Bistro

480 W Southlake Blvd, Ste 101, Southlake. 817-748-0028. Sun-Thu 11:30am-9:30pm. Fri, Sat 11:30am-10:30pm. AE, D, MC, V.

Everything in Southlake screams new. The street signs aren’t pocked with age, and the stop lights are all shiny. You can almost see R. Crumb’s “A Short History of America” unfolding right before your eyes. Rolling prairies and green spaces give way to roads. Roads lead to strip malls, and the whole scene has grown from nothing in a matter of years.

Blue Bamboo Chinese Bistro, located in a strip mall with another area favorite, Sushi Sam, is like an oasis with tall palm trees in a desert of local and national chains (like Red Lobster, Mi Cocina, and Genghis Grill).

Blue Bamboo is a lovely, chic restaurant with yellow interior walls, gauzy curtains, and modern paper lamps on tables covered with white tablecloths. Although ripping up trees for new roads and retail establishments isn’t always best for the environment, it sure is good for Chinese restaurants. I can’t think of a lovelier Chinese eatery than this.

From the décor to the Anglo names that dot the menu (e.g., Michael’s selections, Bill’s favorite roll-up, James’ choice filet mignon) to the tables set with silverware (not chopsticks), Blue Bamboo could make one think that the restaurant’s either pandering to the whitewashed neighborhood or disrespecting itself. But forks, knives, spoons, and generic white names for entrées cannot disguise top-shelf Chinese food with Vietnamese and Japanese touches. Everything my guest and I tried, with one exception, was exemplary.

The Asian summer roll is a take-off on a Vietnamese cold spring roll and is served like a maki sushi roll. Rolls like these are extraordinary only when the ingredients are fresh and the rolls are perfectly executed. This was both. The rice paper was toothsome without being unyielding or dry; the shrimp were sweet and fresh, and the stuffing made of shredded lettuce, cucumber, and basil was crunchy. Dipped in a strong, sweet peanut sauce, this delicacy was a wonderful start to a memorable meal.

The steamed dumplings also resembled Vietnamese fare, specifically the Vietnamese version of pot stickers. (You’d think Blue Bamboo’s dumplings would look and taste like the Chinese siu mai dumplings found at any dim sum restaurant.) At Blue Bamboo, the dumplings are crescent-moon-shaped and stuffed with a dense mix of pork, ginger, and garlic. Steamed, they were tender and generously proportioned.

The smoked and grilled calamari was sliced in strips and served with a spicy barbecue sauce made of mashed garlic, roasted garlic, soy, powdered garlic, brown sugar, and a shot of vinegar. Did I mention that there was a lot of garlic? The sauce added a hot kick to the smoked calamari steak. (Calamari steaks seem to be replacing deep-fried squid rings as a trendy menu item.)

The only stumble came in the form of a sizzling bowl called the seafood hot pot. Sure, it was packed with nice chunks of fresh lobster tail, shrimp, mussels, and scallops, but the dish had very little flavor. The stock that should have been flavored with Asian basil and ginger was just bland chicken stock thickened with cornstarch. Mel Brooks is credited with saying that if you step up to a bell you should ring the bell. The chef who assembled the hot pot did not ring the bell, and his lack of enthusiasm made for a sad, jejune dish.

Luckily, the same meal included tangerine duck. The duck made up for all slights — real or imagined — with its combination of huge flavors of duck, tangerine, dried hot chiles, and garlic. The duck, according to the menu, is marinated, smoked, and then finished with a reduction of tangerine. The bird was sprinkled with slivers of slightly burned tangerine rinds. Menu description aside, it had the consistency and crust of something breaded in panko (thick Japanese bread crumbs) and deep-fried. The sauce stuck to the duck without making the breading mushy. It was so rich and wonderful that I almost cried when I found out that my dinner guest had left his leftovers in the car overnight. The serving was very nearly the size of a de-boned, eight-pound bird and was served over green peppers with a side of broccoli.

Crispy beef in a black pepper sauce was another clever use of panko crumbs. The beef was breaded and fried and then tossed with a peppery sauce that was as thick as molasses. It was smoky and sweet like molasses but didn’t hit me with a tooth-aching slap of sweetness. I like spicy and sweet together (think: jalapeño jelly or Tabasco and mango chutney). This sweet and spicy black pepper sauce deserves a place next to other great sweet-’n’-hot sauces. The dish came with a generous portion of fresh, stir-fried carrots, peppers, and mushrooms.

Entrées at Blue Bamboo are not cheap — the prices rival those at the best restaurants in Fort Worth. I recommend that frugal diners eat in groups of four, select one top-dollar entrée and supplement it with vegetarian entrées and fried rice.

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