Restaurant Review: Bambu offers a versatile Asian experience
Bambu offers versatile Asian experience
By | Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Cuisine: Pan-Asian, Sushi Bar
Category: Neighborhood Favorite; Night Out
Location: 604 Coleman Blvd., Mount Pleasant
Hours: 4-9:30 p.m. Sunday; 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m.
Food: 2 1/2
Atmosphere: 3 1/2
Costs: Soup and salad $4-$13, small plates $6-$12, chef’s specialties $10-$18; large plates $16-$25, sides $3-$6, sushi and sashimi $4-$10, whitefish MP, samplers’ sushi/sashimi $12-$28, rolls $5-$14, desserts $7, omakase (chef’s tasting menu) $60 (price subject to change)
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Bar: Full-service bar, specialty cocktail menu, sakes, beers. Happy hour 5-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; special “ladies” events
Decibel Level: Moderate to animated
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Parking: Moultrie Plaza lot
Other: Facebook specials; bambucharleston.com; email@example.com; takeout, catering, special events; outdoor patio, sushi bar. Call to reserve chef’s tasting menu Wednesdays and Thursdays.
It is hard to imagine that sushi was not available in the United States prior to 1966.
Edo-mae sushi (the most familiar kind) came on the American dining scene in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles. Sushi chef Mashita is credited with substituting avocado for the out-of-season (and commonly used) fatty tuna for toro, and the California roll was born. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, you can pick up sushi at your local supermarket. And in the past few years, you may have experienced the itamae (skilled sushi chefs) in the kitchens of the Lowcountry sushi bars.
Among those talented practitioners of the simple art of sushi is Sean Park. His career has taken him to New York, Raleigh, St. Louis and Chicago. An educator in the artistry of sushi, he was tapped by the Indigo Road Group’s Steve Palmer to open O-Ku in 2010.
Park has since crossed over to the East Cooper side and is the executive chef at Bambu, a contemporary Pan-Asian restaurant whose ambitions cut across the cuisines of China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Indonesia. Throw in some Lowcountry ingredients, French techniques, sushi chefs and an outdoor patio nearly equal in size to the restaurant proper and you’ve got a local player in the “eatertainment” genre.
Bambu’s interior is appointed with grass cloth wall coverings, bamboo cane screens, Lucky Bamboo plants, an aquarium of sea jellies and lighting that mimics the shape and form of jelly fish complete with beaded “tentacles.”
The hostess station is command central for all seating. Bambu provides multiple locations for your dining pleasure: a patio bar, outdoor seating, interior bar, spacious booths, a banquette and sushi bar.
The multiple function areas can challenge the service staff as they meet the needs of bar patrons, outdoor diners, those who arrive for happy hour, those who come just for sushi and those who are planning on dinner.
Park has spent some time since his late spring arrival at Bambu to edit and refine the menu. Prices have crept up a little since I visited Bambu when it first opened.
The menu provides dishes of Thailand in a beef salad ($13), pad Thai ($16) and a Thai basil stir-fry ($16).
Chinese dumplings ($10) are offered filled with pork, vegetables and shrimp.
We ordered the sampler and found the skins to be tender and cooked as pot-stickers (one side crisped, the other slippery), but the fillings were lackluster with awkward textures and muted flavors.
The classic Korean mixed rice dish called bibimbap ($12-$17) was quite good. Park is using local vegetables including carrots and cucumbers, along with bok choy, broccoli rabe and squash, seasoning them as traditional namul and topping the rice bowl with lotus root and garlic chips.
You select a fried egg ($2 upcharge) or beef ($4 upcharge) or both ($5 upcharge) and mix it all together. We would have enjoyed some gochujong (Korean chili pepper paste) to raise the heat, but this dish possessed the essence of umami and was one of the better dishes we tasted during our visit.
The Bambu bowl ($9-$11) did not fare as well. It tasted as if two different kitchens prepared this dish and the bibimbap: one carefully building flavors (bibimbap) and the other tossing chili-soy marinated tofu on a bed of rice with purple whole grain rice tossed in for color and texture. The asparagus, bean sprouts, oyster mushrooms, yellow squash, carrots and bok choy added nothing to the dish. The addition of soy and wasabi and ginger could not cure this ill-prepared rice entree.
Chef’s specialty rolls are the better place to order if you are bypassing sushi and/or sashimi. Park has added some nice light constructions such as “sal-lemon” ($11) combining kani (imitation crab) with thinly sliced lemons, cucumber and salmon. Refreshing and minimalist, it’s a welcome coastal Carolina interpretation of sushi, as is his tuna and lime ($13) presented in the same manner with lime replacing the lemon.
The Sunfire roll ($13) also was well-configured. Spicy tuna was wrapped in cucumber sheeting, topped with seared tuna, jalapeno peppers and sriracha sauce. Spicy, rich and refreshed by the tuna and ginger shavings, Sunfire was a bright spot after the dumplings.
Park is an artist when it comes to the surgical precision he brings to raw fish cutting, but he is challenged by the size of the operation at Bambu.
Sushi bars are traditionally small; the guest is at the real mercy of the chef. The dialogue is one of respect, trust and mutual appreciation for edible happiness. In a place like Bambu, with its spaciousness and desire to be all to all eaters, the sushi chef and kitchen crew are challenged to keep up.
The operation also hampers the servers and the guests with Park and sushi staff hustling to produce the sushi and sashimi and the kitchen not matching the sequence and timing of the guests’ orders. On a busy night, this can be troubling.
That being said, Bambu’s menu provides a variety of options for those who enjoy the sushi experience and those who prefer Asian-inspired entrees.
Looking to the future, it is our hope that the kitchen will spin in a Japanese orbit and noodle dishes and robata will make their mark on the menu.