Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Restaurant review and photos: Bambu Thai in Richardson
Bambu focuses on Thai cuisine that's specifically from the Northeast region called Issan.
RICHARDSON When I was a student at UTD, I quickly picked up that Richardson was teeming with ethnic food. You have the Chinatown area around Belt Line and Greenville that is lined with a plethora of options for Asian cuisine ranging from noodles, boba tea, to dim sum. Head a little further east towards Garland and the options for Vietnamese cuisine get better and better. And there's also the southeast intersection of Coit and Campbell, which has an Indian restaurant, Pasand, and the reliable Japanese casual bistro, Ino.
Bambu is the newest restaurant in this "tucked-away" corner of Coit and Campbell; I say this because all three of these independently-owned ethnic restaurants are not easily visible from the street.
Opened by the owners of Sushi Rock in Plano, Bambu is a Thai restaurant that focuses on regional Thai cuisine, specifically from the Northeast region called Issan.
The food from Issan is typically noted for strong salty, sour, and spicy flavors that blend together surprisingly well. Sticky rice is a major staple as it accompanies almost every meal. Bambu received instant fanfare in response to their different take on Thai food as compared to other local stalwarts such as Jasmine Thai or Andaman in Denton.
Speaking of Andaman, I joined friends in a meal last year where the menu was inspired by dishes from a well-regarded Southern Thai restaurant; their chef agreed to prepare them for us and it was an eye-opening experience. After visiting Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas recently, I wondered if something similar could happen with Bambu. Shelly, the owner of Bambu, agreed to put together a typical Issan family-style dinner.
We organized a dinner for eight people, with six courses, including a dessert. Bambu is BYOB, so we brought bottles of craft beer and sake that we hoped would pair well with the food.
Larb shrimp -- "shrimp salad" -- had minced shrimp cooked with lime juice and tossed with toasted crushed rice, Makok Lao (hog plum), Thai dill, cilantro, scallion, mint leaves, and Thai spices. I'd previously tried Bambu's chicken larb and enjoyed its strong presence of acidity and heat, and this held true for the shrimp version.
Sai Krok looks just like a Western style sausage, but the flavors are completely different. The grilled sausage encased marinated pork, lemon grass, Kaffir lime leaves, coriander, and green onion. The sausage was cut into diagonal slices; we had the option of eating it as is, or wrapping them with diced ginger, lime, and chiles. They grilled the sausage to give it a smoky flavor; upon the initial piercing, the casing let out a sour bite, while the ensuing bites were chewy with variations in texture due to the herbs encased within.
Clear and spicy Tom Yum Goong -- Thai prawn soup flavored with lemongrass -- had delightful aromas and a tremendously pleasing, yet piercing sourness that made Bambu's version unique. The heat wasn't too harsh for me, although others at the table raved over its warmth.
Two dishes came out simultaneously: Nam Prik Head, a tongue-torturing mushroom dish; and Nam Khao Tod, minced sour pork salad with crispy rice.
Sticky rice was the perfect complement to these dishes to tame down their intense flavors. Shelly told us that it was the custom to eat it with our hands. The entire dining experience was unique and interactive. We were encouraged to put the fillings in lettuce and top them with the fresh herbs and chiles provided.
Sakoo moo was a crowd pleaser. These were steamed translucent tapioca flour balls, stuffed with marinated pork, sweet radish, and peanuts. Someone said they looked like eyeballs, and this was true. They were served on a big platter with lettuce, cilantro, and Thai chiles. The cool, chewy tapioca provided a stark textural contrast to the sharp, nutty center.
We finished the meal with Khao tom mad. This is a mildly sweet, traditional Thai dessert that contains sweet sticky coconut rice filled with bananas, black beans, and taro, wrapped inside a banana leaf and steamed.
Going together in a large group was a luxury that allowed us to sample a variety of dishes. We each paid $33 for the food including tip, and our BYOBs cost about $15 to $20 apiece. Quantities were generous; I had leftovers for lunch the next day.
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