It’s the rush of adrenaline that comes as you push open the door of an untested restaurant, the thrill of finding that it is not a dud. From first bite to the last wave at our waitress, I knew that the Bamboo Grill would be a new favorite for us.
Bamboo Grill is a Vietnamese restaurant, but not a hole in the wall pho place like Pho Bac or Than Brothers. Nor is it a shiny beacon of culinary fancies as are Greenleaf and Tamarind Tree. No, Bamboo Grill is what it is, a corner restaurant in my neighborhood serving up a small, precise menu of delicious specialties from Vietnam. As the only people in the restaurant, we had the undivided attention of our waitress, who made recommendations when asked.
“This is a favorite with the Vietnamese. It is good, some Americans it is favorite too, but it is a little different” What? I thought. Was that the most friendly “White people don’t like it” I had ever heard. In fact, it was. She got across the exact same point as when people pointedly tell me “You won’t like it” but without the assumptive, insulting tinge to the statement. The Bahn Cuon House Special Platter about which she said this turned out to be a revolutionary dish in my Vietnamese repetoire and I was glad that I took her advice and ordered it. Having started with an order of Shrimp Fresh Rolls (good, above average, but nothing extraordinary) we had moved on to this Bahn Cuon.
Unbelievable. Possibly even mind blowing. Small pieces of rice flour crepes had pork and mushrooms folded inside and were laid out on the platter. Our waitress explained how to eat them, wrapping the crepe around the filling of our choice and dipping it into the nuoc cham (fish sauce). B and I immediately dug in, I grabbed for the Vietnamese white ham, he for the fried shrimp/sweet potato/potato cake. “You can use chopsticks” she said suggestively. B and I looked at the delicious food we each craddled in our fingers. “Or not” she giggled. We shoveled them into our mouths. The flavor that comes from the sprinkled amounts of pork and mushrooms inside the crepe is simply intense, especially when it meets up with the savory nuoc cham. The filling inside, be it fried tofu or sour pork sausage, then is just like icing on the cake. It was an eye opening moment of Vietnamese food heaven for us.
To round out the meal, we ordered the house special noodle bowl. Dressed with more nuoc cham (at the table, so could be excluded if desired) the vermacelli noodles were cradling a spring roll (but not just any spring roll), grilled pork, beef and shrimp and lettuce. The spring roll was all meat inside, no filler or veggies and the meats had this incredible char-grilled flavor on them that spread and permeated every single bite of the noodle dish. B nailed it on the head when he pointed out how much it reminded him of the bun cha we had on the street in Hanoi. It was absolutely right, the char flavor on these meats was like none I have found around here.
As we ate each dish, I got progressively more excited. It wasn’t until I rounded the corner on the walk home that it struck me that we were the only ones in the restaurant. That was why our waitress could stick around to talk to us about traveling and work her magic convincing us when we go back to Vietnam we must visit Saigon. That’s also why fear came over me, shadowing my joy of finding a new neighborhood gem. We were the only ones in that restaurant, at 7:30 on a Saturday night. How will they stay in business. It’s a common fear these days, each time I finish a terrific meal. How soon will I have to be back to ensure myself another bite of bahn cuon? I can only hope that I’ll have lots of time!