Sailing the wine-dark asphalt can give this pandanaut a mighty hunger. As satin-tressed Night covers the sky, our driveabouts inevitably end with feasting to celebrate our heroic adventures.
(Lighting the darkness.)
We discovered Thai Bamboo Bistro at the end of one such journey. It had been a long day, and I honestly had very low expectations when we pulled into a darkened shopping center in Irvine's Shady Canyon neighborhood. The Quiznos, Starbucks, and Sharky's Mexican Grill did little to reassure me. Fortunately, there were a few interesting dining options available as well. Thai Bamboo Bistro seemed to be the most promising amongst them.
(Panda Math: posh digs == 20% markup)
With muted tones of wood and gold, the decor of the restaurant was highly appealing and somewhat unexpected, given the other inhabitants of the strip mall. The suspicious bastard lurking inside of me immediately adjusted the expected cost of the meal upwards by 20%.
Our server was a very friendly and very knowledgeable young Thai man who was amusingly obsessed with my cell phone. He added a light-hearted note to our dinner that I found quite enjoyable.
(Hard to eat.)
Shockingly enough, the prices on the menu were very reasonable, although there was still a slight markup. Cat and I shared a chuckle over some of the typos, which were even funnier given our server's self-avowed interest in cell phones.
(A little off.)
Cat decided to order a Pink Lemonade for her beverage. She found it serviceable, but remarked that it tasted a little funny. I tried some and advanced the theory that the restaurant used palm sugar instead of cane sugar as a sweetener. The lemonade was tasty enough that we didn't bother checking.
(You put de lime in de coconut...)
All the bamboo decorations had me feeling a bit tropical, so I decided to order the Young Coconut Juice. Since a number of Southeast Asian restaurants purchase this beverage canned or jarred, I was expecting it in a glass with ice.
(Pandanaut + Coconut = Pandanut)
Instead, I was thrilled to receive a chilled, fresh, neatly decapitated coconut with a spoon that I could use to dig out the tasty flesh. I was thrilled. I was also a dork and had Cat take my picture with my new best friend.
As Cat had graciously decided to buy me dinner, I let her order for us. True to form, she chose the Traditional Pad Thai, which is also one of my Thai food favorites. How can you go wrong with shrimp, chicken, pressed tofu, eggs, rice noodles, and raw and cooked bean sprouts stir-fried in a sweet and spicy peanut sauce? It's even topped with more peanuts! Decadent.
Thai Bamboo Bistro's rendition was very good, although I could tell that the seasonings had been adjusted for Western tastes. All of the classic components were there, but the balance was skewed. In addition, Cat complained about a slightly chemical taste to the otherwise plump and juicy shrimp, which I was also able to pick out.
Consuming the off-tasting shellfish didn't have any detrimental effects later that evening. The portion was large and I liked the taste of the sauce. Based on that, I would probably order it again. However, if the shrimp tastes strange during my next visit as well, there probably won't be a third one. Food doesn't have to be 100% authentic in order to be good, but it needs to be fresh.
At our server's strong suggestion, Cat also ordered the Black Pepper Steak. This proved to be a simple stir-fry of bell pepper, steak, and onion in a savory black peppercorn sauce. Cat and I loved the tender steak, although I would have liked more black peppercorns in the sauce. As with the Pad Thai, this dish had obviously been adjusted for the Western palate, but was enjoyable nonetheless.
Thai Bamboo Bistro scored additional points by not charging us for our rice. This Taiwanese panda grew up with steamed rice in restaurants offered gratis, and has always been annoyed by Thai or any other restaurants that charge per bowl of rice. I was happy to see that Thai Bamboo Bistro offered its diners as much rice as they wanted free of charge. That's the right way to do it.
Thai Bamboo Bistro - It may not be authentic, but it's pretty good. A nice place to take the family if you're in the neighborhood and want a change from the usual dining rotation.
The Bill (for two):
Pink Lemonade - 2.00
Young Coconut Juice - 3.00
Traditional Pad Thai - 11.00
Black Pepper Steak - 17.00
Tax - 2.56
Tip - 6.00
Total - 41.56
Thai Bamboo Bistro
6715 Quail Hill Pkwy.
Irvine, CA 93603