Henri discovers the new House of Bamboo and is thrilled
As you might imagine, Dr. Epinards was none too happy about my last column.
”Hot dogs!?” he said. “You’re eating hot dogs? Do you know what goes into hot dogs?”
I related some invaluable advice my first therapist once gave me: A little bit of denial is OK.
“But you were doing so well,” he said. “You’d joined the health club, quit drinking…”
Fortunately, Miss Marilyn wanted out just then, so I told him I’d call him back.
And I will. Someday. Instead, I sat down on the couch and ate most of a pint of Häagen Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream and watched The King and I, which got me thinking about an old friend.
In the early ‘80s, Henri was living in Honolulu and dating a darling young Singapore Airlines flight attendant. A vegetarian health fanatic, Avery made every attempt to steer me from my omnivorous ways and to convert me to healthful, less excessive eating habits. Several nights a week we fixed elaborate stir-fry dinners, with tofu, red cabbage, bean sprouts, spinach, broccoli, and bok choy—with oyster sauce and brown rice. We probably would have stayed together longer than three weeks had I found a better hiding place for my Cheez Whiz and Vienna sausages.
After the movie, I went out for a short walk and, quite coincidentally, stumbled across a brand-new restaurant, the House of Bamboo. Curious, I stepped inside and was immediately taken by the high ceilings and the deep-red and pale-green walls lit softly by hanging Asian lamps.
“Table for … one?” the hostess said, looking over my shoulder and then leading me toward the back to a small table—the only one of the 12 empty.
Open just three weeks, the House of Bamboo offers a menu that fuses several different Asian cuisines, or, as my waiter told me, “We’re part Chinese, part Thai, part Vietnamese.”
Think Thai and you think hot, although traditionally the spicy dishes—the classic curries, for example—are served alongside milder side dishes, such as coconut-based soups, for balance. Typical Thai ingredients include lemongrass, cucumber and peanuts in a variety of forms, as well as fish and meat, usually served diced or shredded, with lots of herbs and spices.
Vietnamese cooking, on the other hand, revolves largely around two ingredients, rice and nuoc mam, a fermented anchovy sauce used in just about every dish, from grilled meats and fish to noodles, cabbage salads, and pho (a traditional soup).
Starters at the House of Bamboo (most around $8) include Vietnamese pork, Thai chicken, pot stickers, prawns in rice paper and peanut sauce, and spring rolls, with lemongrass, ground chuck, jicama, carrots and bean-thread noodles.
Entràes ($9-13) include fried prawns, braised baby pork ribs, stuffed tofu, five-spice chicken breast, bamboo chicken, fish (salmon and catfish that night) and the house special tri-tip. You can order your food mild, medium or hot.
I ordered the spring rolls (which came with an excellent dipping oil that I later poured over my rice—très deliceux!), pad Thai noodles (with shrimp, bean sprouts, tofu, tamarind and pulverized peanuts) and the bamboo chicken, served in a pesto sauce with bamboo shoots, carrots, and chili peppers.
Everything was excellent, especially the bamboo chicken (medium, and definitely perky enough to get me a bit damp under the eyes and to clear my sinuses). In fact, it was among the best Asian food I’ve ever eaten. I happened to overhear the party at the table next to mine—apparently Chico State English professors and nearly as well traveled as Henri—talking about how much they were enjoying their meals, as well.
Afterwards, I walked out into the warm Chico spring night, took a deep breath of evening air, then strolled down Main Street to the downtown plaza, where I sat under the stars till the breeze kicked up. Then I walked the long way home. Right past Shubert’s. Without stopping.