Last taste of bamboo
Author laments closure of favorite restaurant
It was just a matter of time. I knew there was no way a restaurant could stay open for so long with so few customers, but it still hit me hard when House of Bamboo closed after almost 13 years. My roommate, Zack, was only kind of joking when he said I had tried to keep it in business single-handedly.
I first stepped into the Asian eatery on East Second Street in August 2009, on my first night in Chico as an exchange student from Alaska. After Zack and I got situated in our crappy apartment on West Second Avenue (we’ve since moved), our families walked downtown, read the menu posted on the door, and went inside.
After that, I ate there dozens of times, given any occasion, including probably four or five birthdays. When I met a girl in Philosophy 101 at Chico State, that’s where we went on our first date. It was my dad’s go-to dinner spot when he visited and became my family’s gold standard of Asian cuisine. A few summers back, when we took a fishing trip to Valdez, Alaska, we went to the town’s only Chinese joint, dined on MSG-soaked sweet-and-sour chicken and pined for House of Bamboo, 2,500 miles away.
The food was exquisite, head-and-shoulders above the sloppy, syrupy stuff you get at many other places. The menu described itself as Southeast Asian, and the restaurant’s website cited a mix of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese influences. The stir-fried veggies were fresh and crunchy, the sauce on the plum chicken was subtle, never heavy, and the fried rice was something special.
It was confusing, though: An unerringly wonderful restaurant in a prime location that never seemed to fill more than two or three tables, even on otherwise bustling nights on the weekend. I guess not everyone was in love, though. A former CN&R intern once referred to it as “House of Shamboo” because, she said, the portions were small for the price. (Dishes were $10 to $12, and we’d usually order a few and pass them around the table.)
I told her: whatever.
On a Friday night a couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend, Abby, and I had what turned out to be our final meal there. I ordered what I always did—orange chicken, chow mein and house fried rice—and commented on how it tasted precisely the same as the first time. Seriously, I recall the quality suffering only once, on what must have been the night of high school prom because the restaurant was overwhelmed by formally dressed teenagers.
House of Bamboo was a small operation run by owner/chef Julie Ye with her son and server Ritch Ye.
Ritch was always kind and never failed to comment on how clean our plates were, that we must have been hungry, etc. That Friday, after putting our leftover food in to-go boxes, he mentioned that we’d better savor them. With a pained expression, he said that the restaurant’s lease was up on July 1 and negotiations with the building’s landlord had fallen through. House of Bamboo would close the very next day.
When contacted by phone a couple of weeks later, Julie said she appreciates all of her customers over the years but that she’s decided to retire.
On the way to the car, I choked up in front of Abby and got embarrassed. I hadn’t realized how much the place meant to me, and how closely I associated it with my experience in Chico, until it was gone.