On the Rim

Muted ambiance melds with vivid flavors at The Bamboo Club.

Friends from San Diego begged me to take them to a Mexican restaurant but instead I drove directly to The Bamboo Club. Alas, I was craving something exotic and there's almost nothing as exotic as Pacific Rim deep in the desert. What is Pacific Rim? Cooking styles associated with Hawaii, Vancouver and Los Angeles cuisines that mix ingredients and techniques from Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Japan, China and Korea.

Located at the rear of the Park Place Mall, convenient to Century Theatres, The Bamboo Club's interior is bathed in indirect golden light. Comfortable and luxurious quilted banquettes line various walls. Polished wicker chairs, bamboo sculptures, candlelight wall sconces, fringed table lamps, exposed black ceiling pipes and muted murals exude a chic, romantic aura. Even the women's restroom is very Vegas with floor-to-ceiling frosted glass door stalls, stainless steel under-mount sinks and granite countertops. Operated by those corporate folks who also manage T.G.I.Friday's, The Bamboo Club is its glossier, grown-up cousin.

The Bamboo Club is bigger than it initially looks. The first room shares space with a half-moon-shaped bar where solo diners sip from a list of 101 distinctive wines and nibble appetizers. A wall of wine storage is visible behind the bar while an exhibition kitchen enthralls us wannabe iron chefs and hungry customers with some of the biggest woks and bubbling pots imaginable. We were seated in the second room on pillowed banquettes.

After ordering exotic flavors of hot ($2.50) and iced ($3.50) tea, we explored the menu. Dishes are steamed, grilled, sizzled, woked or noodled depending on their culture of origin. Our server made suggestions and said that patrons are definitely encouraged to share. We started with the combo appetizer plate ($12). It included four each of barbecue spare ribs, vegetarian egg rolls and coconut shrimp served with hot mustard and cool duck sauce. A decade or two ago, the combination platter was better known as the pu pu platter. Our server brought The Bamboo Club's version of salt and pepper--spicy Thai chili sauce and a lightly sweetened soy sauce. Favorites were the Cantonese-sauced ribs, egg rolls that lacked any fried or greasy aftertaste and coconut-battered shrimp.

All entrees were served at once. It's a good thing there were only three of us because with a fourth person, we would have had to hold the platters on our laps. Even our server was perplexed about where to put the plates.

Unanimously we voted the orange scallops on crispy spinach ($16) our favorite. I don't usually enjoy scallops but these were plump and juicy and caramelized with an intense orange flavor that went pop-pop-pop in my mouth. Who's the creative brain responsible for crispy spinach? If more kids were served crispy spinach, we'd grow up loving it and make Popeye proud. This dish had it all--generously bobbing candied scallops on a delicious field of greens.

The Club special fried rice in a pineapple boat ($9) was disappointing. Although there were plenty of chicken, shrimp and pork chunks--this dish was bland. The pineapple boat overflowed with rice; it lacked the flamboyant pineapple presentation often seen in similar dishes. I liked its crunchiness and palate cleansing qualities of the Thai cucumber salad ($3).

Beijing duck with Asian pancakes ($14) could have been better. The sliced duck and plum sauce was served on one plate while the pancake, cut into quarters resembling the consistency of a tortilla, on another plate. No explanation on how to assemble it was forthcoming. I half expected a scallion pancake. If this was meant to be served like mu-shu pancakes then the duck should have been shredded and the pancake cut in half or served flat to be rolled up like a cigar. We used the rich plum sauce to doctor up the fried rice and to simply lick off the spoon.

The most dramatic presentation was the crispy whole red snapper with ginger and green onion infused oil ($18). If you're squeamish about sharing, picking at food or bones, this would not be a dish to order. But if you like the delicate taste and meaty tenderness of red snapper contrasting with a crispy exterior mingled with ginger shavings dripping of green onion juices--this could be your catch.

Lastly, we ordered the signature berry flambé ($10) with three spoons. It arrived immediately even before our table was cleared. At tableside, a dessert server mixed the fresh berries with various liqueurs and poof--ignited the mixture, and then spooned it over vanilla ice cream. He tried placing the two goblets on the table but we asked him to clear away the dishes first because the freeze-fried fish distracted me. He removed the dishes but failed to wipe up the stray bits of rice, pools of sauce and crumbles of crispy fish skin. We had to ask yet another server (there are many and they all wear black from head to toe) to completely wipe our messy table.

The goblets sat at the table as the dessert server failed to supply us with spoons. A really good server would know how to think outside the menu. When she explained the desserts to us she didn't tell us that it was served in two goblets or we would have asked her to serve it in one or three. The dessert maker didn't know that the three of us were sharing it or perhaps he would have served it differently or perhaps not. Except for this glitch, service flowed. We left the restaurant with visions of barbecue duck and plum sauce dancing in our heads.

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