Dish: Gourmet Chow Mein (Lo Mein)
Place: Bamboo Garden, Queen Anne
On the plate: Per the menu: “pan-fried thin noodles with mixed vegetables, sausage, and chicken.” That description will warrant further explanation.
Supporting cast/What to do: Dig in. There’s no option for spice level when ordering. You’ll find chili sauce on the table, but as much as I like heat, I don’t see this as a dish that needs to be made spicy. Enjoy the noodles as they are, getting some “meat” and/or vegetables in each chopstick pull.
Noodling around: Much like Christmas, I find Easter to be an ideal day to go to a Chinese restaurant. And since it was also Passover weekend (and I’d just written about Japanese food and kosher sex), I was intrigued by the idea of a Chinese restaurant that keeps kosher–certified by Va’ad HaRabanim of Greater Seattle. A place where “only the fortune cookies contain eggs.”
This is how I found myself for the first time at Bamboo Garden, just down the hill from my home in Queen Anne. As a meat-lover, I’d long-avoided this vegetarian restaurant, but given the good experience I described in last week’s write-up of Araya’s Vegetarian Place, I thought I’d give it a try.
Bamboo Garden shares a gentle evangelism with Araya’s. The first thing I noticed was a sign that read, “If animals could speak we would all be vegetarians.”
The sausage and chicken in my noodle dish? Vegetable protein products. (Basically soy, the server said.) With the oil being 100% vegetable, the menu claims that the dishes have no cholesterol.
I must say that I missed the textures of real meat, especially the lesser-loved cuts like tripe and intestines. (I’ll get to that next week when I report on the area’s other Bamboo Garden.) But while the chicken was bland and the sausage had just some seasoning to it, I really liked the dish overall. In comparison to the ten ingredient sautéed rice thread noodles which bored me at the nearby Uptown China, these noodles were bursting with flavor.
Contributing well were the vegetables: onion, carrot, bean sprouts, snow peas, celery, and napa cabbage. Good balance, with nothing dominating.
The dish reminded me of the take-out lo mein of my younger days–though that had the bright red roast pork that I’d much prefer over any of these fake meats. And lo mein it is. I’m not sure why they call it chow mein; chow means fried, with the noodles cooked crispy and usually topped with choice of ingredients and sauce. Lo means tossed or mixed. The thin wheat noodles (usually fresh, and usually containing egg–which means there might be eggs in more than just the fortune cookies at Bamboo Garden) are parboiled and then stir-fried in a wok with the other ingredients. They develop a pleasing texture and absorb the sauce, in this case adding soy sauce flavor.
My dining companion and I also tried pan-fried rice noodles with mixed vegetables in hot spicy Szechwan sauce (chow fun). We decided to skip the fake meat with hope of getting a larger quantity of real vegetables. We also wanted to enjoy wide rice noodles, which really soak up the starchy sauce (speckled with fake ground beef–or was that pork?), and to see if Bamboo Garden would deliver on heat–which it did when we requested five on the 1-5 spice scale.
If you want more: The appetizers are virtually all fried (the only exception: you can opt to have your potstickers steamed), so I’d look to the soup menu, perhaps trying the deluxe kernel corn soup ($3.95 for a pint) or the creamy corn chowder (an additional nickel at $4.00 for a pint) for something different.
Be aware/beware: Again, this is a vegetarian restaurant, so keep that in mind. The shark fin is not shark fin, and the eel is not eel–which may be good things, given sustainable seafood issues. On the other hand, I would hesitate to try something like General Tso’s chicken (or one of the more authentic chicken dishes), as I just can’t imagine a pleasing texture.
A couple of pluses: There’s a dedicated room for private dining, perfect for a party of 10. And as a bonus in busy lower Queen Anne, Bamboo Garden has its own private parking lot. The restaurant actually runs cameras on the lot and monitors activity at the cashier stand.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on April 9, 2012.