Cox: Bamboo Chinese Classics lives up to its name
Although Bamboo Chinese Classics is in a time-worn strip mall in Sebastopol, the interior of the restaurant upended all my expectations.
Instead of a scruffy luncheonette, the inside was clean, simple, and beautiful. The floors and rest of the room featured natural wood. Cloth napkins and western utensils marked the place settings. It was inviting and, always a good sign for any restaurant, there were plenty of customers.
The menu looked promising. Family dinners, for two or more people, include three styles of Chinese cuisine. The Mandarin dinner at $14 per person offers won ton or hot and sour soup, egg rolls, almond and cashew chicken, sweet and sour pork, and steamed or fried rice. For each additional person over two, you can add another entrée.
The Szechuan dinner is $15 per person and includes soup, egg rolls, cheese puffs, orange sesame chicken, Mongolian beef, and rice. Mongolian beef, although not part of traditional Szechuan cuisine, is likely included because it’s spicy. Szechuan cooking is renowned for its spiciness and hot pots.
Peking dinner is $18 per person. You get the soup, egg rolls, pot stickers, walnut prawns, sautéed beef with fresh vegetables, and chow mein or fried rice. If you bring a party of six, you can add four more entrees, including half a duck.
Rather than order a family dinner, it seemed better to skip around the main menu, looking for treasures and trying Chinese classics, as the restaurant’s name promised. There were surprises that were wonderfully prepared and delicious, mostly in items that seemed more Southeast Asian than Chinese.
Fresh Prawn Spring Rolls ($7 ★★★ ½), which are usually thought of as Vietnamese, were as good as any I’ve had at Vietnamese restaurants around the country. Six plump pieces absolutely stuffed with prawns, rice noodles, julienned carrots, thinly sliced Chinese cabbage, and the welcome and refreshing taste of mint were wrapped in translucent rice noodle wrappers and served with a sweet, brown bean sauce for dipping.
Another surprise was when Chicken Noodle Soup ($9 ★★★ ½) arrived looking like the freshest bowl of Vietnamese pho imaginable. It tasted like it, too, with a light chicken broth glinting golden highlights, fresh-from-the-farm vegetables like bok choy, snow peas, carrots, onion and broccoli florets, ramen-like noodles, and snow-white pieces of chicken breast. This lovely soup is available with tofu if you wish.
It’s always special when a restaurant gives you a benchmark dish — that is, the best of its kind you’ve ever had. Well, Bamboo Chinese Classics sets the benchmark for home-made Pot Stickers ($7.50 ★★★ ½). The plate holds six plump pot stickers made of perfect dough encasing a savory mix of ground pork and onions. They’re darn near perfect, but that slight deduction is due only to the lack of a more defined use of spices. They could have been a little better, but they really didn’t need to be. And they are also available as a vegetarian dish.
Vegetarian Egg Rolls ($3 for two ★★ ½) were good but not exceptional. The deep-fried wrappers were filled with rice noodles and bean sprouts. Crunchy to the tooth but a tad oily, too.
Yes, the place has standard Chinese classics like chow fun, happy family, kung pao and lemon chicken, and mu shu pork — all familiar at most Chinese restaurants. So it’s fun to go adventuring with dishes like Curried Singapore Rice Noodles ($10 ★★ ), although the dish itself was something of a disappointment. The same veggies as in the chicken noodle soup, plus mushrooms, were buried under a fine mound of rice noodles that were mixed with curry powder, turning them a dun color. I was hoping for a curry sauce made with flavorful spices, like the ones you find in Thai restaurants, but no such luck.
There’s not much of a wine list, but Chinese and Japanese beers make a good accompaniment for good Asian food of all kinds. Desserts are the typical green tea and mochi ice creams and almond cookies.
To sum up: An excellent Chinese restaurant hides in a run-down-looking strip of storefronts.
Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review for the Sonoma Living section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.