Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bamboo Grill & Hotpot

4646 Buford Hwy, Suite R, Chamblee, GA

It's been a few months since I've reviewed anything on Buford Hwy. Many of my readers probably think that it's been far too long, and I agree.

On Monday night my friend Erin and I had dinner at Bamboo Grill. Bamboo Grill looks like most of the Asian restaurants on Buford Hwy. It's located in a shopping center, and inside you'll find the typical decorations. They also offer many of the same menu items, including spring rolls (2 for $2.75), vermicelli (average $6.50 per entree), and pho noodle soup (between $5.45 and $6.45).

However, Erin and I didn't order any of these things. The reason we chose Bamboo Grill over the dozens of other Vietnamese restaurants in the area was the hotpot. For those unfamiliar, this is how hotpot works: The staff brings you a personal gas burner for your table, then puts a warm pot of chicken broth with eggplant, okra, tomatoes, mushrooms, lemongrass and lots of hot pepper oil on top. While it heats up (you control the setting by a little knob), your waiter will return to the table with a heaping plate of vegetables (think napa cabbage, banana blossoms, greens and enoki mushrooms), a bowl of noodles, a plate of seafood (shrimp, calamari, mussels, tilapia and fish patties) and a plate of thinly sliced raw flank steak. Our waitress instructed us to first let the pot of broth simmer, then add a little bit of vegetables, then a little clump of noodles, then some meat.

"Don't overload the pot," she warned us. "Just put in as much stuff as you can eat right now, then add some more, eat that, add some more. It's meant to be eaten slowly." This turned out to be good advice, but difficult to follow. We were too hungry to slow down as much as we probably should have, but we were forced to pace ourselves to some degree because our soup bowls were very small - you can fit about 2 ladles of broth in each. Erin and I stayed for about an hour and a half, continuously filling our bowls.

Ordering it is a cool experience, and it's also good for people who are picky about what's going in their food. Except for what's in the basic broth, you get to choose exactly what ingredients are going into your soup, and you get to control how long it cooks. If you like your meat well done, you can leave it in the pot until you're ready to take it out. If you like your calamari barely cooked, you can put a slice in your ladle and hold it in the bowl for half a minute before whipping it back out again.

We also tried an order of the eggrolls (2 for $3). They were average, not great.

A word about the hotpot prices - the small is $19.99, and the large is $35.99. I know it sounds like a fortune, but I can promise you that the small will feed at least 3 hungry adults, and I can only imagine how enormous the large must be. It's actually a deal when you look at it this way.

Enough of the explanations. I'm sure you want to know what I thought about actual quality of the hot pot. It was good. I liked it. I especially liked the okra and the mussels. It's a fun way to have dinner. Do I like it better than traditional Vietnamese pho? No. Not even close. There's something about the way that pho soup combines the flavors of it's ingredients that makes it special, not to mention the rich, savory broth. The broth in the hotpot was actually a little too spicy for me, although I'm sure the cooks would have toned it down for us had we asked.

Verdict: The hot pot is good, inexpensive, and makes for a fun dinner.

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