Come here for Dinner Out and you will eat some lovely, simple food. But for me, the appeal was kamayan.
Owner Daniel Belen told me that this style of eating came from the soldiers in the Philippines. All the food was served in the middle of the table and there was a what he called, the "buro buro" (sp?) fight to get to the food. Who has time for spoons and forks!
Come to Bamboo Bistro for dinner and the table is covered in green banana leaves. The food is lined up down the middle, no plates. Fish, salad, rice, vegetables, pork belly, whatever, all laid out in a delicious, fragrant stripe down the table. Okay, not everything is dumped dish-less. If you order soup or the chicken adobo, it will arrive in a bowl so the sauce doesn't wind up dripping off the table.
So, how do you eat all this filipino goodness? Daniel showed me how to "lock" my fingers together and pinch a bit of rice off the pile. Squish the rice into a little ball, then with your thumb, push the clump into your mouth. If you do it right, you get all food in your mouth and no fingers.
Now, on to the food. Much of what you eat here is familiar and isn't going to send you into food bliss. But I can well, imagine that with a big group of family or friends, the food won't disappoint, but it's the whole experience that will leave you satisfied.
Take the pork liempo. This is thick cut pork belly, charred on the grill. The sugar in the marinade creates those appealing crunchy burned bits. There's a good balance of salt to the sweet.
There's also fried calamari, perhaps seasoned a little differently than if you ordered in an Italian restaurant; crispy, not greasy, the calamari is tender with a bite but without being too chewy. Splash a bit of the seasoned vinegar with sweet onions and jalapeño and now you've got something worth the carbs and the calories.
Ditto the lumpia. These look like tightly wrapped cigarillos but in fact are crispety, crunchety egg rolls, stuffed with pork and a smattering of vegetables. Nothing elevated, nothing surprising, but no complaints.
Indeed, Bamboo Bistro is all about the simply good. Fish like tilapia and bangus or boneless mikfish is grilled naked or with a dash of salt, that's all. The milkfish will come to the table with a mess of fresh chopped tomatoes, onions and scallions on top. The juiciness of the tomatoes compliments the fish's tender flesh, the flavors are solid, but benefit from a splash of the soy sauce with sweet onions and jalapeño.
Another compliment is the mango salad; fresh cut mango, sweet white onion, tomatoes and scallions. The mangos are firm, what Daniel calls half ripe and they're that way on purpose to add more texture and less sweetness. The salad gives an otherwise simply grilled tilapia a bit more interest and flavor.
Of all the filipino dishes, I've enjoyed over the years, chicken adobo is the most familiar. My Salvadoran nanny actually makes a pretty good version (her previous family was Filipino.) Bamboo Bistro's didn't disappoint. There is the right balance of vinegar and soy. The sauce has body and the meat is tender; both making eating kamayan enjoyable.
For dessert, do try the halo halo. Halo means mixed in tagalog. This version is a combination of shaved ice, taro ice cream, coconut, beans, jello and these brightly colored, fruit flavored (kaong) green jelly bean like things. It's a mad mess of icy, creamy, crunchy, chewy, sweet and tart. Oh, and this one comes with a long spoon. Enjoy!
8516 Van Nuys Blvd.
1559 E. Amar Rd. #A
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