If you're in the know, you know about the Bamboo Café. 

Fan Favorite

Once you've found the Bamboo Café, it harbors few secrets and no gimmicks. But if you're looking for it, good luck. The restaurant is neither listed in the phone book nor on any Web site, but for no other reason than that's the way it's always been.

If you stumble across this restaurant located on upper Main Street at the corner of Mulberry Street, you'll see it's one of the few restaurants along Main that has remained relatively unchanged through the years. The atmosphere is uninspiring, yet simple and comfortable; the American and sometimes cross-continental menu is predictable, but executed consistently; the bar clientele is loyal, even habitual, but always gregarious. And when it comes to service, Bamboo ranks high.

It is not uncommon to see one or two mutts slinking around the entrance of Bamboo, patiently waiting for their masters to finish their ritual libations. The neighborhood bar attracts mostly middle-aged patrons from the Fan. Perhaps it is a safe haven for those seeking to avoid fraternity toasts or trendy pubs filled with the chatter of more health-conscious, Starbucks-toned young professionals. Tobacco in the Bamboo seems to linger in the air. The rich walnut-stained paneled walls make a random array of yellow-stained photographs almost unnoticeable — the 1934 graduating class of the University of Illinois College of Dentistry, the Richmond trolley depot at the turn of the century, a scenic Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies.

We arrive on a Monday to a blackboard selection of specials including chicken, pork, beef and seafood ranging from $9.95 to $14.95. The tuna carpaccio drizzled with a sweet teriyaki sauce with mandarin orange over jasmine rice ($13.95) sounds like a peculiar Italian and Asian combination. Unlike the more traditional Italian dish made with shaved beef tenderloin, this tuna version, I learn, is not served raw, but rather medium. I decide to give it a try anyway. My friend orders the oven-roasted skewers of mahi-mahi in basil butter topped with a red pepper pesto over jasmine rice ($14.95).

I begin with a bowl of seafood bisque, which is pleasantly peppery but otherwise mild with small chucks of fish in a light broth with cream. My friend's appetizer special is more appealing: baked brie with bananas and peach preserves. The brie is melted onto six cuts of baguette topped with slices of roasted pears beside sections of ripe banana around a bowl of peach preserves - which seem heavy on the gelatin.

Even though the restaurant appears to be busier than normal for a Monday, the entrees are served punctually. The tuna is presented in a spiral of strips cooked right at medium over a bed of jasmine rice drenched in a sweet teriyaki sauce; with mandarin orange sections garnishing the top. The tuna is moist and moderately fresh, although the teriyaki sauce was a little overpowering for my taste — I prefer lighter sauces on fish, and more sparing use of teriyaki. The rice and broccoli helped balance the dish, and I enjoy my meal thoroughly. My friend's dinner also has an excellent presentation. Its skewered pieces of mahi are coated in a red pepper pesto and encircle a bed of jasmine rice alongside baby asparagus. The mahi is roasted at an appropriate medium-well and seasoned delicately; its natural flavor is slightly stronger, suggesting its moderate freshness. Her plate is left as clean as mine with no room for dessert, or "pie," I should say. When I come again for dinner, I'll be sure to try one of the homemade desserts (rumor has it that they are from someone else's home), this week: Key lime pie, buttermilk pie and chocolate fudge pie.


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