When will I learn?
Honestly, when will I learn and remember? Not anytime soon, it seems.
After living in the Phoenix metro area nearly all of my life, you would have thought I would have learned by now that when any restaurant marks itself with "Ranked #1 by Arizona diners" you simply need to run for the hills. To me, having that on your website or on a billboard or listed as "chosen by New Times readers as the best" means that you are going to someplace that most chowhounds will avoid like the plague. For example, Taco Bell always ranks in the Best Mexican Food Category and Claim Jumper gets big thumbs up for one simple reason: they serve obscenely huge portions. It is garbage, but it is a lot of garbage.
So, why didn't I just turn and not look back when I saw that The Bamboo Club (http://www.thebambooclub.com) had a huge banner on its website noting that it has been ranked as the number one Asian restaurant for two years in a row by Arizonans? Because I will never learn. That's why.
My friend Madge joined me for dinner last night at The Bamboo Club at the Biltmore Fashion Park. I had seen the billboards and the place looked nice inside, so we ventured in for dinner. We approached the hosting station and were immediately seated upstairs by George, the very nice manager. We had a small wait and our server appeared taking our beverage order. Things seems okay. The place is semi dark inside with lots of black and tan tones for color and Chinese/Japanese art prints on the walls.
We waited for our drinks and Madge was getting a bit antsy because she wanted the Hong Kong Hangover ($8.00) that she ordered. I just wanted some water. The waiter finally appeared stating that the bartender was backed up and our drinks would be delayed. Um, okay. Since when do the bartenders pour ice water at a restaurant?
Another five minutes passed and we finally got our drinks. The server took our order. I didn't think it was that complicated. Neither did Madge. Apparently, every one else did. We each chose the 3-course dinner special for $12.95. This allowed you to choose one soup or salad, one half-sized appetizer and one entree from a small list of each.
Madge knew right away she wanted the Hot and Sour Soup, the Spicy Thai Curry Chicken appetizer and the Mandarin Orange Chicken for the entree. I decided to go with the Wonton Soup, the BBQ Pork with Lotus Buns and the Teriyaki Steak. We both went for the brown rice. Noting that we were both starving and I was reviewing this place for the blog, I convinced Madge we throw caution to the wind and get some other appetizers to share. We decided upon the Pot Stickers ($5.95) and the BC Egg Rolls ($4.95).
The server departed and Madge worked on her Hangover which she said was really tasty. She stated it was a good mix of booze, fruit juice all swirled with shaved ice. Any less ice, she said, and the drink would be stronger than one of my homemade Strawberry Margaritas. Yikes!
Then, we waited.
In the meantime, our waiter was nowhere to be found and the bussing staff were also absent. So, we had no refill on our Diet Cokes and my water.
Finally, our Pot Stickers and Egg Rolls arrived. I dove into the Pot Stickers. I have to admit that they were good. There was nothing special about them. Just nice, solid pieces of meat wrapped in a nice doughy wrapper and lightly fried. Although the menu said these were pork and vegetable ones, I only tasted the pork, but I thought it was pretty good. Madge agreed. The Egg Rolls were next. I immediately liked them because they were piping hot, had a nice hint of garlic and a pungent sauce. The fried shells on these were crisp and crunchy and the filling cooked thoroughly without being overdone. Madge really liked them as well, but we both agreed that you had to be careful with the sweet and sour sauce or else it would completely overpower the egg rolls.
Whew. I was hoping it would all be redeemed. Unfortuantely, the egg rolls were the end of the evening. We went back to waiting.
The server dropped by once to refill our drinks and kept telling us that our food would be up shortly. On his third trip, he finally decided that the two empty plates from the appetizers would probably be better off in the dishwasher.
Another round of words from the waiter and a tray arrived. In front of Madge, her Mandarin Chicken appeared and my Teriyaki Steak was set in front of me, the sauce spilling over the sides of the dish, onto the table and onto my shirt. A large bowl of brown rice was placed in the middle of the table. I turned to address our server, but it wasn't him. It was the food deliverer.
Madge and I looked at each other. So, where was our soup. What happened to our other appetizers? Could this meal get worse?
I finally flagged down the server and informed him that our meals were lacking the soup and the appetizers. The waiter looked at his ticket book and then blurted out that they were having problems in the kitchen. "You still want them?" he asked. Oy. We directed him to bring us the items since they were part of the package deal.
Madge tried her chicken. She said it was interesting. Mandarin Orange had somehow become Honey Maple. Nothing says China like a good old fashioned Vermont maple flavor.
I began eating my Teriyaki Steak. I will forever wonder how it is that you can have teriyaki sauce, pineapple, steak, pea pods, onions and peppers and still make a dish as bland as this was. It was dreadful. My shirt agreed. The brown rice was an afterthought and clearly from the Success Rice family.
So, we finished our entrees and waited. Again. Finally, our soup and appetizers arrived. The person who brought our items clearly had no clue as to what was going on. As the tray teetered back and forth, soup spilling all over, he finally handed me my soup and then handed Madge her soup. We watched as he attempted to figure out where to put the appetizers. We rearranged the table and got everything on, while I all but begged the server to take some of the other used dishes away.
First the soup. I tasted mine and it was cold. I was not surprised. What did surprise me, however, were the wontons. They were old. Ghastly chewy and no flavor, but at least the edges were nice and crusty from age. The broth was simply inexcusable. Salty chicken broth was mixed with soy sauce and put in a cup. Madge didn't fair much better. Hot and Sour soup was neither hot in temperature or spice and the only thing sour were our attitudes.
Now, things got interesting. I looked at what was called BBQ Pork with Lotus Buns. Ah, sounds so dreamy. On one plate was a mixture of pork cubes and sliced onions that had been stir fried. Next to that was a sort of Asian cole slaw. However, the hot plate had turned the cole slaw into a mess. It was creamy slaw and the only taste I could identify was the cayenne pepper sprinkled on top. The texture was just vile. One the second plate were three pieces of bun dough, folded on top of each other. The implication was that I was to pry open a piece of dough, put some pork and onion mixture on it and then top it off with hot slaw. Is that supposed to be appetizing? It wasn't. It was horrible. Thankfully, I wasn't alone in my vision of this mess because the two women having dinner next to me had the same appetizer and really didn't know what the heck to do. They were better troopers than I was and smiled and said all was fine when their server appeared.
Madge tried her Spice Thai Chicken. She said the meat was okay but this would only be spicy to people who think that butter is a spice. We both took no more than one or two bites of the appetizers and a taste of the soup to know that our meal was done.
So, we waited. Yet again.
Madge excused herself to the powder room and I flagged down the server. I expressed my extreme disappointment at the meal. He looked at me. "I am very sorry to hear that." He said he would be right back. I assumed he was going to get the manager. Instead, he simply went to get the check. He presented it to me with no apology for anything and certainly no reduction on the check for an awful meal.
Madge returned and dug into her pocket for her debit card. I told her to wait and I took the check out of the holder and headed downstairs to talk to George the Manager. Oddly enough, my server couldn't be found when I needed him, but the minute I made a beeline to the manager, he went over to the table to ask Madge if there was any problems. I guess he didn't hear my complaints.
For his part, George seemed genuinely horrified at my tale. He had that look on his face as though he had just heard he was being audited by the IRS. I offered to pay for the first round of appetizers, our entrees and our drinks, but would not pay for the cold soups and disgusting second round of appetizers. George looked like he was on the verge of tears. I felt bad for him. He took the check and apologized profusely and said that there would be no charge for the evening. He invited me to try again on another night.
I went back upstairs to see Madge only to notice our server giving her the 3rd degree about the check and what could have possibly gone wrong. He kept saying that the kitchen was in turmoil and things were chaotic all the way around. Okay, fine. You would think they would tell you this before you invest two hours of your time.
We left the establishment and Madge felt bad about the situation. Madge's mind immediately sprang into action and she lifted my spirits by dragging me into the Godiva Chocolate Shop at Biltmore and had me pick out a few truffles. Madge is the best! All I could think about was how delicious the truffles were.
Thank goodness chocolate isn't rated by Arizona diners. Otherwise, the best chocolate in Arizona would be Russell Stoffers.
The Bamboo Club
Biltmore Fashion Park
2596 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016