Green Bambou almost has it all, with a comfortable, attractive décor and fine food in a central location.
The key word there is "almost." It turns out it's missing something rather important, and that's decent service. This keeps Green Bambou from being a truly fine restaurant, although if you're craving some good Vietnamese food, it's worth a look.
Garrett and I first visited Green Bambou, in the former Three Sisters location on East Speedway Boulevard, on a recent Sunday afternoon. After pulling into the tiny parking lot, we walked in and found ourselves in a pleasant, new-looking place. The management put a lot of work into the building, and it shows. The walls are painted a yellow-green color, with black trim; fake foliage dots the restaurant. The openly spaced tables and chairs are predominantly black; a fish/pond scene was depicted on our tabletop, to go along with the plethora of sauces and serving utensils at every table. There are a few booths as well. A few large, framed artworks and a cream-colored, textured tile floor complete the décor. There is also a TV in one corner, near a series of ceiling-mounted lights, making a nice spot for karaoke or dancing.
After being seated, we examined the healthy-sized menu. Six appetizers start things off, followed by a series of rice noodle soups, egg noodles, rice plates, vermicelli noodles and four vegetarian dishes. The menu headliners, however, are the house specialties: a dozen dishes, including "fondues," soups and other specialties.
We sampled freely from the menu, ordering an appetizer, fresh summer rolls ($3.95); the house special Vietnamese rice noodle soup (small $5.95, large $6.95); and two house specialties, the Vietnamese crepe ($5.50) and the beef cubes filet ($9.95). We wanted to order a lemon drink and a soy drink, but our server informed us they were out, so Garrett settled for water, and I got a Vietnamese coffee.
We pretty much got everything delivered at once, and the food came with a number of problems. The soup was delivered without a ladle or serving spoon. The huge, plate-overflowing Vietnamese crepe was delivered without appetizer plates; when we asked for them, the server returned with useless tiny saucers. In order to eat without making a mess, we had to resort to shifting the food between dishes and using the dishware the entrées came on. We were less than impressed.
Thankfully, most of the food was great, with one exception. The dud of the meal was the Vietnamese crepe. The thin layer of egg was surprisingly greasy, and while there was a plentiful amount of lettuce, mint, sprouts and other vegetables, there were only a few small pieces of shrimp and pork. This was disappointing.
The soup--with rare and cooked tender beef, beef tendon, tripe and beef meatballs--was tasty. With all the beef, the dominant flavor was surprisingly the cilantro. But it was a success, aside from the lack of a serving utensil. So, too, were the two summer rolls, featuring clear skins and filled with shrimp, pork, cabbage, noodles and mint. The sweet peanut-flavored dipping sauce was a nice touch.
The meal's highlight was the beef cubes fillet. Served on a bed of lettuce, onions, tomatoes and rice, the charred beef cubes were delicious. They tasted as if they'd been perfectly barbecued, with the charred taste being the primary flavor--the meat spoke for itself. This is worth trying: It's simple, yet fantastic.
Upon finishing and requesting our check, we took it to the cash register, where the server took our cash--and did not offer a receipt. When I asked for one, he said he would have to hand-write one if we really wanted one. (If you need a receipt, I strongly recommend using a credit card, but make sure it's not an American Express card.) Again, the server failed when it came to customer service basics.
We returned on a recent weekday evening. We were seated in one of the booths this time, and were excited to choose a whole new series of dishes. We ordered the Vietnamese chicken salad ($5.75) and the vegetarian wraps ($3.95). From there, it got complicated. We tried to order a noodle soup ($5.75 small, $6.75 large) along with the beef, seafood and vegetable fondue ($17.95), which is No. 15 on the menu. Our server tried to discourage us from getting both, because it was too much food, he said, adding that No. 15 is very similar to No. 20, the sizzling seafood soup ($17.95). After discussing it, Garrett and I agreed to just get the No. 15.
We soon got the salad, and soon thereafter, the server brought a portable gas burner, a plate of noodles and a bowl of soup. We dug in, and soon discovered he actually gave us something that was not the No. 15. We figured out that he actually had brought the No. 20. And the vegetarian wraps? They were nowhere to be seen.
Despite the mix-up, we went ahead and dug in. The salad was fantastic--the lettuce, chicken, mint, carrots, sprouts, peanut sauce and fish sauce made for a tasty combination. The soup, while not what we ordered, was pretty good. The broth was a bit bland, but easily spiced up with the various sauces on the table. Full of seafood, vegetables, various beef parts and quail eggs, there were many flavors without one really standing out, but it was enough to satiate the taste buds.
After waiting for a while, we flagged down our server and informed him we never got the vegetarian wraps. Unapologetically, he got us an order. They were just like the summer rolls, except with tofu instead of the meat. While I preferred the with-meat version, the vegetarian version was palatable.
Full but annoyed, we paid our bill--with a credit card this time--and left. We may go back if we're really craving some good Vietnamese food, but it'll have to be a strong craving. In the meantime, I hope the Green Bambou folks work on the service. If they can get that together, they'll have a mighty fine restaurant. But as of now, eating there is more of a challenge than it should be.