Chan's Bamboo Luau Chinese Restaurant and Bar
The decor of Bamboo Luau, which is tucked between a tattoo salon and a body-piercing shop, continues the ornamental theme on its block of Cheshire Bridge. Red walls, gilded plaster dragons and the tropical fish tank are all in good repair. Glass blocks partition the dining room and give the seating a charmingly naïve glamour.
Too dense a constellation of canned lights glare down from the ceiling for this to be a wholly satisfactory post-club speakeasy or illicit date destination: I would not want to see my face in so bright a room after midnight. And at 7:30 p.m. midweek there were few diners, let alone the college students and drag queens I heard to be the regular, implicitly undiscriminating, crowd here. A constantly ringing phone suggested that take-out is Bamboo Luau's bread-and-butter.
But there were several advantages to dining in. Plates were cooked to order and arrived at the table piping hot. The pink shrimp in the seafood dishes appeared to be locally sourced. An array of condiments (Chinese mustard, sweet sauce, plum sauce, sesame dipping sauce) all tasted house-made and avoided being cloying, bland or overly salted. The Chinese mustard was so hot it had us snorting with pleasure.
You're unlikely to make a rum-based Suffering Bastard at home. Here you can drink two without risking impairment: The glasses are large, but the alcohol is poured with a light hand, leaving sugar and coloration to supply the kick. The Mai Tais reminded me, unpleasantly, of the Sweet Tarts I ate once as a child. The lime-flavored sour mix is both intensely sugary and acidic; had it been offset by more rum, I might have ordered a second. Instead, I let our smiling waitress steer us to Blue Whales as an alternative. They were in fact differently flavored and less diluted, with blue Curacao, pineapple juice and dark rum I could taste.
The shrimp (which tasted fresh, not frozen) made their first appearance in steamed shrimp dumplings. But they found an even better showcase in the Szechwan shrimp. This got its heat from green wafers of jalapeno reinforced by red pepper flakes in the white sauce. Sautéed onions retained some of their raw bite and provided unctuous contrast to the shrimp's sweetness.
The Kung Pao Triple Delight had sharp accents of fresh vegetables: more onions, green peppers, carrots. The peanuts in it were unusually crisp. The moo shu vegetables, the only dud in our meal, suffered from too much sesame oil. They were wilted, muddled and hard to differentiate.
The fortune cookies were as crunchy as the diamond that illustrated their individual cellophane packets, suggesting rapid turnover. Mine said: "The answer you desire is within you." We'll see.
Time to finalize your Valentine's plans. Following is a list of places offerings specials on and around Feb. 14:
Aqua Blue in Roswell will offer a $65 prix-fixe four course meal with seatings at 5:30, 7 and 9:30 p.m. 1564 Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell. 770-643-8886. www.atlantahilife.com.
Avra Greek Tavern in Midtown will serve a $50, four-course special menu. 794 Juniper St. 404-892-8890. www.avragreektavern.com.
Di Paolo in Alpharetta will offer special Italian dishes on Valentine's Day as well as the weekend before, Fri.-Sun., Feb. 10-12. 8560 Holcomb Bridge Road, Alpharetta. 770-587-1051. www.dipaolorestaurant.com.
Murphy's in Virginia-Highland will be offering its regular menu in addition to Valentine's specials, including shrimp and crab salad, salmon Oscar, grilled New York strip with wild mushroom scalloped potatoes and a "tropical fruit heart." 997 Virginia Ave. 404-872-0904. www.murphysvh.com.
Oceanaire Seafood Room has planned a five-course menu -- including oysters, lobster and chocolate fondue -- for $75 per person. 1100 Peachtree. 404-475-2277. www.theoceanaire.com.
Pura Vida will offer a "Tapas for Two" special. For $70 per couple, the restaurant will offer a choice of six tapas, a dessert and a bottle of wine from a select list. 656 N. Highland Ave. 404-870-9797. www.puravidatapas.com.
Woodfire Grill will prepare a five-course meal including rack of lamb for two, truffled potatoes, beet salad, special heart shaped cheeses and a glass of processo. Cost is $75 per person. 1782 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-347-9055. www.woodfiregrill.com.
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