by Alice Levitt
1130 North Avenue, Burlington, 658-4148
I rarely review a place in its first weeks of life. Usually, it's only fair to give it a month or two to let it get its footing. In the case of Bamboo Hut, no such courtesies are necessary.
I ate there for the first time last Monday, just days after its opening, it was clear the place had sprung into being fully formed. I returned Sunday, and feel ready to share the love.
The North Avenue space might look familiar. I've reviewed two other restaurants there, Phuong's Kitchen and more recently, Wild Bill's Western BBQ. From the start, the building has belonged to Phuong Lam, who opened Bamboo Hut with her boyfriend Nguyen Vo.
A caveat: Unless you're me and don't mind slightly sticky tablecloths and an owner who only remembers to bring chopsticks for one of a party of two, this is not a date night destination. I, however, am me and like the ambiance. Lots of other folks seemed to prefer takeout, evidenced by a steady stream of customers picking up throughout our meal. Their loss. They missed Vo's delicious homemade iced tea.
As much as I loved the food at Phuong's Kitchen, I think it may be even better at Bamboo Hut. The menu includes a similar emphasis on egg rolls, with four different varieties, available in orders from four rolls to 36.
I tried the combo, which included crab-rangoon-like "tiger rolls," herbaceous ground chicken, lemongrass-marinated whole shrimp and classic Vietnamese cha gio. The latter was the most exciting of the bunch, with a strong flavor of ginger and a hint of cilantro.
My standard order when trying a new Vietnamese restaurant is bun thit nuong with cha gio. The noodle salad tells me everything I need to know about a place.
This one (right) was filled with wonderfully fresh veggies — lettuce, cucumbers and bean sprouts, with nary a brown spot. Ample cilantro and basil lent plenty of flavor on their own, but the tangy, mildly spiced, carrot-and-daikon-filled nuóc cham sauce filled the dish with a vinegary zip.
Then there was the pork, long marinated in lemongrass and almost fork tender. There was barely any excess fat. This is Vietnamese food for people who think they don't like Vietnamese food.
For those who really don't like Vietnamese food, there are Thai and Cambodian dishes, too. We tried a bowl of yellow curry, though red and green ones are available as well. The bowl overflowed with potatoes, carrots, onions and chicken, all ready to be spooned over a mound of rice.
Of course, no matter how fresh and tender the vegetables and meats, a curry is nothing without its sauce. This one was rich enough to recall Indian korma. The thick coconut sauce tasted of curry, but it wasn't the star.
The sweet flavor of coconut, mixed with basil, was almost worthy of a sophisticated dessert. Maybe that's why we didn't order the fried banana or mango sticky rice. They, along with pho and ginger chicken, are on my to-do list for next time.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to email@example.com.