August day off: birding & Bamboo Terrace

We took our August day off this Tuesday, heading down to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area for a morning of birding, followed by lunch at the new Chinese restaurant in town, Bamboo Terrace. A post-lunch hour at the library followed by an afternoon on the couch at home felt very nice. The restaurant was a pleasant experience, and we’ll give a brief review below.

It was a wonderful day to take time off, with cool overcast skies that made being outdoors a joy. We recorded a surprising variety of birds while driving & hiking the various river-bottom habitats of Eagle Bluffs, 46 species in all, including especially enjoyable ones like Prothonotary Warblers, Sandhill Cranes, and Baltimore Orioles. We spent over an hour in one location alone, as new species constantly flitted through in a loose mixed flock. By noon we were quite hungry, and headed back toward Columbia for lunch.

Bamboo Terrace is a place we would never have tried without the prior recommendation of Show Me Eats. The lack of website, strip-mall location and facade, and very plain menu with no explanations of the kitchen or ingredients offers no clue that the establishment is any different than a million greasy, salty, MSG-laden pseudo-Chinese restaurants that compete with Mexican and Italian for Most Butchered Cuisine in America. However, we trust Scott’s opinion, went for it, and were glad we did.

Our vegetarian appetizers (spring rolls and dumplings) were well-crafted, not at all oily or greasy, with real vegetables and subtle flavors. Both dipping sauces (spicy-soy and peanuty) were nice, too, real flavors with no hint of cans or chemicals. Despite being about the only people in the place, they took just long enough to come out that we were pretty sure someone actually made them fresh. We swabbed up the rest of the dipping sauces with the parsley garnish, they were so good.

Our main dishes, Szchechuan green beans and a steamed fish dish with pickles and fresh vegetables, were equally well-crafted. The sauce on the beans had enough spice to tingle but not overwhelm, just fine for Joanna (another time I’ll go for a truly hot offering), and the beans had good flavor. The fish dish, from the Chef’s Specialties menu, was especially nice. All the vegetables were clearly fresh and cooked properly, for example a good crunch on the snap peas instead of limp, post-frozen texture. The flavor blend of a light sauce whose ingredients I couldn’t quite place, good pickles, and fresh veggies was really nice, and we polished off three bowls of rice trying to absorb every last trace of both sauces.We got no trace of lingering salt or chemical flavor from anything, something we’re very sensitive to given our usual fresh on-farm diet.

My main critique of Bamboo Terrace is their lack of proper marketing of what they are. Other than word of mouth, they appear to be just another generic Chinese place in a Walmart parking lot from the outside and may have a hard time convincing people the quality is worth the higher prices if they don’t make their different approach clear. Located downtown with a name like “Bamboo Terrace Chinese Bistro”, they might have a shot (other than the much more expensive real estate). As it is, a basic website, a better menu with explanations of their philosophy and ingredients (especially with clear labels for vegetarian dishes), and/or a storefront that clearly shouts “better/different Chinese cuisine”, etc. would go a long way. Heck, they could just copy the last paragraph from the Show Me Eats review and place it on their menu and front door, and it would be a start. There are certainly multiple foodie web-types around here that could proposition them for an easy web-design job.

But that being said, now that we’ve tried and liked it, we’re happy to have a new and different option on our admittedly short list of places we like to eat out. Chinese/Asian cuisine is something we have little experience cooking properly (other than Filipino), so having a quality restaurant to partake in and get ideas from is exciting. Already I’m plotting ways to experiment with the new idea of using pickles with fresh vegetables; we’re currently stuck in the Teutonic concept of pickles as winter side dishes & snacks. A restaurant that teaches me something new is welcome indeed.

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