Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Greater Seattle >
Nov 4, 2008 11:12 AM

SEA: Dining at Bamboo Gardens--dinner specials

To motivate the youngest pup to go to Chinese school, I hung the carrot of Chinese food for lunch. So at the end of school on Saturday, we headed out to Bamboo Garden for lunch at the end of school. With us on a first time trip [both to Seattle and to Bamboo Gardens] was my mother in law. We had:

---rabbit in chili oil
---tofu with peanuts-[the pressed type with sichuan peppercorns]
---dan dan mien with pork
---2x cooked pork
---lamb with leeks
---chongqing chicken
---dry cooked green beans
---pressed tofu with scallions
---fish with pickled cabbage

As always everything was yummy, yummy, yummy at the meal and equally yummy with the left-overs. Rabbit vanished down the gullets of the pups leaving only a trail of little tiny picked clean bones behind. MIL who claimed to dislike spicy food until she spent 3 weeks with us in China, couldn't stop eatting the chongging chicken. She said the food reminded her of being in China. And I just enjoyed everything.

Of all the sichuan places in Seattle, Bamboo Gardens is at the top of our list. Yes, its a bit of a schlep BUT unlike a certain other Sichuan restaurant [with 99 in its name located north of the city] Bamboo Gardens listens to you. If you tell them you really like spicy like a Chinese person and you really like sichuan peppercorns, and you have your kids concurr that we all want that type of food, they give you what you ask for.

Contrast our last trip to that 99 place where, despite having the pups personally tell the waiter we wanted things spicy, we like things spicy and full of those peppercorns IN CHINESE MIND YOU, we ended up with an incrediably disappointing table full of white guy food. Now I know they still make the food "properly" because the appetizers---which are made in "bulk" had all the proper seasoning. But every dish we ordered lacked any chili flavor. Is it me or is there NOTHING more disappointing than having your mouth all set for some tingly sichuan peppercorns and chilis only to be served bland boring chili-less food. [and is it me or has anyone else gotten the impression that the 99 place is now segregating their dining room into one room for chinese people and one room for everyone else?] Frankly, given the schlep and the disappointment in the meal, we won't be hurrying back to 99 anytime soon. It was just too frustrating.

We will be rushing back to Bamboo Gardens and we will try to do it on a weekend in addition to our typical post-Chinese school jaunt. In talking to the staff, we learned that the economic downturn has been hard on them. Weekday lunches are going strong but those weekday diner customers are in short supply. This made us VERY SAD. No one in our family is prepared for the dreadful disappointment of finding another favorite restaurant [AKA Shi'an] MIA and so we will do our part and try to increase our visits, even if we have to drive in "traffic" to do it.

If you have been meaning to try this place, this is the time to go. If you show up for dinner Monday to Thursday, you will benefit as well as they are giving a 20% discount off the dinner menu during those hours. Not sure how long it will last --there are signs all over the windows--but I suspect we will be back this week so we can give my mil a nice send off. We will be the ones with way tooo much food on the table fighting over the green beans. Enjoy!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. One thing you have to realize is that 2 or 3 of the waitresses at Szechuan 99 speak Cantonese, not Mandarin (they speak both, but their Mandarin sounds a bit accented as they sound like they're from Guangzhou). My wife and I didn't know, and ordered in Mandarin the first time, and some of the order came back wrong as they translated the order to the Mandarin-speaking chef. We've since started ordering in Cantonese, and we haven't had problems since (although the older guy waiter speaks Mandarin natively)

    In my opinion, the food preparation and ingredient quality at Szechwan 99 is vastly superior to Bamboo Garden when comparing many similar items. I actually found Bamboo Garden to be more tame in their spices, whereas I got plenty of peppercorns in my food at 99. Also, at 99, I have never seen non-Asian people ordering anything but sweet-n-sour chicken or Mongolian beef (thanks for subsidizing the more expensive food!), so they're more likely to have preconceptions about your preferences as a result. Last time we were there, we tried to order a lot of food so we can have takeout for lunch for the next day or two (4 dishes for 2 people), and the waitress actually made a concerted effort to talk us out of it because she felt it was way too much food for us - so yes - it's a cultural thing for Chinese waitstaff to take an interest in what you order for your own meal. Go figure.

    Although a 20% off at Bamboo Garden makes it sound very tempting too.

    Re: the segregation. We were put in the "white" section of the restaurant last time. When the people in that section walk by, they stare at our food like we're eating puppies and kittens or something (and being in Snohomish County, that's probably not an exaggeration). That's probably the reason they segregate whenever they can, in hopes of not scaring the General Tso's crowd (i.e. much higher margins) away.

    5 Replies
    1. re: HungWeiLo

      Your observation that current staff at 99 speaks more Cantonese than English is interesting. We hadn't noticed that and with one Cantonese speaker in the family, its something I think we would notice. That certainly wasn't the case when we first went there---on our original visits, we had zero problems with speaking Mandarin with staff and zero problems getting food prepared normally. But I also have to wonder: why on earth are there a bunch of Cantonese speakers at a purportedly Sichuan place? The Cantonese part of China is the only place I've been in China where people are completely Chili-less. Maybe the real problem is that the staff can't believe I"m stupid enough to really want that "awful" spicy stuff.

      "Also, at 99, I have never seen non-Asian people ordering anything but sweet-n-sour chicken or Mongolian beef (thanks for subsidizing the more expensive food!), so they're more likely to have preconceptions about your preferences as a result."---Ahem, I speak for yourself---I guess you weren't there when we were there........With 5 trips to China under my belt, I will do my darnedest not to be offended by this comment.

      I am very used to restaurant staff "taking interest" in our ordering--on more than one occasion, I have had waiters simply "cut me off" because they felt I had ordered too much food so some things never came. i've also had plenty of debates over ordering a particular dish because its "fatty" and I've tossed back hunks of bbq pork that were too lean and that would NEVER pass muster with a Chinese person. And I certainly understand not wanting people to order stuff they won't like because then they won't want to come back. But I'm not ordering sweet and sour chicken or whatever---I'm ordering the pigs ear and the lover's slice and the tofu with fish and the tripe and whatever etc etc etc.

      "We were put in the "white" section of the restaurant last time. When the people in that section walk by, they stare at our food like we're eating puppies and kittens or something (and being in Snohomish County, that's probably not an exaggeration). "
      Pre-segregation, this was our experience as well.....all sorts of interesting looks at our fact, that sparked my original comment after my first visit that I couldn't figure out why 99 was located where it was.....

      I think we will have to agree to disagree---for me, its not worth the drive to have a frustrating meal, not when I can count on having a great meal at Bamboo Garden.

      1. re: jenn

        Jenn, I've followed your posts in the past - I know you're definitely in the know when it comes to Chinese food. My comments were directed at the others that frequent 99 - they certainly subsidize the few who go there for the authentic Szechwan dishes. I can understand your frustration - most friends in that predicament usually ask to go with me or my other friends just to avoid situations like this. The same thing happens when I try to order "special" tapas in Spain or getting weird looks when I order "special" meats in taquerias.

        2 of the waitresses there are definitely native Cantonese speakers, though they can speak Mandarin just fine. Their desire to "tailor" their customers' meals probably does play a big part in toning down the spices. That's unfortunate. But the point is - there are relatively few people who order the authentic stuff, let alone by people who are not Chinese - so they're more likely to make these unfair assumptions.

        Szechwan Chef in Bellevue, also by enjoyed by many, also has at least 2 Cantonese-speaking waitresses.

        1. re: HungWeiLo

          Don't know the cantonese speaking waitress---most familiar with the waitress who is from Sichuan.

      2. re: HungWeiLo

        I don't know much about Szechuan 99 other than it's the guy from Szechuan Bean Flower, which I really wanted to like (it's close) but was never wowed by. Anyway, what do you love there? I'm most interested in fish/seafood preparations-do they have much? And if a Cantonese speaker can't get things properly spiced, does a blonde have a chance? (Too bad I can't ask Ming from BG to write a note for me! But that is competition). I too need high doses of Szechuan peppercorns.

        1. re: christy319

          not sure what to recommend at 99---we were SOOO very frustrated last visit. Off the top of my head, the first time we went we really liked lover's slice appetizer [but thats beef] and the fish fillets in bean curd [listed on specials]. The fish with the fresh tofu was really good---I seem to recall they are noted for their house made tofu. I think we may have also had some squid dish but can't recall details. On the non-fish side, the chongqing chicken was very tasty the first time with lots of sichuan peppercorns. Alas, last time this came with what can only be described as faux chilis--looked like chilis but ZERO taste. [ I know this because eldest pup and husband like to nosh on the chilis and they told me they were flat] and very few sichuan peppers.

          As for blond get things properly spiced, not sure what to tell you. Personally, I wouldn't get my hopes up.

      3. I couldn't agree more. As much as I loathe getting in the car and driving across the bridge, we do that very frequently for Bamboo Garden. We develop serious cravings for the swimming fire fish and the Szechuan crab if we go more than a couple weeks without them. I haven't seen swimming fire fish or the sizzling rice cakes anywhere else in Seattle so we would go just for that. Just so you don't feel too bad for them, Friday and Saturday nights are PACKED and Sunday nights can be quite busy too.

        3 Replies
        1. re: christy319

          oh she told me that weekends were fine and full of people. But a restaurant can't survive just on weekends ---thats why they made the special for the mid-week time. Thanks for the tip on the crab---I have one pup dying to try crab so if its good there, thats where we will try it.---- next Tuesday, off to Bamboo Gardens!

          1. re: jenn

            As a big BG fan, I was a bit concerned by Jenn's report. I went in for dinner last night (Wednesday) at 7:30-ish. There were about 8-10 tables full. I don't know what they need to survive but that seemed like a decent showing.

            Food was great as usual, esp. the fava bean with garlic sauce. I liked the rabbit's chili suace, but I didn't know it was served cold (miscommunication with the server). Couldn't convince my wife to get the dry cooked intestine or sliced pork kidneys in tangy broth; next time, sizzling rice cakes.

            1. re: equinoise

              Good to hear but I am wondering if there were more people because of the dinner special. Did you see the signs? They were posted all over the front window and inside.
              Sorry I never mentioned that the rabbit is a cold dish. For anyone who might have this as an issue, because the rabbit is REALLY hacked up with a cleaver into small pieces there are lots of very little bones---very tasty but slow eatting and, per my mother in law--a bit too tricky with dentures.
              We will have to try the favas next time along with the kidneys [i have heard they are good but I need my husband to be around for that]--By the way, for veggie lovers, Bamboo Garden does a really nice dry green bean.

        2. We braved the rain last night and wandered over to Bamboo Garden last night. The special offering has changed---they were not offering 20% off the dinner menu but had certain dinner items on special. I suspect that the specials are going to be changing a lot.

          This time we tried the swimming fire fish, the smoked pork with leeks, the fava beans and the sichuan crab. We also had buddha chicken and dried tofu with peanuts as starters. And of course, what meal is complete without chongqing chicken and dry cooked green beans? After the order was in, we realized we forgot the rabbit but decided that was just a reason to come back.
          Everything was yummy, just like always. No problems with seasoning--the waitress immediately understood we wanted it cooked "normally."
          Sadly enough, Leftovers were rather sparce--I guess the rabbit was missed--but include all the lovely soupy sauce from the swimming fire fish. I'm thinking to heat it up tonight and use it to poach eggs for dinner [but I guess that discussion needs to move to home cooking!!!].
          Thank you christy319 for the recommendation on the crab and fire fish and to equinoise on the favas---most annoying part of the favas is that in my community garden days I was always told favas that size were too big to bother cooking so I always just tossed them in the compost...grrrrrrr, if only I had known.....

          4 Replies
          1. re: jenn

            I've seen the dinner deals on the whiteboard--a couple of weeks ago they had crab on special for $5.99/lb! On a Saturday! That was a steal. I need to try the favas, I don't think I've noticed them before.

            1. re: christy319

              Be sure to ask them to bring the live crab out to show you. We shouldn't have to ask, but the local restaurants aren't in the habit.

              1. re: kirkj

                Between 7 Stars (where I think we are known as the crab people, though we don't go there much anymore), Bamboo Garden and Szechuan Chef, I've eaten literally hundreds of crabs and not had any issues. So I don't think I need to start asking to be shown the crabs. Ming at BG or Connie and Peter at 7 Stars would probably be pretty surprised if we did!

                1. re: christy319

                  The crab was $5.99 lb on Tuesday. We ordered it because youngest pup saw crabs and crab looked like a good thing to eat and had been asking to order crabs for months. We did not meet the crab before its demise and everything was perfectly tasty.....youngest pup was most satisfied and even happier when he found out that sometimes, sometimes, Bamboo Garden has frog............................

          2. Can I confirm... Are you talking about Bamboo Garden on lower Queen Anne? The one that does (or used to do) the crazy vegetarian dishes? I understand the there's a BG on the eastside, too...

            12 Replies
                1. re: jhcase

                  equinoise and christy319 are correct---I'm talking about the one in Bellevue.

                  And for the vehicularly impaired, aka people who ride the bus or families of five who own priuses and have their mother-in-law visiting, last week I learned that its not that bad a trip from Seattle on the bus--I think it was the 560 from the bus tunnel and whoosh! i was meeting my family at 6 sharp after a quick 2 block walk from the bus stop in Bellevue.

                  Well worth it---they had the rabbit AND frog though if you are vegetarian inclined, the fava beans and buddhas chicken are "to die for"...............We also had a yummy pork dish that I think we were told was Chengdu style as well as swimming fire fish, the dry cooked green beans, monks brocelli, chongqing chicken and sichuan dumplings.

                  1. re: jenn

                    I tried to Sichuan dumplings there a few weeks ago for the first time - they're nice!

                    Speaking of meeting mother-in-law's there...I've inadvertently invited people who are of the...religious persuasion who were caught off guard by the adult toy store next door. Always makes for interesting conversation during dinner. :-)

                    1. re: HungWeiLo

                      If you shared your board name, it would probably get even more interesting. :-)

                      1. re: bbqer

                        !!!!!!!!! hmmmmmmmmmmm, i think bbger is right

                        1. re: bbqer

                          I've gotten a lot of questions in the past over that. It's because I've lived a long time in Portland, home of the infamous Hung Far Low.

                          1. re: HungWeiLo

                            hung, when i saw it, i immediately thought of you, and wondered if there was a family relationship. :-))
                            so, is it any good? parking lot looked deserted.

                            1. re: ritabwh

                              Hung far low has been around for a very long time. The old place in china town had a long skinny sign. Food sucks but you can get piss drunk in the bar and play some lottery.

                              1. re: dagrassroots

                                Yes, my Mom first saw my Dad (they were on dates with other people) there in the 40s and she says it was a dive then!

                              2. re: ritabwh

                                Actually it is owned by a (very) distant relative, so yes a family relationship doth exist.

                                While many bars are famous for watering down drinks, they have an unsavory reputation for doing the opposite. I've never actually been inside, but have peeked inside the doors as a child and have decided there was no need to investigate any further.

                                IIRC, the original restaurant was opened in the mid-20's, and was in the same location until a few years ago when it finally moved to Chinatown #2 on 82nd.

                          2. re: HungWeiLo

                            Yes, but what a fine landmark when telling people how to find it! ---"Okay so its in a minimall and the only other occupant is a adult store....."

                            It also makes for great fun looking at other cars and guessing which occupants are in which shop!

                      2. We actually busted out of our usual order (Swimming Fire Fish, Szechuan Crab, Sizzling Rice Cakes, House Special Pancake and Pea Vines) to try a couple new things the other day...if you're in the mood for fried fish, the Soleful Delight (I think that's what it's called) was really good. Basically fried fish chunks, and very tasty.