Red Bamboo – In Manhattan’s West Village – 140 W 4th St
Described as a vegetarian soul cafe (but really a mix of everything from Italian to Asian and everything in between)
(Please note in the following review the menu at the restaurant puts chicken in the title of several items, but everything they use is actually mock meats so it’s not actually chicken)
This was my third trip to Red Bamboo and each time is a fun and tasty experience. The only reason I haven’t been there more is because it isn’t close to my home. After this visit though I’m making a vow to try to visit more often. It really is a meat-free restaurant that can convert meat-eaters. On this trip I was in good company with my husband and good friend Hazel. Neither of them are vegetarian, but they both are open minded about vegetarian food and really seem to enjoy it without missing animal products AT ALL! So they were good critics to have with me to get a real sense of what others would also think of the food.
A lot of people don’t like vegetarian restaurants because they think of them as health food restaurants. Red Bamboo is so not health food in the sense that it isn’t low in calories or fat, but it is healthy in that you aren’t consuming unhealthy meat products. Also most meals are complete with a grain on the side and a medley of veggies. So you are getting a complete meal and that has it’s own health benefits.
This time around we started off with the Barbeque Buffalo Wings (the menu’s description is “Soy buffalo wings marinated in a spicy citrus barbecue sauce served with vegan sesame garlic blue cheese and celery sticks”). First off I noticed the “wings” looked juicy and generous. When I went to cut into the first wing I noticed a stick inside which I assume is the restaurant trying to mimic a bone. I don’t think this is necessary because we don’t need this to feel like chicken. We just need it to taste good and boy does it. The sauce which was described as spicy actually didn’t burn much and that was good for me. I don’t like spicy food. Instead the sauce was sweet, a great bbq sauce. The blue cheese was described as sesame garlic. I didn’t really get that flavor, but this dressing is just as good as the real thing. All in all this was an appetizer I would order on every trip. My husband (a wing conissieur) loved them too saying the dish had “a great kick to it and the texture was solid”. So these were a hit and a highlight all around.
We also ordered one of the new appetizers. A take off on Crab Rangoon. I’d say this was probably the worst of what we ate. It wasn’t bad. It was just mostly fried wonton with little filling inside. It was just okay, but I sure wouldn’t order it again. Too many other good apps on the menu. On a previous trip I got the Almond Coconut Chicken app and it was fabulous. So given the choice next time I’d either try a new app or get the Buffalo Chic and the Coconut Chic.
My entree was the Grilled Bourbon Chicken. Described as “jerk marinated soy chicken grilled to perfection served over mixed greens with a side of sesame basmati rice and steamed vegetables”. The sauce was good, but there wasn’t enough of it. I probably should have asked for another side of sauce. I’m a saucy girl, I like a lot of it. Others may be happy with the amount. The portion was perfect. Lots of rice and lots of veggies too. The texture of the faux chicken was good. All in all though the dish was a little more bland than others I’ve had there. Last time there I had the Seitan Sandwich which was perfect and on my first visit I had the chicken parmesan. Out of all three I’d probably say the chicken parm is the best (you can choose vegan cheese or dairy). So was the bourbon chicken ok? Yes, but it was no chick parm!
My husband had the Creole Soul Chicken. Described as “panko breaded soy chicken with cajun and rosemary seasoning served with sweet corn mashed potatoes, steamed carrots, yellow squash, zucchini and our classic mushroom gravy”. I noticed right away something was missing from his plate. It looked like a bunch of fried chicken and I thought that’s what it tasted like too. I then realized the mushroom gravy was missing. After we pointed it out to the manager she brought it over and I thought it really was the mushroom gravy that made the dish. As for the one who ordered the dish? My husband said “it was packed with caribbean flavor and was extremely satisfying. Big portions too!” Seems he was a satisfied guest!
Hazel ordered the Bamboo Curry Chicken. It was described as “sauteed soy chicken and potatoes marinated in a sweet indian coconut curry sauce served with a side of steamed vegetables and white or brown rice.” She said “not being a vegetarian I was skeptical about the soy curry chicken.” Unfortunately it didn’t start off well either. Her food was delivered cold (I’m betting it was ready before ours and sitting in the window for awhile). Anyway luckily it redeemed itself. She said “first and foremost, the flavoring was perfect, not overpowering, and was right up there with my favorite Thai restaurants. The texture was like eating the real thing! Other than being cold when served…all was well and edible after the nuke”. Not a bad review from someone not used to eating soy chicken.
Dessert was unanimous. We ordered one Oreo Cookie Cheesecake. It was all Vegan! A side note: I don’t think they used real Oreos. I thought maybe it was because Oreos aren’t vegan, but I did some research and I think oreos are indeed vegan. Anyway the cheesecake was huge and looked inviting and boy was it. I’m not a huge chocolate fan and so I was a little worried that this was actually chocolate cheesecake, but the chocolate was perfect. Not too heavy either. Hazel actually sums it up pretty well saying “The Oreo Cheesecake?! Divine! Even though they didn’t use real Oreos…the cheesecake was delicious. Texture and taste was again like the real deal…and though the portion was big enough for three people…I could have eaten it all by myself. Yummy!” The hubby adding “Oreo cheesecake was sublime. Absolutely delish”.
All in all I give Red Bamboo four our of five forks. It loses a fork for delivering cold food, forgetting the sauce on the creole chicken and for the not-so-great crab rangoon. Also because the Bourbon Chicken didn’t blow me away.