Since moving to France, Nick and I have been having lots of fun with language. We blatantly use and abuse franglais, translating and mistranslating with abandon. One such misuse, which gets more play than one might expect, is bambooing. (You see, because the French word for shampoo is shampooing, any word that ends in -oo now gets an -ooing. It’s fun! Ok, we’re huge dorks. I don’t even know why I’m explaining this. Now I’ve gone and started off with a huge digression. It’s probably only going downhill from here.)
So we headed down to the 13th for some Asian grub last weekend. We really wanted to try Sukhothai, but alas, it was closed for congé annuel. Fortunately, I had a backup, which I had telephoned in advance: Le Bambou. Or as it immediately became known to Nick and me, Le Bambooing. It’s a well-known and well-reviewed spot for casual Vietnamese cuisine. When we arrived (following a rain-soaked Vélib’ ride from the Place d’Italie), there appeared to be a line out the door, but poking my head in the door and inquiring whether they had room for two proved to be beneficial – we were seated right away.
Of course, moments later we were unceremoniously asked to move, in order to make room for a four-top. The French woman seated next to me asked if it was our first time there. When I replied in the affirmative, she told me with a smile, “On vient pour ça, aussi.” (You come here for that, too.) Which is to say, at Le Bambou, you are treated like family, in the most casual sense. They don’t hesitate to make you switch seats or hustle you off your table to make room for more customers. Elegant and refined it is not. What it is, though, is speedy and tasty.
We started off with the fried assortment: four nems, four fried shrimp, and four wonton-like objects. It was probably too much for two, but we were hungry, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. My favorite were the fried shrimp, which will come as no surprise to my parents, who eventually had to stop ordering them when we went for Chinese food when I was a kid so I would eat something else. Nick thought the nems were something special, and I agree that they were quite good, though I’m not sure they’re any better than those at Dong Huong, over in our neck of the woods.
Despite the rainy, pho-appropriate weather, I had to try the bo bun. The classic Vietnamese dish of saucy beef with crunchy peanuts and vegetables over thin rice noodles has become one of my favorite foods. And Le Bambou’s version was excellent. The beef was bite-sized and tender, the noodles were abundant, and the vinegary sauce brought it all together beautifully. Nearly every bite had a different taste sensation, depending on which elements made it into my chopsticks. It was so flavorful that I wished I hadn’t made such a pig of myself on the appetizers, because in the end I couldn’t finish it. (Luckily, the quick service has no qualms about taking food away.)
Nick chose a bowl of pho with well-done beef and brisket (it was the brisket that got him) from the long list of soup options. The broth was delicious, but the meat left something to be desired. The pieces of beef and brisket were indistinguishable from each other (if , in fact, there were even two different cuts), and many had large, unappetizing hunks of fat attached. Some people dig that, but I’m not one of them.
We had some trouble with the wine, as well. We ordered a bottle of rosé along with our meal, but when our appetizer plate was half-eaten and we still hadn’t received it, we got worried. We managed to flag down a waiter and reminded him about the wine. Still nothing. Thirsty, and concerned that we would be forced to chug the last of our wine if we finished eating before the bottle was done, we were trying to cancel it and ask for some water when yet another waiter insisted he would bring it. They did apologize for the confusion, which frankly, surprised me a little. But the good news was that the restaurant seemed to be clearing out, the door no longer filled with hungry potential diners eyeing tables. So we got to linger over the last of our wine.
While I definitely enjoyed my meal at Le Bambou (Bambooing! Bambooing!), I am unconvinced that it was worth traveling all the way across town. If you’re on the Left Bank and looking for Vietnamese, by all means go there, but if you’re closer to Belleville, don’t fret. The Vietnamese up there is just as good.
On this day in 2009: Tea for Two Tarts, the Second (one of the more stunning desserts I’ve made at home)
Originally published on Croque-Camille.