Bamboo Grove Hawaiian Grille
515 SW Carolina Street
If somebody tells you that business travelling is great, I am willing to bet he/she is lying to you. Granted, there will be some perks when travelling for business, like me being able to visit different local restaurants; however, it also takes a toll on your social and personal life – assuming you have one that is, or to quote that South Park in Make Love, Not Warcraft, “How do you kill that which has no life?”. (If you want to take a partial glimpse of people travelling for business, I highly suggest you watch Up in the Air). Considering my status, I take it in strides and enjoy all the restaurants the city/town I am has to offer. And, in this case, while in Portland, I was looking for something that isn’t found in Vancouver (yeah, despite we claim to be diverse, there is only that much Chinese restaurants I can digest – in the case of Vancouver, it is already way past a dozen too many): Hawaiian. And, among the different options, Bamboo Grove
I will admit I don’t have much of an idea of what they have to offer, aside from what you can see on TV, with meals like the a luau and dishes like poi and loco moco, not to mention Polynesian, Japanese, Korean and Chinese influences. I knew I was taking some chances by not knowing but, hey, at times, that is part of the fun! Arriving to this restaurant was sort of a challenge as well. I knew I had to make a turn on a specific street; however, the street signs were partially covered by some of the trees and ended up going past the one street I had to turn on. After some couple of right turns, I arrived at the restaurant.
Despite it was relatively early and on a weekday, I was surprised I couldn’t sit on the patio: it was full already. As a result, I ended up seated on a table inside. Now, that’s fine; however, there was a MAJOR problem with the HVAC system: they were grilling a large order and part of the restaurant was filled with smoke. Now, it wasn’t a foggy type but it was a form of smoke that you could tell. Anyway, after I got the menu, it took them several minutes to get back to me. So, I started with drinks, in this case…
Guava Lemonade. As I have mentioned in the past, I usually end up ordering diet soda but, for a change, I decided to go for this. What I wasn’t expecting is that being a bit too…. Pink (?) for my liking. OK, OK, what happens is that I grew up getting used to the paler green version so I was expecting something either clear or yellow-ish, not necessarily pink. But, then again, I reminded myself there is red guava. If that is the case, that might explain why it felt towards the sugar-y side rather than the citrus-y cide. After all, it is a lemonade! So, depending on your liking, it might swing both ways – in my case, it swing the wrong way.
Namasu. I guess this would be a Japanese influece as such serving of pickled vegetables would be called that way. In this case, I will admit these were quite good: sweet pickled cucumbers and crunchy onions (though not pungent at all). One thing I would have wished is that this was served slightly chilled but, at room temperature, it worked fine. Now, there is a really funny note about this but more about that later.
Spam musubi. If you reaction is a confused one, yes, you read it right, you see it right. Taking again influence from Japan, specifically from an onigiri, here you have rice (not necessarily sushi rice), sandwiching a piece of Spam (as in luncheon meat, not the email), some egg and wrapped with seaweed. Story goes that Spam was extensively consumed in Hawaii during World War II that it became a staple. So, in this case, I will have to say it is sort of a touch of genius. Alas, while the idea was good, the execution was strange. Don’t get me wrong, it was good; however, I would have appreciated a smaller portion, not to mention had the seasweed been slightly toasted to enhance flavour. After all, this wasn’t sold as a grab-n-go snack… Still, I won’t deny that the Spam (or whatever equivalent luncheon meat used) was actually good (either that or not been fed luncheon meat for years made it enticing that day).
Finally, the main meal… Their Luau style Kalua Pig. As mentioned above, there are some sort of stereo-typical “feast” dishes and I ended up ordering it (rather than a more day-to-day type dish like Loco Moco). Yeah, shame on me but, when you say “pork”, I am in. Now, here is one caveat: if you have seen shows about this, the Kalua pig is usually cooked underground (after making a pit). However, this might not necessarily be “legal” in all places and I am sure Bamboo Grove is not breaking any law. So, instead, I had the odd suspicion this would be some sort of pulled pork. The question is how it was delivered…
But first, the two sides: first the mac salad and white rice. The rice might be more suitable to the Asian palate, as in it being slightly mushy and sticky so, from that perspective I won’t say much. The salad… Well, it might be an acquired taste but I didn’t really enjoy it. Probably because the mayo was a bit thin and had an extremely oily feeling to it? Regardless of the reason, I considered it just as a side and nothing else.
Finally, back to the pork. Alas, the name and description was better than the actual execution. As a pulled pork, it worked fine; however, there wasn’t anything that made it any better than, say, going to a BBQ shop (as in Podnah’s). In fact, I won’t even consider it made “par”. I mean, even some more liquid smoke would have helped, considering it didn’t have a side sauce of sorts. That’s because, on the “juicy” side, it was really good (though, that meant lots of fat on the plate at the end) but some additional layers of flavour would have done wonders.
Now, here is the story with the namasu. Originally, I ordered only the Spam musubi and the Kalua pig; however, somehow I got the namasu instead (it is possible there was a lost in translation, given these two items are next to each other in the menu). So, when I was already half way with the pig, I tried to check with a waitress but, to no avail… It seems the 2 (a third one appeared towards the end of my meal) waitresses were swarmed and couldn’t keep up. That is compounded by the fact the kitchen was extremely back-logged. I mean, other than the Spam musubi which would have required a bit of preparation, the other dishes I ended up eating were close to scoop and serve, yet it took almost 30 minutes for it to arrive to my table! A one time instance? Not sure… Eventually, I was able to flag a waitress and acknowledged the confusions. That’s when I got the Spam musubi towards the end of my meal. I will give them some credit, as they tried their best and comped the namasu.
So, after I walked out (with one of my few instances of doggy bag, given how much food was served), I couldn’t noticed something really strange. I have commented to some people in the past that, if I were to make a perfume, it would be called “Bacon” (obvious inside joke); however, given the issues with the HVAC system, I ended up smelling like smoke but not a nice bacon smell… And, during that drive back to the hotel, it got me thinking, was it worth all that? My answer was no. While some of the dishes were funny as an one time instance, similar to my post yesterday about Voodoo Doughnut, I didn’t feel anything outside of the ordinary. Would my experience have been different had I ordered the Loco Moco instead? Well, I am willing to try the Loco Moco again but not sure if that place will be at Bamboo Grove…