This post documents the long-awaited arrival of the most unique and certainly one of the best additions to Birmingham’s food scene in recent memory. This place is a game-changer. Its existence acknowledges that in 2015, Birmingham is “ready” for a restaurant that offers top notch pan-Asian cuisine, most of which cannot be found on the menus of even my favorite Chinese, Thai, or Indonesian restaurants in town. I could not be more excited to tell you about Bamboo on 2nd.
Mr. Foodie and I first met Abhi in October, 2014, when we accidentally discovered him making the best sushi we had ever had out of the Red Zone in Five Points. He called his little outfit Everest Sushi. We were so weirded out by the idea of eating sushi in a sports bar that we almost left before we ate; but once we tried it, we couldn’t stay away. His sushi had flavor profiles I’d never experienced before in sushi, but were completely inspired and felt just right.
Not surprisingly, Abhi quickly developed a strong cult following. People spoke in hushed voices about “that really nice guy that makes the best sushi of my life.” Folks came back for the sushi, sure, but also for Abhi. Completely self-taught, a total perfectionist, and incredibly friendly, Abhi represented everything people love about Birmingham: how you can rise to the top of your field by creating an outstanding and creative product, and how you can bond with someone over a shared mutual interest — in this case, food. For months after my posts, people would stop me on the street to talk to me about the whole situation. Clearly Abhi had captivated peoples’ imaginations with his food and his approach to his craft.
Within a few months of meeting Abhi at the Red Zone, he had relocated Everest Sushi to the Blue Monkey lounge. All of his fans loyally followed him there and kept eating his amazing sushi. But from time to time, Abhi would throw in a cooked creation. Dumplings, banh mi… And over time, as we got to know him better, he’d ask us questions like, do you think people in Birmingham would like real ramen? How about using real fish sauce? You could tell he was up to something.
And by the way, as if this wasn’t enough, Abhi was named one of Birmingham’s new hot up and coming chefs by Birmingham Business Journal. All I could think was duh, we broke that story six months ago. Here at whattoeatinbirmingham.com, we like to be the first ones on the scene – and I felt like we had called this one from the very beginning.
Finally, in January, an official announcement came that Abhi, along with the owners of the Blue Monkey, were opening a restaurant. It would be a pan-Asian place, drawing inspiration from Abhi’s home of Nepal, but would also include Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese classics. And of course, it would prominently feature Abhi’s amazing sushi creations. It would be called Bamboo on 2nd, and would be designed and built by Appleseed Workshop, which also designed and built El Barrio. And it would be located directly across from El Barrio on 2nd avenue North, which is quickly becoming a foodie destination (think Yo Mama’s, Collins Bar….).
Over months, Abhi painstakingly worked on the menu in his usual perfectionist way, all the while continuing to roll mind-blowing Everest sushi at the Blue Monkey. The buzz began to grow… if his sushi is this good, I thought to myself, the Birmingham foodie community is literally going to throw itself at Bamboo.
Fast forward to last night, July 14, 2015, opening night at Bamboo. Doors open at 5pm, and I arrived late at 4:56 pm to be greeted by the host staff on their very first night of work. As I crashed through the door (which is beautiful, by the way, see below), I asked “you guys are open, right?” I got a table for Mr. Foodie and I and eight of my closest friends.
Here’s the door:
The physical aspect of the restaurant is absolutely spectacular. According to Abhi, everything was custom designed and fabricated by Appleseed for the space: from the tables and chairs to the sushi bar to the light fixtures. The Buddhist symbols on the ceiling and paintings on the walls were made by local artists, and helped inspire the color scheme. The concrete floors, exposed brick, and high ceilings remind you that you’re in a cool loft space downtown. The napkins are tea towels that pick up the red of the rest of the place, and even the chopsticks are branded with the Bamboo logo. Every detail was obviously carefully considered and choreographed – exactly what I would expect.
Here are a few interior shots that don’t even do the place justice:
We were immediately greeted with the menu:
Because we are humans and not robots, Mr. Foodie forgot to take a picture of the back of the menu (gasp!). What’s back there is mostly the sushi – the same menu as Everest Sushi, hooray!! – and the Banh mi. We’ll add a picture of that side of the menu on our next trip (which is already scheduled for tomorrow – predictable, I know).
In our usual fashion, we tried to order food from all the major categories on the menu. Except for the sushi – I was really craving it, but since it is the same (amazing) menu as Everest Sushi, we made the decision that for the good of the blog, we would focus on food we had not yet had an opportunity to try. We did that so that you, our loyal blog fans, could benefit maximally from our dining experience.
Here we go. Brace yourselves, this is going to make you really hungry. And if you haven’t had breakfast yet, you might get hangry.
First, the lumpia. A Filipino spring roll, with ground turkey instead of the usual pork or shrimp. This makes the spring roll very flavorful, and is a little bit healthier and lighter. Crunchy and delicious, served with a house sweet sauce that was the perfect complement.
Then the tempura green beans. These guys are actually charred a little bit first and then tempura fried. Served with what the menus says is a togarashi aioli – I have to admit, I had to look that one up. Togarashi is a Japanese blend of spices – slightly spicy but not very, I kept going back for more and more.
Tuna tataki. Fresh-tasting, lightly seared, and served with wasabi aioli. A nice light compliment to the crunchy, deep-fried green beans. Delish.
Mr. Foodie spent so much time perfecting this next picture that I have to show it; it’s just beautiful, isn’t it?
Then the skewers. Oh, that pork belly. It just MELTED. IN. MY MOUTH. Check out that layer of fat. Served with an adobo honey Sriracha sauce that was sweet, and had a really nice kick to it. Absolutely outstanding.
Layer of fat view:
Lemongrass beef skewers. Tender, juicy, with tons of flavor, served with a house sweet and sour sauce that I could have just drank from the dish.
Another appetizer: the Katmandu Fried Chicken lollipop, adorably nicknamed KFC. Served steaming hot out of the fryer – crunchy, a little salty, and a tiny bit fatty – and with the house sweet sauce – just outstanding.
Now for its glamour shot:
Next up were two of our most highly anticipated items. Two items that are hard if not impossible to find in Bham: ramen and Banh mi.
Let’s start with the ramen. No, not the kind you buy at the gas station and just add water. Ramen is a traditional Japanese soup noodle dish consisting of wheat noodles served in a meat-based broth with toppings including meat and eggs. Bamboo’s broth is completely homemade. And the choice of noodle is key – they source theirs from the creator of artisanal ramen, Sun noodle. Sun’s website is here, and they’ve gotten all kind of press coverage including from one of my favorite food blogs, Eater, who called them the “secret weapon of America’s best ramen shops.”
The ramen was incredible. The noodles are soft but keep their shape perfectly. The pork broth gave the soup a hearty flavor, especially when combined with a healthy dose of the house made hot sauce and Sriracha. The flavors and textures of the pork, mushrooms, cilantro, and the soft boiled egg mixed into a wonderful, soothing concoction. Amazing even on the hottest of summer days. Imagine what it will be like during flu season.
Let’s take a closer look inside:
Then the banh mi. Bread sourced from Lee’s and a few other shops in Atlanta, covered with a shmear of chicken paté, dressed with cucumbers, pickled carrots, cilantro, and the meat of your choice. We got beef – tender and juicy, just like the skewers. This rivals Hotbox’s Banh Mi, and now that Hotbox has taken theirs off the menu, this is the best Banh mi in town – better than any Vietnamese restaurant I’ve eaten at here, and as good as my favorite Banh mi in the world at Nam Son in Philly. Well done, Abhi.
And finally, the thukpa. One of the great things about Bamboo, which the rest of this post unfortunately does not do justice, is that there are many healthy options on the menu. We got the chicken version of the thukpa. It had a delicate but flavorful homemade chicken broth, charred chicken that was very juicy and not in the least bit overdone (a challenging feat for a noodle bowl to be sure), vermicelli noodles, carrots, cilantro, and onions. Make sure to ask for the house made hot sauce, which I added liberally. This was a lighter version of the ramen, and also absolutely outstanding . Note that this comes in a totally veggie (seems like vegan actually?) version with veggie broth and tofu – a very difficult to find item in Bham. I’ll have to check that out next time and report back.
A closer view:
Check out that delicious, tender chicken:
What an incredible meal. Abhi and Bernie, one of the owners from the Blue Monkey, came out to check on us. I told them what I’ll tell you – that they hit it out of the park. And early in the evening on opening night no less. What a delicious foodie accomplishment.
I met Abhi when he was just starting out. He was great, but his vision for his future, and his role in the Bham food scene, was even greater. And we’ve had the incredible opportunity to get to know him and watch him develop as a chef. Not to get too cheeseball, but I think it’s fitting that Abhi named his first venture Everest Sushi. This year, Mr. Foodie and I watched Abhi climb a mountain not just for himself as a chef, but for the Birmingham food scene. Perfectly executed authentic food from all over Asia, created from the best ingredients, in an incredible space in the heart of downtown, is something that would have always fit into Birmingham’s food scene. But with the exponential growth of downtown, and with Birmingham’s increasingly sophisticated foodie tastes, this restaurant is perfectly timed. It clearly took countless hours of hard work on the part of Abhi and his business partners. Pardon the analogy, but Abhi and his partners have summited Everest, and planted their flag squarely at 2212 2nd Avenue North.