Recently, Bamboo House opened on Lake Street in Saint Albans, Vermont–home of Vermont’s yearly Maple Fest. While this may sound like yet another run-of-the-mill Chinese takeout, the young, energetic owner is Vietnamese. His culinary skills are shaped by his roots; he simply knows Vietnamese and preparing Chinese dishes has been a struggle for him. He’s recently made the decision to remove all Chinese offerings from his menu and hope Saint Albans will share his passion for the foods of Vietnam.
Though Saint Albans is a little more than an hour from Montreal, one of the world’s most fabulous culinary cities, I’ve always been surprised that the dining in Saint Albans isn’t more adventurous. There are excellent restaurants in town, but with nine pizza places and four take-out Chinese, many diners hope for more. At the same time, with the eclectic mix of low-income and upper-class residents, questions have been raised as to whether the city is ready for real ethnic cuisine. We are all about to find out.
Located down Lake Street across from Switchyard Mobil, The Bamboo House is a few blocks from Main Street. I do have my fear that the restaurant will not be able to target the busier traffic on Route 7 where Vermonters and Canadians spend a lot of time either enjoying the shops or waiting at the traffic lights. If people only knew that a charming Vietnamese restaurant was located a few blocks away, I do feel the restaurant would thrive. The staff is friendly and welcoming. It is not unusual to see the owner stop by each and every table to chat and share his passion for the cuisine. He’s extremely proud of his food, and he definitely should be.
In the short time the restaurant has been open, I’ve experienced both the take-out and dined in. Each meal has been amazing. Unlike Chinese cuisine, Vietnamese is lighter, not as greasy, and full of fresh vegetables. Lunch specials are offered throughout the week. For less than $6, diners can enjoy an entree, spring roll, and a bowl of the Bamboo House soup of the day. Often, the soup of the day is a delicate Vietnamese Chicken Vegetable. The broth is homemade, not overly salty, and contains loads of fresh bean sprouts, carrots, and sliced chicken breast.
On a recent visit, my daughter and I ordered the Grilled Chicken Vermicelli. To our surprise, our meals were served in a large bowl. Without exaggerating, I can honestly say I have mixing bowls this size. The chicken breast was juicy, marinated in what tasted like a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, and fresh ginger, and grilled to perfection. The spring rolls are crisp, hot, and extremely tasty. The bed of steamed rice vermicelli was a nice change from the Chinese standard of clumped white rice. A salad of lettuce, sliced cucumber, and some pickled vegetables (carrots, daikon and bok choy) finished the meal. Others in my party tried the Barbecue Pork, again an excellent meal, and the Ginger Chicken with slices of fresh ginger in a spicy garlic sauce. These meals came with a mound of Jasmine Rice, and once you’ve had Jasmine Rice you will not want white rice ever again.
Other dishes I would recommend include the Bamboo House Salad ($4.95 small/$7.25 large), a mixture of shredded cabbage, carrots, shrimp, chicken, mint, and basil that is topped with a sweet Vietnamese dressing, peanuts, and crispy fried onions. This dish is perfect on a hot, humid day. Summer rolls ($3 for two) are also a nice choice for a humid day. Summer rolls are like spring rolls, but are not cooked. Rice paper surrounds shredded lettuce, rice noodles, shrimp, and mint and served chilled.
My children love the Yang Chau Fried Rice ($6.50) that is packed with peas, eggs, shrimp, Vietnamese sausage, and barbecued pork. The dish isn’t as salty as some of the fried rice dishes at area Chinese restaurants and has far more flavor. My daughter is a lo mein addict and has found she enjoys the Stir-Fried Noodles ($8) at The Bamboo House more than she likes lo mein. Again, the dish isn’t as oily and contains loads of baby corn, broccoli, bell peppers, and straw mushrooms. Vietnamese Curries ($8.50) are amazing, full of flavor and packed with meat and vegetables. My favorite dish to date, however, is the Lemongrass Chicken ($8.50). Lemongrass looks a little like a leek, but has a strong lemony taste. The Lemongrass Chicken is full of citrus flavor and leaves you craving more. Both curries and the Lemongrass Chicken are served with jasmine rice and salads.
Other menu options include:
Goi Tom Hoac Ga ($3.95 for a small or $6.25 for large) – a marinated cabbage salad with fresh mint, peanuts, carrots, and basil that is served with your choice of chicken or shrimp.
Bo Luc Lac ($9.95) – Portions of beef coated in black pepper and then cooked with a variety of vegetables and a sauce made from garlic and soy sauce.
Hu Tieu Xao Bo Dien ($8.50) – Rice noodles mixed with fish cakes, shrimp, imitation crab and a variety of vegetables that are seasoned with a house sauce.
Crispy Fried Tofu ($3) – A large portion of deep fried tofu cubes that are served with a variety of sweet or spicy dipping sauces.
Lunches cost $5.95 and include the soup of the day and a Vietnamese Spring Roll filled with rice noodles and shredded vegetables. Lunch offerings change frequently. The Garlic Chicken is delicious and packed with vegetables and fresh ginger. The meal is served with a steaming mound of jasmine rice. The Grilled Chicken Rice Noodle Bowl comes in a bowl the size of a mixing bowl, contains Vietnamese grilled chicken, a large portion of rice noodles, and a salad.
All meals come with a small bowl of Nuoc Cham, a Vietnamese dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, sugar, and red chili paste. The sauce is clear and watery, yet the taste is a nice mix of sweet, sour, and a touch of smokiness that must come from the fish sauce. Shredded carrots float in the sauce adding color. The Bamboo House chef does not add a lot of chili paste, I can take heat, but realize others cannot. For me, I wouldn’t mind a little more chili!
I’ve had Vietnamese in Manhattan and would not hesitate to say that The Bamboo House equals the New York restaurants. I’m happy to see Vietnamese come to St. Albans and hope that others will discover the succulent cuisine. Hopefully, the town can push aside tastes for the usual fast foods, take-out Chinese, and pizza and embrace something unique!
The Bamboo House
139 Lake Street (Across from the Switchyard Mobil Station)
Saint Albans, VT 05478
Monday through Thursday 11am to 9:30pm
Friday and Saturday 11am to 10pm.