Blue Bamboo Embraces its Chinese American Heritage
Blue Bamboo is an oasis of calm and tranquility . . . a respite from the traffic’s din and the mish-mash of strip malls that define much of Jacksonville’s Southside Boulevard. Although it has been in business for ten years, for all that time Chef/Owner Dennis Chan has been battling the perception that Blue Bamboo is a Chinese restaurant.
His Chinese American family’s long history of running restaurants in town offered him a legacy, but his classic training at the Culinary Institute of America, followed by an early internship with celebrity chef Ming Tsai, set Chan on a divergent path.
For most of the decade it has been in business, Blue Bamboo served a unique fusion of Southern and Chinese. Chan’s cookbook, Hip Asian Comfort Food, embodies the restaurant’s philosophy of marrying tradition with contemporary tastes and presentation.
These days, armed with the insight and wisdom gleaned from ten years of culinary exploration, Blue Bamboo has come to terms with and finally embraced its Chinese heritage. It will come as no surprise to friends and fans that Blue Bamboo’s Chef Chan keeps au courant with trends in Asian cuisine. During a recent trip to Washington, DC, the trends he observed included old-school Asian throwbacks like ramen and bao buns.
Chan describes his lunch menu as “sandwiches, salads and stir fries,” and crowd favorites are the Hoisin Chicken Lettuce Wraps, which according to menu-lore rival those of Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills. At dinner they get to show off a little bit.
The Blue Bamboo cocktail program showcases molecular gastronomy techniques, and their entrées range from simple to sophisticated. The atmosphere at Blue Bamboo is as easygoing as Chan himself. Customers are equally at ease dressed to the nines for a special night out, or lunching in jeans and tee shirts.
As affable as he is, Chan is very serious about quality and customer service. His long list of “regulars” proves he hits the mark there. Poll the diners at any dinner service and you’re bound to come across one of Chan’s elementary school teachers, or a party of friends who return each year to celebrate their collective birthdays with the Blue Bamboo’s delightful Orange Cake. He and his staff are thankful to those who have supported them through the years.
Regular customers often request traditional Chinese dishes. Classics like Egg Foo Yung, Lo Mein and Honey-Garlic Shrimp have always been available off-menu to those in the know, and legend has it Blue Bamboo’s Chicken and Waffles makes the occasional appearance as well.
In addition to their regular “Hip Asian Comfort Food” items, they have recently added a “1971 Menu” – classic Chinese-American dishes like those Chan’s grandfather created in his restaurant during that period. These dishes are easy to share with tablemates, or devour solo. The sharing plate style offers diners a variety of à la carte selections at a reasonable price.
Hao Yu Chicken and Veggie Stir-Fry is a savory dish featuring thinly-sliced chicken breast meat, onion and green peppers in oyster sauce. An accompanying bowl of steamed white rice completes the classic presentation.
General’s Cauliflower is a carry-over from Chan’s 2014 “Fantasy Food Truck” summer menu, which featured two new food-truck inspired items each week, culminating in a special event featuring the entire lineup served dim-sum style. Now on the main menu, it is a sweet vegetarian version of the ubiquitous Chinese-American dish.
Dim sum may be making its way into the mix more often at Blue Bamboo. During their popular monthly “Dim Sum Sundays” they offer à la carte service of roast pork buns, turnip cakes, shrimp dumplings, pineapple buns, potstickers, and other favorites.
Classic Pepper Steak and Onion is everything you remembered and more. A plate of crispy, creamy Crab Rangoon is the real deal, flavored with lump crabmeat.
A series of special events over the years (brunch in one’s pajamas and a TV dinner themed night come to mind) have introduced Chan’s talents to a totally different crowd than the typical restaurant fare. Blue Bamboo is available for private parties and catering, and Chan and his staff enjoy the opportunity to create special menus to delight guests. Chan even hosts cooking classes to engage his customers in hands-on creation.
This summer, Chan will introduce Blue Bamboo’s Kitchen Takeovers, during which he and a visiting chef will co-create and execute a series of themed menus. One we are particularly looking forward to is Hawaiian night. In a nostalgic nod to the kitschy Polynesian-themed restaurants that dotted the suburban American landscape in the ’70s and ’80s, Chan has been collecting some retro-fabulous serveware that he intends to put to good use during these occasions. We can’t wait. Blue Bamboo, 3820 Southside Boulevard, Jacksonville, Florida 32216, bluebamboojacksonville.com, (904) 646-1478.
Article written by Nancy White
SAVED Red 2011
Grapes: 31% Zinfandel; 23% Carignane; 12% Petite Sirah; 11% Malbec; 10% Merlot; 9% Petit Verdot; 2% Mixed Blacks; 1% Ruby Cabernet; 1% Syrah
Description: Individual grape parcels were selected from the best regions, then handled and blended separately to maintain the unique fruit characteristics of each. Oak aging was in thirty percent new French oak for sixteen months.
SAVED is a robust, powerful wine with a big personality and a generous finish. SAVED is a unique collaboration between two artists — contemporary visual artist Scott Campbell and second-generation winemaker Clay Brock. Named after Campbell’s acclaimed SAVED tattoo studio in Brooklyn NY, the name SAVED represents the freedom and sanctuary you get by committing fully to your passions. For Campbell it is art, for Brock it is wine. Campbell’s label artwork embodies the symbolism of the life stories that are so often shared over a bottle of wine.