BAMBU BY THE LAKE (245 Queen's Quay West, at Robertson Crescent, 416-214-6000) Does the Bamboo's party aesthetic - a raucous crowd, Caribbean cocktails, multiculti musical menu - translate to this three-times-capacity space? Early days yet, but the vibe is right, the room's a riot of tropical colour and the Caribbean-goes-Bangkok food's never been better. Complete meals for $35 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Red Stripe. Open daily noon to 2 am. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Saturday lunch and the posse pull up to Bambu by the Lake, the reborn Harbourfront supper club slash performance space formerly incarnated as the Bamboo of Queen West.Up a ladder, Barbara Klunder, the artist whose visuals defined the 'Boo's wonky Caribbean aesthetic, is painting the 'Bu's new sign out front. Or rather, she's re-painting a grotesque fire-breathing phoenix fluorescent lime green, part of a 12-foot-tall garish, carved-wooden street-side mural that was left behind by some forgotten 70s Chinese buffet.
"I'm adding some pink pineapples and dancing shrimp playing guitars next," she figures.
We walk past a marina already lined with sloops and enter through the 650-capacity club's north-side main entrance. Inside we find a two-storey industrial space dominated by a velvet-draped stage with that familiar A GO GO sign permanently lit in red light bulbs.
Another visual holdover from the Queen West days, the pale blue wrought-iron gates that stood out front at the old joint now lead into a low-ceilinged, screaming-red corridor. Shoulder-high halogen slots look into a kitchen and a tropical fish aquarium opposite.
We breeze into a second two-storey room - capacity 450 - rung with another balcony and dominated this time by the planked hull of a boat. Yes, an abandoned ship, apparently left behind by that same nautical-themed Chinese restaurant. Steps lead up to a doorway knocked into the side of the boat, which contains an eating area lined with parallel rows of wooden booths next to square, glass-free portholes. All that's missing are sets of oars and some marauding pirates. Yo ho ho.
Naturally, this is where I want to sit. Since this boat only sets sail at sunset, we're steered toward a cluster of tables next to glass doors that overlook the lagoon and a soon-to-come waterside patio. All of the other 20-some customers, many of whom look vaguely familiar, are seated there, too. Owner Richard O'Brien rolls by.
The four of us are seated at a circular table that can't be more than 30 inches in diameter. The paisley tablecloth has a hole poked into it. All around us, the resto's angular walls pop out - a riot of contrasting fuchsia, chartreuse and cerise. Now reflecting the daytime scene is the large 40s mirror-famed mirror that once graced the Queen club's bar.
So, too, did the slim past-its-sell-by-date wedges of lime that accompany a round of mineral water, it appears. Our otherwise on-the-ball server doesn't see anything wrong with them. They're yellow and brown, we point out, not green. She brings replacements that look just as dated.
While others start with those Thai puffed styrofoam shrimp chips ($3) our group decides to order several starters and mains and share them round-robin style.
We begin with a double order of St. Lucian Fish Cakes ($8 each), two quintets of borderline mushy deep-fried salt cod croquettes sided with a delicious Scotch bonnet-fired hot sauce, its smooth papaya base giving the condiment a lovely aioli texture.
A salad of baby spinach ($7) tossed with macadamia nuts, sliced Mandarin orange and fennel in a sweet balsamic vinaigrette detonated with roasted garlic gets passed around the table to approving nods and appetites.
We're not so sure about callaloo soup ($5), a bitter purée of taro greens with little hint of lime or coconut and a lasagna-noodle-like sheet of processed crab submerged in it. House-baked cornbread slices crisped into near Melba toasts add needed crunch.
But what's a trip to the new 'Bu without checking out its self-proclaimed World Famous Pad Thai ($9)? The 'Bu's cookbook-correct rendition of the now culinary cliché - as it should be, since Young Thailand queen Wandee Young introduced the dish to downtown in 1983 when she was the Bamboo's first chef - wipes out the taste memories of the hundreds of far inferior ketchup-laced versions we've sampled over the years elsewhere.
An eight-year vet of the club's kitchen, current chef Brock Brown has introduced his own dishes to the Caribbean lineup. Old-timers will likely stick to the tried-and-true Bambu burger ($9) or jerk chicken with red beans 'n' rice ($11). But they're missing out on more adventurous stuff like the chef's Caribbean-inspired pumpkin ravioli ($12 lunch/$14 dinner) - triangular pasta pillows stuffed with creamy squash and sauced with a subtle coconut curry cream with pulpy tomatoes and caramelized onion. Shavings of toasted coconut cleverly mimic parmesan.
The gang agrees that this is our favourite so far. We've split it four ways, but because it lacks counterpoint - some bok choy, perhaps? - we can't image finishing a whole plate as an entree. Speaking of plates, they continue to pile up on a table that would be crowded for four just having drinks, let alone eating dinner. Despite the staff's best efforts - including one whose only job seems to be topping up water glasses - we're too damn cramped.
We pass on the first-rate but now-ubiquitous Dufflet desserts - funnily, the old Bamboo was one of Dufflet Rosenberg's first clients - and settle up the tab: a moderate 72 bucks inclusive for the four of us.
Would we return for the food alone? Not likely. But the next time we want to meet friends after work, soak up the suds in the summer sun to an island-stylee (stylee is a word!) soundtrack and grab some reasonably priced OK-to-pretty-good grub, the bigger and better than ever Bambu fits the bill perfectly.
- fresh dish -
Back on Queen West, club czar Charles Khabouth continues to overhaul the Bamboo's former digs. While he's completely rebuilding most of the former wicker factory, Khabouth promises the club's legendary patio, complete with barbecue, will return when his new supper club opens come September. And though it changes every day, the venue's new name might be Dragonfly.
Sure thing: boystown boîte Blu has blown it. According to the notice posted on its padlocked Church Street doors, the stylish pizza joint has declared bankruptcy.