Think an effortlessly-hip drag of bars, eateries, and shopping seems out of place in this historic, industrial transportation hub of the Midwest? Grab a craft cocktail (might I suggest a Ginger Mule?) from Bamboo Asian Noodles and Tapas Bar in downtown Rockford, IL and reconsider.
Perhaps an effortlessly-cool atmosphere is to be expected from a nook-and-cranny eatery built on a trendy smattering of noodles and tapas. Located at the very end of a twinkling block of bustling State Street, Bamboo’s sleek glass facade emits a warm glow and beckons folk into its narrow-yet-cozy space. Exposed brick walls, boldly-framed chalkboards, and intimate table settings exude an industrial-chic vibe that lands somewhere between the rustic and the artsy. Haute rectilinear hanging lamps compliment edgy exposed ventilation, and a simple row of potted bamboo plants line the wall opposite Bamboo’s gorgeous wood bar.
If the look isn’t enough to entice a crowd, the promising list of seasonally-crafted cocktails should do the job. Pumpkin Pie Martini? Yes, please. With the Santa’s Nightcap, bartenders imagine Kris Kringle takes his drinks sweet and strong. And flasks to fruitcakes, one sip of the not-too-sweet, not-too-tangy Spiked Apple Cider could dangerously tempt a drinker into ordering about a bushel more.
Beyond its seasonal specialties, Bamboo also brews up a number of tantalizing drinks available ‘round the horn. Albeit a tad on the pricey side (some cocktails cost as much as $9), high-quality and unexpected ingredients like lychee syrup, ginger beer, and Thai iced coffee (in separate drinks, of course), mandate that these luxury libations are mixed to savor. Standouts: thanks to a healthy dose of peach schnapps, the Spicy Peach Martini is sweet but balanced by potent punches of jalapeno and lime. The deceptively-boozy Ginger Mule lives up to its name, as the ginger’s flavor shines equally as brightly as the beverage’s classic copper mug.
Regarding the trendy menu, Bamboo offers diners the option of ordering appetizers, meant-to-be-paired tapas dishes, or more traditionally-sized entrees. Most of the dishes are customizable and require customers to choose between several variants of protein. A word of warning: if you like your food spicy, cut to the chase and ask your server to bring the spice rack to the table. An order of Dragon Noodles ($10.50) at a “4 out of 5” spice, while plenty sizable for the price, could still stand to breathe a bit of fire. Otherwise, according to the carnivorous boyfriend, the dish’s bed of warm rice noodles, perfectly-cooked chicken, and tender veggies stood up well to the poignant flavor of basil sauce.
The Eggplant Panang ($10.25), a delightful mix of battered eggplant coins, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and peppers served in a hot red curry sauce with a side of rice, could have also withstood a bit more heat. That being said, this tapas creation satisfied as well as any full meal option and was even served on the same size plate. Vegetarians should be thankful for as much, since the Eggplant Panang numbers among the few holistically vegetarian options. Non-meat eaters may ask their server to see Bamboo’s special vegetarian menu, which not only includes several additional offerings but also a considerate key disclosing which options contain potentially-contentious ingredients such as fish sauce, dairy, or eggs. An order of Spring Rolls, entirely vegetarian, includes two Twinkie-sized logs of fresh, raw veggies (bean sprouts, carrots, cucumber, and lettuce) tucked snugly inside traditional rice paper wrapping. While the rolls themselves taste fine, the accompanying peanut sauce could be slurped with a spoon. It’s that good.
High-end cocktails and trendy decor create an elegant ambiance that appeals to customers’ senses of pride and fashion; delicious and reasonably-priced food ensures they return. Notable on the whole for its knack of attracting maturing millennials who crave the nominal and the unique, Bamboo Asian Noodles and Tapas Bar muddles culinary spark and swanky style into a city on the rise.
Overall: on a scale of 1-10 tipsy dragons, this modest and meritorious watering hole deserves 9, all likely to be sporting hipster glasses and holiday sweaters.