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Review | Twisted Bamboo

Twisted Bamboo offers an Asian greatest-hits

At Twisted Bamboo, textural contrasts abound, as in these Vietnamese spring rolls served with nuoc mam and cooling lettuce leaves or a Thai chicken salad topped with crispy noodles.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

At Twisted Bamboo, textural contrasts abound, as in these Vietnamese spring rolls served with nuoc mam and cooling lettuce leaves or a Thai chicken salad topped with crispy noodles.

OLDSMAR

Christian Lander has made a living cataloging Stuff White People Like, first via his blog (www.stuffwhitepeople like.com) and now in a book published this month by Random House.

Scrolling through the L.A.-based Canadian writer's list, it doesn't seem specifically white, nor does it seem entirely accurate. (I'm white and I don't like bumper stickers.) Still, No. 45 seems amazingly, resoundingly true.

White people like Asian fusion food.

Lander is snarky about it, but there's some validity to his point. Go to a Vietnamese restaurant and you just get Vietnamese food. Chinese restaurant? You're looking at General Tso and sesame chicken. And so forth, with many small mom-and-pop places a little lean on romantic atmosphere or martini menus.

At an Asian fusion restaurant, menu language is seldom intimidatingly foreign, choices are broader and no one has to compromise. It's like a greatest-hits list, globetrotting from one beloved spot in Asia to the next, somehow all of it playing nicely together.

Twisted Bamboo, opened a month ago in Bay Arbor Place, is doing it just right. Owners Robbin Hedges and Dan Spear refined the concept at their two pan-Asian restaurants in Orlando and West Palm Beach. It's a lovely space, moodily lit with pagoda-reminiscent rafters, lots of bamboo wainscoting and a bar with a hefty swank factor.

For a new restaurant, they've done the miraculous, equipping a smart service staff to gracefully minister to customers and guide as needed through the menu.

Beyond "Should I go for the Singapore noodles or the shaking beef?" not much guidance is necessary. You recognize this food. Sweet and sour chicken ($13.95), pad Thai ($8.95-$11.95) — you have probably had a better version of each at some point in your life, but probably not at the same place, especially one where you can also get a competent filet mignon ($20.95). During our visits, flavors were lively, sauces weren't gloppy or oversweet, veggies had nice snap and meats came as requested.

Settle in with a glass of wine from the familiar but fair-priced wine list, or go silli-tini with a kaffir lime version ($7.95), graham-cracker rimmed and emphatically liquid dessert. Of the appetizers, a tuna poke ($8.95) was our fave, jeweled cubes of ahi sesame-oil slick and scooped with crisp, salted wonton lengths. Pan-seared pork and shrimp potstickers ($5.50) needed a minute more searing for texture's sake, but the lemony ponzu-soy dipping sauce was elegant. Salads eat like a meal — if you want one to start, split the Thai peanut chicken or spinach tofu (both $7.95) with friends, the latter's miso ginger dressing just right.

Nibble a little bowl of salted edamame ($1.95) in anticipation of an entree of fat udon noodles ($9.95), together two of the only contenders from Japan. The noodles are dotted with sliced chicken breast, shiitakes, scallion and wokked bok choy, the soy-ish brown sauce subtle and pleasant. Kung pao ($13.95 chicken, $15.95 shrimp) isn't prototypical, the addition of fragrant Thai basil offsetting the spicy chili sauce. Still, very satisfying, served with green-tinged bamboo rice.

I was skeptical of the most popular dish: pretzel-encrusted grouper ($16.95). Hmm, not very Asian with its shades of Snyder's of Hanover. Really, it's a nice panko-crusted piece of fish (the addition of crushed pretzel mysteriously lends an almost popcorn flavor), served with a sweet-spicy fruit relish, perfect for the Asian food-phobe, as is the Caribbean-accented pork tenderloin ($15.95).

Thus far, nothing particularly twisted about this Bamboo. It's accessible and crowd-pleasing, a trend that continues with dessert. Oozy flourless chocolate cake ($4.95), an airy and lemony cream cake ($4.95) and a range of ice creams end things on the same sweet note that this newcomer has started on.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

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Twisted Bamboo

Bay Arbor Place, 3687 Tampa Road, Oldsmar,
(813) 749-8999

Cuisine: Asian fusion

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, until midnight Friday and Saturday

Details: Amex, V, MC; reservations accepted; full bar

Prices: Lunch $5.50-$14.95; dinner entrees $9.95-$20.95

Rating out of four stars:

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Overall:

Thursday in Weekend: The new Tanglin's takeout in St. Petersburg

Key: Extraordinary

Excellent Good Fair

Twisted Bamboo offers an Asian greatest-hits 07/08/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 14, 2008 7:39pm]

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