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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.