A Chinese Mainstay in Cockeysville Earns its Fans
We're standing by the cash register at the entrance to Bamboo House (Yorktowne Plaza Shopping Center, York and Cranbrook roads, Cockeysville,  666-9550). We've eaten well, we're leaving, and I'm picking up a carry-out menu.
"Your first time here?" the owner, Jouy Chiu inquires.
C.C. nods yes.
"Oh no!" Chiu cries, as if she's just rescued us from peril. "Where have you been eating your Chinese?"
We retreat, smiling and mumbling, as if it might prove a shock greater than she can bear to hear that there are other Chinese restaurants in this town.
And if this Friday night is any indication, folks in Timonium and Cockeysville must agree there's only one place to go for Chinese, because by 7 p.m., every table in each of the several dining rooms is taken. The sushi bar is lined with ravenous consumers, and the lounge is packed to capacity. The place doesn't look this large from the outside.
And within the comfortable, nondescript rooms, the menu is pretty nondescript too. Except for the addition of the non-Chinese sushi, I doubt the Bamboo House menu has changed much in its 28 years. What elevates this dining experience is smooth service, stylish presentation, impeccably fresh ingredients, and the personal interest of the owners, who stop to chat with regulars and make a point of checking with us, the newcomers, to see if everything is all right.
More than all right, in fact. We begin our meal with sizzling rice seafood soup for two ($7.50). Each bowl arrives piping hot, a thick clear broth heavy with good-sized shrimp, pieces of scallop, shreds of crispy green beans, and--best of all--enormous lumps of crab. Floating on top of each bowl is a square of puffed rice that provides lots of crunch. The broth is subtle. Nothing detracts from the separate yet harmonious flavors of the seafood.
Crabmeat fried won tons ($4.75) are a must-have for C.C., and these are the best we've found, delicate little envelopes of dough encasing a filling of crab shreds held together with a little cheese.
We must sample the sushi, of course, now that C.C. has overcome her raw-fish phobia. The Bamboo House special maki ($6.95), which pairs tuna and salmon with matchsticks of cucumber, goes down easy, the fish so fresh it's creamy, the rice sparkling with white sesame seeds and orange flying-fish roe.
Just as we're taking a small break between courses, an unbidden one arrives. Mixed greens tossed in a rice-wine vinaigrette, topped with crispy noodles. Not bad. C.C. forks it up eagerly, but I just can't wrap my mind around the idea of salad in a Chinese restaurant.
After another short interval (courses arrive pretty quickly here, which is surprising, considering tonight's volume of customers), our pleasantly efficient server off-loads our entrées. They're big--very big--and we know that carry-out containers are in our future.
C.C. has ordered Szechwan bird's nest ($14.95), a combination of lean beef strips, lightly coated and fried cubes of white-meat chicken, whole scallops, and jumbo shrimp. The bird's nest is a fanciful concoction of long, deep-fried potatoes. Like every bird's nest I've ever had, this one looks beautiful and beckons a taste, but it's only a tease. Imagine crunching down on deep-fried cardboard. The contents, though, are succulent. The only trouble with nests is that the food they contain keeps cooking a bit as they sit. This presents a problem, in our case, for the scallops become tougher and drier after the first few minutes. However, the vegetables--snow peas, celery, zucchini, and water chestnuts--retain their individual flavors and snap. Despite the appearance of two or three incendiary Szechwan peppers, the sauce is mild. If you want to feel the burn, ask your server to let the chef know.
A little more heat creeps into my entrée, fresh eggplant sautéed in a spicy garlic sauce ($8.95). These are the tiny, elongated plants with a bluish-black skin--very tender, with no trace of bitterness. Cooked in a mildly spicy, mildly sweet sauce, the chunks yield a creamy yellow interior and a soft, burnished skin. Tiny bits of green onion focus the flavor. A vegetarian's dream, I would think, and a surprisingly hearty dish for eggplant lovers.
Years back, dessert in a Chinese restaurant in this town meant one of two things: peppermint ice cream or canned litchee nuts. C.C. starts to order peppermint ice cream, remembers she doesn't like peppermint, and switches to lime sherbet ($2.95). She gets a healthy double scoop, prettily served in a long-stemmed martini glass, decorated with slices of fresh orange and the traditional maraschino cherry. I order a slice of something called Black Russian cake ($3.75), which I expect to be dense and disastrous. But no, it turns out to be moist, dark, and pleasantly light--a sort of sponge cake beneath a creamy mocha icing.
Carry-out containers in hand, we make our way out, past tables of diners enjoying generous portions of well-prepared fare, the kind of Americanized Chinese food we came to love in this country, the kind that, on this Friday night in Cockeysville, is still drawing them in.
Open 11:30 a.m.-midnight Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday, noon-1 a.m. Saturday, noon-midnight Sunday.