Seattle—The mild weather and ocean breeze are certainly great reasons to visit Seattle, Washington. Hiking, sports, fishing, and outdoor activities are some of the many extraordinary experiences available in the northwest. However, just like in many cities outside the metropolitan New York are, a there is a lack of kosher food available in the downtown city area. Most of the Yidden live in suburban areas around the city and that is where you will find the kosher food.
Luckily for those visiting downtown Seattle, there is the Bamboo Garden, the one kosher establishment in the city center. It’s a vegetarian Asian restaurant with quite an extensive menu. If you are walking distance to the Space Needle then you are walking distance to Bamboo Garden. In the style of the classic Chinese restaurants like Shang Chai (Aluv Hashaolm), the décor is quite dated and feels trapped in the early 80s. Wallpaper and fake flowers just add to the motif. Yet for a week night in August, it was quite busy. It seemed like only half the patrons were kosher clientele and the rest seemed to be there to enjoy vegetarian delicacies.
(To be honest, I am not a fan of fake meat restaurants. Yes, I have an occasional Morningstar sausage now and then, but it doesn’t rock my world. You can spice and dice tofu all you want, but it’s never going to taste like hearty steak. I thought about using the ironing board in my hotel room as a grilled cheese maker but instead, I opted to go out and see what all this phony meat fuss is all about. )
Now onto the menu... At almost 10 pages long they use the words pork, chicken, shark fin, and beef throughout the entire menu. It was a little jarring to see the word pork used so many times on a kosher menu. There was a little footnote at the bottom of each page indicating that all animal menu items are made of tofu. Phew, I was worried I had stepped into the wrong place!
For my starter, I opted for the corn chowder based on the Yelp reviews I read as I walked to the restaurant. It did not disappoint. There were occasional chunks of tofu with the texture of Orbit chewing gum to be found on the bottom of my bowl, but overall, the soup was delicious and I was glad I tried it. For the main course I stayed away from items on the menu that seemed obscure. Yes the shark fin dishes intrigued me, but having never tasted shark fin I was a bit squeamish about imitation shark fin. I opted for the crispy chicken in Szechuan sauce. The waiter asked me how spicy I wanted the chicken and gave me three options, mild, spicy, and hot.
I went for the mild with a side of fried rice with mushrooms. I must say the portions were quite large and I could barely finish the rice plate. It seems like most diners were ordering several mains and sides sharing them family style. The side of fried rice would be enough to feed at least four people. The main dish crispy chicken arrived at my table quickly and was similar in style to sweet and sour chicken we would get back home at Chopstix. The sauce was a bit spicy so I am glad I opted for the mild.
There was also a wine list and beer menu I thought was unique, yet I did not see anyone ordering any liquor. For dessert I received one complementary fortune cookie unlike the ones in the NY area. These are made in-house by Bamboo Garden and had much fresher waffle staste than the individually wrapped mass-produced fortune cookies we are accustomed to. For $26 including tip Bamboo Garden was quite a good value. My meal could have fed two people and one small child. As an avid carnivore, I would probably visit the other kosher eateries if I planned on staying in town for extended time. But for those visiting Seattle, Bamboo Garden is definitely worth a visit.
By Benjamin Cohen