The last thing that art should be in is "good taste," as any artist better than Thomas Kinkade will tell you. But that's not to say that art and "taste good" can't mix, which they do at Bamboo, open four months now inside the Art Gallery of Windsor. The eclectic menu, prepared by Jennifer Hillis and co-owner Anthony-John Dalupan, is a sensual delight, not only for the taste buds but for three of the other four senses as well.
The two chefs worked together at Three, a small-plates Windsor venue that was highly praised in these pages. They've brought a similarly wide-ranging sensibility to their new spot. They present dishes with origins all over the world, but with their own twists, and always with a feel for combinations that bring out the best of the diverse ingredients.
It's been decades since beauty was considered a goal worthy of art-making. (Look at the gallery's current show, Greatest Hits, Volume I, which showcases paintings and decorative art from 1650 to 1950. Compare it to Greatest Hits, Volume II, which comes up to the present.) But in food preparation beauty is still aspired to, and the arrangement of flesh and plants on the plate at Bamboo could not be lovelier. (No silly towers.) Vases of graceful bamboo are everywhere, and the view through the full-length windows is of the river and the Detroit skyline.
Hillis and Dalupan present four different but overlapping menus for lunch, Sunday brunch, tapas-time (4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday) and dinner. For tapas, you're offered Japanese gyoza (potstickers), chili and garlic-infused olives, coriander-ginger prawns and salmon karaage (Japanese deep-fry), to cite just a few.
At lunch, starters include "Mom's famous spring rolls" (Anthony's mom is from the Philippines), salad Niçoise, and a grilled Brie and fruit compote. The rest of the menu is labeled Smorrebrod, after the Danish custom of making lunch of several hot and cold open-faced sandwiches. You might try garlic cheddar prawns, smoked trout, rib-eye or the Hans Christian Andersen, all on rye bread and eaten with a knife and fork.
For brunch, you'll find various omelets, strawberry-chocolate crêpes, and a smoked salmon and trout plate, along with heartier dishes such as New York steak Almeida and barbecue pulled pork.
At dinner, the choices are earth (vegetables), air (poultry), fire (meat) and water (seafood). It sounds absurdly simple, but I can't say enough about panko tilapia. Just about everyone likes a breaded fried fish, which would be the generic name for this dish. But you have not tasted a breaded fried fish until you've experienced the crust, sturdy but not thick, on this particularly fresh-tasting tilapia. Japanese panko bread crumbs are chopped more coarsely and thus somehow make a lighter and crunchier crust than ordinary bread crumbs.
As an accompaniment I ordered a sauté of corn, mushrooms and snap peas that was hot, smoky and sweet. My companion's venison, two good-sized chops, was tender, with a wine sauce. Its flavor was not "beef, only less so," as can happen with venison; it had its own subtle personality.
Another night I returned to the panko for tostado Brie pollo. The juices had been sealed into the coated chicken, making it a different bird from the overcooked variety you often find (I never order chicken in a restaurant). Our server instructed us to combine the chicken, whipped Brie and caramelized red onions in one bite taste heaven!
The intense creaminess and richness of a curried apple soup was toned down by the heat of the curry. I could have eaten bowls of this. The vegetable parilla (grilled) reminded me how good this simple preparation, with dribbles of reduced balsamic, can be. The vinegar brings out the individual sweetnesses in the zucchini, eggplant and red peppers, and it's good to remember that the flavor of eggplant can be fine on its own, without being fried in buckets of oil. This dish had a real roasted, outdoorsy taste.
Our only partial disappointment was beef tips, flavorful but not tender.
Hillis was the pastry chef at Three, and she continues to concoct a dessert menu that changes every two weeks. When we raved about her pumpkin crème brûlée, Dalupan acknowledged that its inspiration was a Martha Stewart truffle recipe. Don't let that put you off. You would expect the burntness of brûlèe to fit well with pumpkin, but the unexpected addition of chocolate was a revelation. I'll be making my next pumpkin pie with a chocolate crust.
Hillis always has a crème brûlèe, a bread pudding and a cheesecake on the menu. Her warm German chocolate bread pudding is also fine, a little crusty but liquid in the center. For $30 (Cdn) you'll be brought all five of the current offerings.
Such tasting menus are available at all meals: $10 per person for tapas a huge bargain; $45 per person at dinner; $25 at lunch or $30 at brunch. The chef picks out a sampler and, if my experience at Three is any guide, Dalupan knows exactly what you want.
Important data: Bamboo has a full bar. Restaurant patrons get free admittance to the art gallery. Restaurant hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.