Chinese without Chinese

29 Sep

It was my turn to pick next and about a month after we visited La Fonda Boricua, I came up with my choice by “word of mouth.” One of my son’s pre-school teachers was Guyanese. I asked her for a place where I could find authentic Guyanese food. I was familiar with some items having traveled to the Caribbean extensively and, in particular, the islands of Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago which, like Guyana, featured a blend of people and influences from the Caribbean, Africa, China, East India, and indigenous peoples. I knew and tasted roti and pepper pot, both Guyanese specialties, but beyond that not much. And as far as I knew at the time, there were no Guyanese restaurants in Manhattan and few, if any, in the outer boroughs as well. At first my son’s teacher was evasive; she was curious why I would consider traveling outside of Manhattan for Guyanese food. But I mentioned my search for good pepper pot in the city and that impressed her. Finally, she steered me to Atlantic Bamboo Garden in Richmond Hill Queens.

Here is what we I wrote after our experience almost nine years ago at what is now simply called “Bamboo Garden.”

Atlantic Bamboo Garden
10704 Atlantic Avenue
Richmond Hill, Queens

It was dark on Atlantic Avenue. So dark it was hard to distinguish one chop shop from the other. The rain was erratic; on and off, just like Zio’s windshield wipers. But there it was. Set a bit off the street. The colored lights advertising “Bamboo Garden” inviting on such a raw, dreary night. It was like something out of a Scorsese movie. To be more accurate, out of Good Fellas. Was it the place that was torched by the Wise Guys of the movie made out of the book of the same name? That was the opening debate as we convened for our second food adventure. The next debate was whether Eugene’s tropical fruit milkshake was actually a milk of magnesia shake? Eugene, we are still waiting for your answer.

Gerry and I immediately took care of the inclement weather outside by ordering rum punches G/T style. Whatever the style, the rum was very punchy and if I hadn’t been so concerned about Zio’s  aged eyesight along with his shaky windshield wipers, I too would have gone for another round as Gerry bravely did.
After complaints about under ordering at La Fonda Boricua, we over compensated by ordering three appetizers. By the time we finished off the garlic pork, jerk chicken, and fried shark, G/T Style (G/T explained as Georgetown, the capital city of Guyana), Bamboo Gardens was filling up with parties of extended Guyanese families. A mix of soca, R&B, Caribbean Chutney (Indian), and reggae was playing on the sound system. The place advertised itself as the No. 1 West Indian style cooking and Guyanese-Style Chinese food. We couldn’t vouch for it being No. 1, but none of us had ever had Guyanese-Style Chinese food before, so in our limited food experiences it was the one and only. Maybe pepper shrimp fried rice, which I sampled, distinguished this Chinese food from, say, Cuban-Chinese food. Or maybe it was the snapper in coconut milk sauce, which Eugene devoured, that made it different. Rick thought it was the fact that Bamboo Garden was the first and only Chinese restaurant he had ever eaten where there was a total absence of Chinese people either working or eating at the restaurant that was the real difference.
Once the various and hearty West Indian and Guyanese-Chinese courses were polished off, only Zio and I dared dessert. Zio, trying to recreate the red jello* experience, ordered that Guyanese specialty, cheesecake, while I tried the soursop ice cream. Neither were the equal of what we had eaten in our first two courses. . .and it was that cheesecake, I believe, that pushed us slightly over the $20 mark.
The rain had stopped by the time we left Bamboo Garden. We could see the facade of the restaurant more clearly now. No, the consensus on hand believed it probably wasn’t the same Bamboo Garden from
Good Fellas. But the consensus also believed it was worth the trip to Richmond Hill Queens to try Guyanese-Chinese food.

*For those who do not know, Zio is famous for an eating experience at the Court Deli, near Yankee Stadium. The Court Deli is a popular pre-Yankee game restaurant and known for their succulent Kosher hot dogs, pastrami, corned beef and other deli items. Zio, however,  for one particular pre-game meal was, it seems, watching his waistline and instead of stuffing his face with the usual, two hot dogs and a knish, was found hunched over a plate of cottage cheese and red jello. I can verify that he rectified that embarrassing moment by bringing two potato knish’s into the Stadium eating one in the third inning and then finishing off the other two innings later.

The restaurant now has a website that proclaims it as “New York’s Finest Restaurant.”

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