by Jim Ridley
The renewed Lucky Bamboo has been open just slightly more than a month, and early reports have been promising. So proprietor Jack Ting put his staff and kitchen to the test last Sunday night with a major undertaking: the annual Chinese New Year Banquet that benefits the Chinese Arts Alliance of Nashville.
Talk about jumping into the fire. Not only does the banquet support a good cause — CAAN hosts a variety of outstanding arts and outreach events throughout the year to foster local residents' understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture — but it's become a prestigious event on the city's food calendar. Previous affairs at Wild Ginger in CoolSprings have been lavish, boisterous occasions almost literally overflowing with patrons and extravagant dishes. So how did Lucky Bamboo measure up?
Very well — according to the patrons at our table, who had attended all the previous years. (We attended as guests of the organization; regular tickets cost $85.) The ambitious 10-course banquet began with yusheng, a confetti-like salad of raw fish strips and bright ribbons of carrots, crunchy noodles and shredded vegetables given a ceremonial toss (for New Year prosperity) in a sweet, vinegary dressing. Our server said he'd only seen the dish before in Malaysia, and it made a crisp, vibrantly flavored opening to the feast.
A sweet and sour whole fried fish (tilapia, we were told) plated in distinct sections fell victim to a feeding frenzy as soon as it arrived. CAAN director Jen-Jen Lin jokingly chided the crowd for not eating the head, positioned on the plate like a pyramid: she must not have made it to our table, where patrons were nibbling the flesh from tiny jawbones. (I confess that one bite of fish head, personally, will probably suffice for a lifetime.) That left six more courses to go, including Imperial Jumbo Shrimp; cool poached chicken with gingered scallion; an oddly testicular "lion head" of balled, braised ground pork; and a course of thin rice noodles in soup, followed as a finale by a warm dessert of glutinous sesame rice balls, toothsome in texture.
We heard people asking throughout the night if these dishes would be regularly available on Lucky Bamboo's menu. They're not at present, alas, but what we had makes us want to try Lucky Bamboo's regular menu and dim-sum offerings. And those who missed out would be well advised to go next year, as the combination of spectacle (especially the lion dancers impressively navigating the narrow space between tables in their huge, shimmying costume), music (student Melinda Lio on the two-stringed er-hu, which sounds something like a violin with a reedy, flute-like quality) and company make it an event like nothing else in the city.