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Inchin’s Bamboo Garden restaurant review, Alpharetta

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A palpable sense of déjà vu overcame me as I made my third (don’t judge) visit to the buffet at Inchin’s Bamboo Garden. I’ve been to this grandiose room, with its stacked-stone fireplace and 30-foot ceilings, before. Was it a steakhouse? A spa? An indoor garden center? What was it? The space is large enough to ride a horse through.

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

That’s it: Wild Times Cafe! Back in the day, all this ginormity was filled with life-size stuffed animals, an indoor waterfall, foosball tables, and a corner of it was sectioned off into a kiddie fun center with a lot of dinging machines spitting out tickets. It was equal parts Rainforest Cafe, Dave & Buster’s and Chuck E. Cheese.

And now? It’s an Indian Chinese restaurant. Yes, you read that right: Indian Chinese, as in the kind of Chinese food you’d find in India. This culinary subgenre has been around since the early 1900s, when the coastal Hakka people of China fled to India to escape the Opium Wars. A culinary repertoire developed over time ­— a long list of dishes that Indians diners crave. Think crispy fried appetizers, mounds of noodles and rice, Chinese-style entrees swimming in glossy, ferociously spicy sauces.

Inchin’s Bamboo Garden, part of a multicity chain, shares the former Wild Times Cafe space with a sister establishment, Tadka. A black wall with a door communicating between the two restaurants divides the space in two. Inchin’s Bamboo Garden gets the grand (but often empty) bar and lounge, as well as a sizable dining room that usually bustles with Indian families. Tadka serves straightaway tandoori food and doubles as a banquet hall. (Call first if you want to visit, as it often closes for events.)

The stage is set for a blending of cultures (photos by Becky Stein)

The stage is set for a blending of cultures (photos by Becky Stein)

How do you attack the pages-long menu at Bamboo Garden? Point. Flip coins. Guess. Just go for it. This serves us well with appetizers. Crispy chili baby corn ($7) brings mini-marshmallow-size plugs of those baby corncobs you’ve eaten in many disreputable Chinese restaurants, but fried! They’re little crunch bombs tossed with onions, chiles and a sheen of sticky/tangy sauce. Our waitress tells us this is a classic dish of the Chinese Indian kitchen.

Spicy fried baby corn

Spicy fried baby corn

If fried corn doesn’t sound heart-stopping enough for you, try some fried cheese on for size. Yes, squares of pan-fried paneer ($9) arrive in a glossy wash of ginger/garlic/chili sauce with little squares of bell pepper that are there to ignore. I might be tempted to move this to entree portion of the meal, order a plate of the burnt garlic chili fried basmati rice ($10, and as face-stuffingly good as it sounds) and call it a night.

A dish here or there defaults more Indian than Chinese, such as a fine version of Chicken 65 ($10), nubbins of deep-fried chicken tossed with hot spices, curry leaf and poppy little black cumin seeds.

Hakka noodles with chicken, shrimp and lamb

Hakka noodles with chicken, shrimp and lamb

Entrees can be as much of a dart toss as appetizers. I have learned that you might want to ask for dishes prepared “dry” if you don’t like lots and lots of spicy, shiny sauce. Indian Chinese stir-fries kind of seem like, well, curries.

We take the one fish, one chicken, one lamb approach. Lamb? Yes, in Indian Chinese restaurants the role usually played by pork gets a gamier understudy. I wouldn’t recommend the shredded lamb in chili mustard ($14) if you haven’t bargained for something that tastes like hot-and-sour French’s sauce. Unearthing the “blanched bean sprouts” at the bottom of the bowl adds another level of distress.

But tilapia in creamy chili oil ($14) is pure comfort for spice freaks — pan-seared chunks of fillet in a thick pink sauce with a crescendo burn.

If you are the kind of person who finds ultimate comfort in rich, spicy glop (no shame), then what you really, really want here is the lunch buffet ($9). One side holds a selection of Indian Chinese dishes from the menu: great mounds of Hakka noodles (stir-fried vermicelli), tangy cilantro rice, gobi Manchurian (fried cauliflower in glossy ginger sauce). The other side brings a selection of Indian dishes from Tadka next door: mutter paneer (peas and cheese in curry), dal makhani (creamed black lentils), fried pakoras, goat stew.

As much as you try to keep it all separate on the plate, you will end up with a vague blend of this sauce, those noodles and that hunk of chicken. Fine. Let the turmeric, soy sauce and curry leaf do their battle. Indian Chinese food is all about the thrill of the mush.

INCHIN’S BAMBOO GARDEN
11105 State Bridge Road, Alpharetta, 770-622-1445
2stars5
Food: Indian Chinese specialties from a pages-long menu
Service: Nice and efficient, though the room is sometimes understaffed.
Best dishes: pan-fried paneer, fish in creamy chili oil, lunch buffet
Vegetarian selections: A full half of the menu; this joint is a vegetarian’s dream.
Credit cards: all major
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, noon-3:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; dinner: 5:30-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Children: Yes, but beware that more of the dishes here are spicy than not.
Parking: in an attached lot
Reservations: yes
Wheelchair access: full
Smoking: no
Noise level: fine
Patio: yes
Takeout: yes
ratings_key_febUSE

13 comments Add your comment

Liz

October 20th, 2011
8:38 am

LOVE this place! It’s just like the Indian-Chinese I had while in India, but much closer to home. I highly recommend the lunch buffet and the desserts are great (try the chinese spiced Gulab Jamon). The flavors of both cultures play well together and I find myself craving them when I have plain ol’ Indian or Chinese food.

carla roqs

October 20th, 2011
9:57 am

okay, john, cool. but ummm, what was your first stop after your process?

Reds

October 20th, 2011
10:09 am

Is the lunch buffet on the weekends too?

Sophie's Choice

October 20th, 2011
12:49 pm

LOVE Indian Chinese– and if you don’t want to drive all the way to Alpharetta, try Chinese Dhaba in the Patel Bros. shopping center just outside Decatur (intersection of Church & Lawrenceville Hwy). Their chicken chili garlic noodles are crave-worthy, as is their dry Gobi Manchurian. They’re WAY cheap, too, so give ‘em a go!

OtistheDrunk

October 20th, 2011
2:19 pm

@Reds….looks like the lunch buffet is Daily (below). I’m a huge fan of Singapore Rice Needles at Chinese retaurants so with the curry emphasis I assume the Haka noodles are similar?. I’ll give it a try for sure.

‘http://www.bamboo-gardens.com/locations/index.htm

OtistheDrunk

October 20th, 2011
2:21 pm

vijay

October 20th, 2011
3:04 pm

Went there couple of months back with friends. This has to be the most HORRIBLE food I ever ate! The food was utter garbage, too salty & bad taste. The service was even worst with all white school kids serving. Coming from native India I know what Indian Chinese taste like! My conclusion is unless your spouse is a terrible cook, you would love to eat here.

Victor

October 21st, 2011
5:39 pm

This guy has no idea what he is talking about. I have eaten at various of their locations and the this is the closest to indian chinese it gets..

patrick p

October 21st, 2011
6:18 pm

@John Kessler, I think it is a 3 to 3 1/2 star! I live in Washington DC and prior to that NYC. This restaurant has the closest thing to Bombay-Calcutta (oh well OK, Mumbai-Kolkotta) Chinese cuisine in USA. I have eaten at their restaurants in Raleigh, Chicago as well as Atlanta. They are a delight; and I have no clue as to what mr. Disgruntled above (vijay) is talking about; perhaps he is not from the tow metropolitan cities in India.

I am a foodie and now when I am traveling in USA in non-coastal cities, I always flcok to Bamboo Garden, is it worth a drive, definitely, is it a bonus when you fly in-land, BEYOND A SHADOW OF DOUBT!!!

Avinash Jain

October 22nd, 2011
3:44 am

My wife and I visit Atlanta from India about 4 times a year and most visits we go once for the weekday buffet lunch at Bamboo Garden/Tadka. My wife hits the chinese side of the buffet and I go over the indian side. We have had a consistently great lunch experience. based on the above rating system, I will give it a 3star for meriting a drive and single $ for the low price at lunch.

Aditya Gajjar

October 24th, 2011
6:26 pm

I have been visiting Bamboo garden since last 2-3 years. The quality of food and Taste of authentic Indian food has always been my priority. Bamboo Garden has always lived up to my families expectation. consistency in quality of food and taste has absolutely not changed a bit. Their Chef’s definitely has very high standard for quality and taste of their food. I wood definitely give 4 star to them.

Mike

October 25th, 2011
1:12 pm

I wonder which other Indian restaurant Vijay works for…

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October 27th, 2011
8:00 am

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