The Bamboo House in Cockeysville is a comfortable, soothing oasis set incongruously in a shopping center off York Road. It is announced, even more incongruously, by a huge, screaming "BAMBOO HOUSE" sign that dominates the center's entrance.
The Bamboo House is also a successful oasis, having recently grown from one room to three, all done most soothingly in subtle shades of gray and peach with subdued lighting from large, modernistic fixtures.
The feeling of being at ease grows with the treatment afforded customers. One recent Saturday, my husband and I were welcomed pleasantly and shown to a table. Almost immediately, the owner, Joey Chiu, greeted us as old friends, although we had probably not been here in, oh, eight years. He chatted about the expansion and about the downtown Bamboo House, in Harborplace.
He seemed genuinely to enjoy making the rounds of tables. He also pitched in when the place became crowded, helping the tuxedoed waiters serve and even changing the tablecloth after a woman at a nearby table spilled her drink.
Clearly, the attitude among the staff seemed to be that little things mean a lot.
That was evident, too, in the food. Before we ordered, our waiter brought us a heaping plate of fried Chinese noodles, an excellent accompaniment to our drinks.
The noodles also dunked quite well in my husband's Wonton Soup ($1.75), which was a beautifully presented, large serving of pure, clear chicken broth doused with perfectly cooked, filled wontons, green onion slices and slivers of pork.
My Crispy Spring Rolls ($3.25) were flavorful with bits of shrimp throughout. The mustard sauce was hot at first, but seemed to mellow as it called me back.
Next came a complimentary salad, lettuce with rice noodles and an unusual house dressing. Salad is an odd touch in Chinese restaurants, perhaps, but this was quite good.
Like many Chinese restaurants, the Bamboo House has an extensive menu that includes a long list of "specialties," as well as individual sections for seafood, beef and pork, poultry, vegetables and noodles, rice and Chinese-American favorites.
My husband found the Friends of China Club irresistible -- both in name and description. For $18.95 he had a brimming platter of "steak kew, shrimp, lobster meat, scallops, snow peas and other delicacies." The steak cubes were tender, the shellfish delicious, the assorted vegetables cooked to crisp-tender and the brown sauce just right for bringing everything together.
I picked the Double Treat ($12.95), "sauteed shrimp and chicken with mushrooms, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots." The shrimp were good-sized and tender, as were the chicken pieces. The traditional Chinese mix was tender, crunchy and flavorful. I found the dish good, but not wonderful.
The surprise of the meal was our half order of String Beans Szechuan Style ($4). The beans were cooked just to a crispy bright green and had a zesty flavor.
My husband and I discovered this dish -- stir-fried beans coated with a pungent glaze -- several restaurants ago. We found the Bamboo House's version virtually irresistible.
We ended our meal with coffee and two just-sweet-enough almond cookies served with the traditional fortune cookies, which we took home to ensure favor with our little ones. We passed up the Bamboo House's desserts, ice cream or lychees.
Our bill, which included two cocktails and a half liter of the house chardonnay, was $55.60. Our service was accommodating, though we had waited too long for the entree, when the dining room was almost full.
We sat back to linger a little longer than usual in the peaceful atmosphere. The weekend crowd -- quite a mix of young and old, suburban and not-so -- was thinning out. We agreed that the Bamboo House was, indeed, a pleasantly sophisticated place to dine, quiet and gentle like the culture it represents.
*** Bamboo House
Yorktowne Plaza Shopping Center
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Saturday, 12:30 p.m.-midnight; Sunday, 12:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.