Bamboo Cafe
2792 Cochran St.
Simi Valley

It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving when my partner and I thought, what would be best on a cold day? Pho, of course!

I first introduced him to the Vietnamese specialty at Mai’s in Ventura and again at Pho Oxnard. Moving from Ventura to Moorpark in the last year, the local pho restaurant that looked most interesting online was Bamboo Cafe. After watching a video of the cafe featuring its own “Pho Real Challenge,” a huge bowl of pho, it seemed like the restaurant already had some notoriety.

The layout of the café feels like a modern jungle with large vertical bamboo stalks serving as window blinds and a bar that looks like it belongs on the shore of Vietnam. I particularly loved a nature-meets-art wall hanging of an intricate but bold branch with bright handmade red flowers. It reminded me of a cherry blossom branch.

The Hue spicy beef noodle soup features heartwarming beef broth with sliced and chopped beef with vegetables and mint.

We sat in the corner booth where we could see a flatscreen in one corner and the bar across the way. The server was considerate and appeared congenial as we took our time to order. Our final choices: Vietnamese coffee with boba, fire rocket shrimp, egg rolls, Bamboo Cafe noodle soup and Hue spicy beef noodle soup. I do wish all pho restaurants would label the kind of noodles in the soup or if there was options to substitute. I am a big fan of thin egg noodle over the standard thin rice noodles, which is the offering.

The Vietnamese coffee came in a plastic cup with a lid and a large boba straw. It took my partner all day to finish it and as for the rest of mine . . . it is still in my fridge. The reason: It’s like high octane coffee, too bitter for my taste. But it’s a jolting eye-opener so I decided to keep it for caffeination purposes.

Fire shrimp rolls

The egg rolls and shrimp fire rolls were standard — but that’s not a bad thing as long as they are crispy and not too greasy or burnt; such were these. I thought the fire rocket shrimp — medium-sized shrimp wrapped in rice paper and fried — would be spicy, but that was a wrong assumption.

Bamboo Cafe noodle soup (S1) with filet mignon beef, shrimp and beef ball

Out next were two big (but not huge) bowls of pho. My partner went with the Bamboo Cafe noodle soup (S1) with filet mignon beef, shrimp and beef ball. I had Hue spicy beef noodle soup (S4) with thin slices of beef and chopped beef with garlic flavor, Hue traditional vegetables and mint.(Hue is a city in central Vietnam.) The recipes for the dish seemed to be pretty standard per every pho place I have visited, but it’s really all about the broth. If you like the broth, a warm beef broth seasoned with herbs and star anise left to simmer for hours and the fat skimmed off (at least that was what the recipe called for when I made it), then the meal is always good. The broth was silky and rich but not overpowering. I had a heap of thin rice noodles that also included beef balls (spongy dense meatballs). It was too much food for us to finish so I ordered a little extra broth to take home with our leftovers.

Pho restaurants, Bamboo Cafe included, are great places to try new and different ingredients, including tripe and tendon. The beef balls are also unusual. From now through 2019, if you are looking to stir things up, give something new a try that once may have curled your lip and made you roll your eyes at just the thought. Bamboo Cafe is a suitable place for a new adventure in culinary options. We will surely be back. I just wonder how one would ever compete against a person who has a bottomless pit for a stomach for the “Pho Real Challenge.”