For starters, let’s take a wayback-machine trip to the Hamptons in 2010 and see how humans once lived. OK, we’re here, and Newsday says this:
Who’s dining at Bamboo, the pretty Asian-chic restaurant that has opened in East Hampton? Parents and kids dressed in shorts and sneakers, tanned young men and women in “Sex and the City” high-fashion and middle-aged couples wearing slacks and cardigans. In short, a cross section of the East End.
Just a year later, owner Michael Gluckman would sell Bamboo, and soon thereafter a golden era of Hamptons Asian-chic dining would come to an end, probably forever. Except not really. On April 20, Bamboo suddenly reared its tanned head again, this time in Southampton Village, with Gluckman once more at the helm. At first glance, there would seem to be few worse days to open a restaurant than April 20 of this year. Yet, business is booming. Has the present calamitous predicament actually made people nostalgic for “Sex and the City” and middle-aged couples in slacks and cardigans? Is that how bad things have gotten?
“The name recognition was amazing,” admits Hillary Steedle, Bamboo’s general manager. “All these people who’d been going to Bamboo 10 years ago — now they’re coming here and saying ‘I had so much fun there in my 30s,’ and ‘oh my God it’s back!’”
Gluckman himself would be the first to admit that buzz was no small part of the appeal of the old Bamboo, which opened in 2001. “Back then, the E! channel was a big deal,” he recalls. “They were out here, and Lindsay Lohan …. We were internationally known.”
And not just for celebrity sightings. The general consensus was that Bamboo had the Hamptons’ freshest, highest-quality sushi, along with soul-stirring udon bowls and stellar miso-rubbed salmon, all of it prepared by chefs with big-name pedigrees — Nobu, Laundry and the like. These days, it’s Bamboo’s cod that’s miso-rubbed, but the sushi is as impeccably sourced as ever (from Gosman’s in Montauk), and the Nobu diaspora remains a presence in the kitchen.
By which I mean executive chef John Sagadraca, whose resume also includes Manhattan’s Daniel and therefore an unsurprising preference for “French technique with Asian flavors,” as he puts it. But Sagadraca is also an avid surfer, also heavily traveled (he’s opened three restaurants with Steedle in Nicaragua), also perpetually in motion. “I’m on a juice cleanse, so I’m going crazy, I’m starving,” he says by way of explanation, tumbling out of the kitchen with a plate of green papaya salad. It’s Sagadraca’s boundless energy, one imagines, that has allowed him to take Bamboo’s menu to the outer reaches of Asian fusion and beyond. “We’re really trying to get away from the whole — "
He stops, immediately pivots. “At sushi places out here, it’s shrimp teriyaki and bento boxes. We’re not a Japanese restaurant. We have a Thai cold noodle salad on the menu, Korean bulgogi. We’re doing Chinese-style dumplings.” (The three dishes are $15, $25 and $15, respectively.) Other popular menu items, Sagadraca reports, are bang bang chicken ($25), spicy tuna on crispy rice cakes ($18) and creamy rock shrimp tempura ($18).
Such commingling is hardly shocking, especially by a chef whose background is “an eclectic mix of Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino, Scottish, Irish and Spanish roots,” according to a bio of him that appears, for some reason, on the website of men’s clothier Psychobunny. But his wholesale insistence on freshness — in fish, vegetables, spices, even flavor combinations — sets Sagadraca apart. His papaya salad ($16) lists no fewer than nine other ingredients besides papaya, and an accurate description of its taste — which would require hundreds of words and untold shout-outs to toasted peanuts and mint, cilantro and cucumber, cherry tomatoes and Thai chiles — is beyond me. Let’s just say it’s fantastic and leave it at that.
I see I’ve left off juices from my freshness list above, an unpardonable omission, as they form the basis of a wonderful cocktail list. All are $15, and considerable in-house squeezing is often required, as with the saketini (cucumber) and Cobra Kai (pineapple), as well as the blood orange margarita, lotus lemonade, pink lychee fizz and more.
“This is a very sophisticated audience,” says Gluckman. “They’re very international. They fly all over the world, they’re in Aspen in the winter, they’re coming here, they know the difference between qualities of tuna.”
“Nothing in the Hamptons is standard,” adds Sagadraca.
Fresh might not be the first word that comes to mind when describing a restaurant that began life almost 20 years ago, but Bamboo nonetheless feels very of-the-moment, from the sleek masks and contactless drive-through pickup area, to the covered patio with its hanging egg chairs and colorful paper umbrellas suspended from the ceiling. Even the patrons seem different. On the day I visited, the crowds were large but slacks and cardigans were conspicuously absent.
Bamboo is at 76C Jobs Lane in Southampton, 631-488-4240, bamboosouthampton.com. Opening hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Monday.