Tiki Central / Locating Tiki
Bamboo Room, Schaumburg, IL (restaurant)
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[ Edited by: tikibars 2007-10-11 12:54 ]
There is a two-mile stretch of Golf Road, in Schaumburg (about 15 miles west of Chicago) which is home to every single corporate franchise you can think of - from Red Lobster to Toys R Us, and from Borders Books to Ikea. That a new Tiki bar has opened here is certainly the biggest indicator yet of Tiki’s hardcore reemergence into the mainstream.
The Bamboo Room opened on Thursday, December 11, 2003. The mutli-room, multi-level complex is huge, dwarfed only by the Mai Kai and Jardin Tiki. Remember the words of Yoda and poorly endowed men everywhere however: size matters not. All the coolness in the Bamboo Room is crammed into a relatively small area. Read on!
The main room of the restaurant is a cavernous two story-tall space. A balcony runs along all four walls, overlooking the main seating area. The balcony holds several private rooms, a curved bar, a wall-o-wine, a huge DJ booth/multimedia control area, a pair of 10-foot-tall Wayne Coombs rootball head Tikis in lit alcoves, and the entrance to the 2nd floor Tiki Bar.
The main floor dining room is extremely wide and open feeling. Decorated in green, maroon, dark wood and a bit of bamboo, this level is home to an open kitchen, two more bars, a bunch of tables in the center, and a handful of booths with tall, plush, curved backs along one wall. A trio of huge palm trees help the place to feel more tropical. Immediately striking, and more or less dwarfing attention away from the two Tikis in the balcony, are two ten foot tall pedestals with drum kits perched atop them. More on that later.
Overall, however the dining area doesn’t scream “Tiki”. Really, it doesn’t even whisper it. Three palm trees, two Mai Tikis and a few bits of bamboo are not nearly enough to make this large space feel tropical, especially since the ceiling is decorated in the industrialist “open ducts and conduits” look, with motorized nightclub lights suspended from it. The main floor’s bar is separated from the restaurant seating area by a glittery silvery curtain which - along with the extensive lighting rig hung from the ceiling and the drum kits - make the place seem more like a trendy night club. And guess what: it is! After about 10:00 to 11:00 PM on weekends, the tables are removed, the DJ cranks up the techno tunes, drummers man their lofty posts to jam along with the DJ, and the velvet rope vibe is in full effect.
I can hear hardcore Tikiphiles gagging already, but wait: there is redemption here, and even reason to make the trek to Schaumburg to visit the Bamboo Room. First, the food, and second, the Tiki Bar on the balcony.
Prior to turning into a disco, the restaurant portion of the Bamboo Room serves excellent food. Their menu includes a mixture of Asian and American dishes, befitting any proper restaurant in our idiom. The Crab Rangoon ($5.95), a Tiki Bar staple, is better than normal at Bamboo Room, not at all greasy, and the crab-paste stuff inside is particularly flavorful. It comes with a fruity and sweet marmalade-like sauce. The servers will also bring you a big basket of crispy sesame flatbreads with a yummy spicy peanut sauce.
For an entree, I tried the Chilean Sea Bass, and it was amazing. Served with your choice of side dish (I had the mashed potatoes - very good) an one of four sauces (they’ll bring out more than one if you ask), this was a seriously tasty piece of fish. Even at $21.00, I was impressed. All of the sauces were very good except for one, which tasted like the sectret sauce on a Whopper - thousand island dressing and pickle relish.
My dining companion had a mixed lettuce salad ($4.95), which we assumed was going to be a standard iceberg lettuce and cucumber deal, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was a more cosmopolitan (and healthier) baby greens mixture with dandelion, purple cabbage, sprouts, and all of that wholesome stuff. Her entree was the only vegetarian dish on the menu (note that point, veggie people), Crispy Noodle Cakes and Veggies, which are fried Asian noodles (almost like Jewish potato pancakes), and served with stir fried vegetables. Not bad either, and half the price of the fish.
Our server was excellent and practically force-fed us a pair of desserts. The Fondue was good, with white chocolate swirled on top of a bowl of darker chocolate, and served with chunks of pineapple, kiwi fruit, strawberries, pound cake, and brownies. The Chocolate Lava Cake is a chocolate brownie filled with a raspberry sauce the leaked out upon digging in. It is served with a scoop of Tahitian vanilla ice cream. Tahitian ice cream? How did they invent ice cream in Tahiti? Is there even ice there? Never mind: it was tasty! The Brule comes recommended as well.
All in all, this was an excellent meal in a plush environment with great service. But I will reiterate: don’t expect Tiki in the dining room cum night club. The two giants from Mai Tiki on the balcony almost seem out of place here. However, they do flank the entrance to the Tiki Bar, a small room separated from the rest of the premises, accessible via the balcony.
Now, the Tiki bar is a whole different story. A lot of thought went into it (Curtis, the guy who designed it, is said to be a huge Tiki fan), and the owners (Gary and David) made a good decision in giving him creative free reign. All of the expected accouterments are present. Look for a trio of nice-sized blowfish, lit from within in primary colors. The bar top is covered with vintage Hawaii and Tiki Bar postcards, as well as money from Fiji, trapped under the inch of Lucite. The expected thatch and bamboo wall constructions are present, and a thatched roof hangs over the bar. Comfortable seating areas with fat sofas are across from the bar. Framed vintage Tiki Bar memorabilia covers remaining free wall space. Most of it looked like it was pulled off of the internet and printed out; I know that Octavio (Winky Tiki) is not selling laserprints of his photography just yet, and there it was on the wall (with his logo cropped off): that blondie in the leopard bikini from his web site. The room isn’t big: a touch smaller smaller than the Taboo Cove (Las Vegas) or Rock-A-Tiki (Chicago) but bigger than Tiki Ti (natch).
The music was acceptable: a random mix of rockabilly, Hawaiian, and a single instance of traditional Polynesian drumming were mixed with some inexplicable bad lite-Salsa stuff. No Exotica, but the Hawaiian and old-school Rockabilly worked for me. Now, the 18” sub woofer suspended from the ceiling gave me pause; I would hope that with a huge disco right outside the door, that the Tiki Bar would function as a refuge or chill-out area for the disco crowds on the weekend, and not be home to further low-frequency bombardment. Time will tell.
The Tropical Drink menu was assembled by Curtis, Gary, David, and Mike, the bar manager. The menu is extensive, with a lot of classics included among the thirty-ish drinks: Suffering Bastard, Mai Tai (with ‘secret’ ingredients), Scorpion, Zombie, Singapore Sling, Navy Grog, Blue Hawaiian, and Kon Tiki. Drinks are served in glass in the restaurant, and in Tiki mugs from KC, Dynasty, and Tiki Farm in the bar. Excellent. Drinks are typically priced reasonably in the $5-$6 range, but drink prices are not printed on the menu, so beware. We watched the bartender (fresh off of a job at Applebees) ring up our first few rounds and initially had no complaints. However things fluctuate hugely: we got a big-time sticker shock after being charged $21 for a Scorpion Bowl. The Scorpion was served in the triangular Trader Vics-style bowl with the three little bald guys on each corner (now available in repro form from Dynasty). This bowl does not hold anywhere near four times the liquid of a standard Tiki Mug, it holds barely twice, in fact. Charging four times the amount of a normal drink for (essentially) a ‘double’ is out of control. This kind of pissed me off, especially since the drink prices are not posted or printed anywhere. I guess it is wrong to make assumptions, but we were thinking $12 to $14 for the bowl. They also have larger Volcano bowls with the tropical scenes along the outside and the volcano in the middle; this is indeed a much larger drink and might fetch $21 (I’d go $18 personally), but that $21 fee for the mini-bowl is a total rip off.
...especially since the drink tasted like ass.
Do not, under any circumstances order a Scorpion form the Bamboo Room’s Tiki Bar unless you want to be overcharged for a crappy drink.
The Blue Hawaiian was acceptable. Normally, I am not a fan of them, but this one was palatable.
The Mai Tai we got with dinner looked good: cloudy yellow-brown, as it should be, and garnished with a pineapple wedge and a cherry. All I can say is that is was warm, and so right off the bat, I’m not gonna recommend it. Is it so hard to shake these things up with some ice before serving? Just dropping a few cubes into the glass doesn’t cool the warm booze off, people!
Navy Grog tasted like cheap rum and water with a splash of fruit juice, but I guess that’s probably what they really drank in the Navy, 100 years ago.
The Kon Tiki was the best of what we tried; like a boozy milkshake.
The Zombie was acceptable as well.
None of the drinks were excellent.
Next door, adjoined to the main restaurant is KoKo Cafe, a mid-priced dining alternative, featuring the local favorite Johnny D’s pizza.
The Bamboo Room is an excellent upscale restaurant. The food and service are terrific; a few of the entrees are a little expensive but worth it given the quality. All of the staff members were exceptionally friendly. Although not at all Tiki, the atmosphere is pleasantly trendy (if you don’t look at the ho-hum formerly hip but really ugly “Terry Gilliam’s Brazil” ceiling), but beware of the nightclub vibe after 10 PM. The Tiki Bar looks great, they really did a nice job, but the drinks need some work. Now, I said the same thing about Rock-A-Tiki last year: that it looked great but the drinks needed work. They got their act together pretty well, so perhaps the same will happen here. To be fair, I guess it is hard to train 22 year old Applebee’s bartenders to actually make drinks more complex than a rum n’ coke or perhaps, on a challenging day, a Manhattan. So given time and commitment, this may very well shape up to be a nice Tiki oasis in the Chicago suburbs.
Until then, it’s still Hala Kahiki for atmosphere and Chef Shangri-La for drinks.
Their grand opening party is this Friday, December 26 at 9 PM.
[ Edited by: tikibars on 2003-12-24 17:51 ]
Good review JT. It made me hungry but not too thirsty.
Tahitian vanilla is supposed to be the best, but I wonder how many chefs really use vanilla from Tahiti.
Yet another great review, JT! Sounds intriguing... bummer about the drinks. How far is Schaumburg from Chicago?
thanks for the warnings james, im headed to hala,chef, and the bamboo room tonight!!...look forward to seein this new addition to chicagos tiki digs....
Judging by the fabulous review, my guess is JT must of got comped! This place is without a doubt one of the worst experiences for any true tikiphile! It's nothing more than a DISCO MEAT MARKET! Please do not waste your precious time or hard earned cash.The way I see it is alot of Tiki don't mean diddley if there is no ambiance to make your experience complete. If you still have the urge to check this place out go ahead, and while your at it you might want to check out Cheeseburger in Paradise, a new place in suburban Downers Grove, IL (it has Tikis too JT, and just maybe you can get another free meal)!!
The Chicago Tiki Mafia
[ Edited by: La Tiki Nostra on 2004-01-03 23:46 ]
It's just out side of Chicago. Maybe a 20 to 25 minute drive (I drove it during rush hour) The best thing about Schaumburg is the super huge IKEA and lots of semi-upscale (for suburbia that is) shopping.
Thank God The Tiki Bar Is Open
[ Edited by: feelin' zombified on 2004-01-03 21:43 ]
I'd say that my complaints about being overcharged for drinks pretty much cancel this theory out. I pay like everyone else.
I stand by my comments AtomikTiki, er I mean Nostra: great food in a non-Tiki atmosphere, decent but tiny Tiki Bar, lame drinks, speculated lame crowd after 10 (I was there before 10). I don't really see this as a glowing review.
"(if you don’t look at the ho-hum formerly hip but really ugly “Terry Gilliam’s Brazil” ceiling)"
Ha ha ha! PERfect description, JT! Makes me want to wear little hats shaped like shoes when I visit there FOR THE FOOD in the future someday!
All above comments are moot.
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