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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: May 30, 2017

Get super-sized soups at Bamboo Bistro in Westbrook

Written by: Ray Routhier
The pho with rare beef at Bamboo Bistro is served with a side plate of basil, cilantro, sprouts, jalapeno slices and lime.  Staff photos by Ben McCanna

The pho with rare beef at Bamboo Bistro is served with a side plate of basil, cilantro, sprouts, jalapeno slices and lime.
Staff photos by Ben McCanna

I had never seen or tasted a bottomless bowl of soup before.

But that’s what I had, essentially, when I ate lunch at Bamboo Bistro on the fringe of downtown Westbrook. It was like some sort of noodle soup miracle. The more I ate, it seemed like the more there was.

I ordered the BBQ pork, wonton and egg noodle soup, for $10.95. The bowl was like something I might mix cake batter in, filled with a chicken broth and about a half-pound of noodles, maybe more. Then there were the tender slices of barbecue pork and lots of pork dumplings, not to mention what appeared to be bright green bok choy and other fresh vegetables.

It came with a plate of shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, Jalapeño slices and a lime. The menu explained you could mix in as much or as little of the plate’s contents. I put it all in my soup, and it was wonderful.

I ate the noodles with chopsticks, which maybe why it seemed like the lasted forever. But it was a very generous portion.

The Vermicelli Salad Noodle with grilled chicken at Bamboo Bistro.

The Vermicelli Salad Noodle with grilled chicken at Bamboo Bistro.

My wife, Jessica, had the equally enormous pho rice noodle soup with rare beef, for $9.95. It came with the same plate of mix-ins, and there was a little explainer on “how to enjoy pho” in the menu, including how to pick the leaves off the basil branch and how to break up the Asian cilantro into small pieces. The menu also said you could use some hoisin sauce for a salty/sweet flavor or some sriracha sauce for a hotter flavor.

The Bamboo Bistro, open since December, serves up a mix of Asian flavors with a focus on pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, and other noodle dishes.

It’s located on Cumberland Street on the way to downtown Westbrook in a one-story building that’s housed other restaurants.

We sat in one of the giant windows near the front, looking out onto a deck. The place itself has a casual vibe, with a bar and a couple of TVs on. The service was quick and very friendly.

The non-pho soup menu included a half-dozen types of rice or egg noodle soups with pork, chicken, seafood and wontons.

The pho came with either chicken, rare beef, stewed flank steak, beef meatballs, seafood or tofu and veggies, ranging in price from $10.95 to $12.95.

When I go back, I’d like to try a vermicelli salad noodle bowl, the varieties of which range in price from $10.95 to $13.95. The bowl is filled with vermicelli noodles, cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts, chopped lettuce, onion, mint, fried onion, scallion oil and ground peanut. Then you can pick from eight toppings, including grilled pork, beef, chicken or shrimp, crispy egg roll, pork patties or fried tofu.

There are also stir-fried wok plates, where you can mix meats or seafood – including scallop or calamari – with lo mein noodles, pad Thai noodles, vermicelli, or pineapple fried rice.

Then there are stir-fried wok dishes served on rice, including ones focusing on spicy ginger, hot basil leaves, lemongrass, curry or orange chicken. There are also rice plates, steamed jasmine or brown rice served with fried eggs, pickled veggies, tomato and sweet and sour sauce, topped with your choice of meat or shrimp.

The appetizer list includes some Asian restaurant standards like crab rangoon, coconut shrimp and dumplings. But there are more unusual items as well, including sizzling quail eggs.

The green salads include an Asian slaw, a minced chicken salad and a sliced beef salad. There’s also a bar so you can have a beer or glass of wine with your meal.

But, if you have a drink, sip slowly and save room for the soup broth.

BAMBOO BISTRO

WHERE: 1 Cumberland St., Westbrook
HOURS: 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday
WAIT: About 10 minutes
PARKING: Yes
HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE: There’s a step up from the sidewalk.
INFO: bamboobistrome.com

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