Monday, December 17, 2007
A favorite of locals and a darling of restaurant reviewers, Ackee Bamboo on Degnan helps to alleviate LA's need for some good Jamaican food. Kingston-born proprietress Marlene Sinclair and her husband Delroy serve up generous portions to the hungry customers who are often making a special pilgrimage to Leimert Park just to try her jerks and curries.
The oxtails may be the best I've ever eaten. Of course, oxtails are kind of like sex. The last one always seems like the best one. And it was fantastic. The short ribs are also exceedingly tender. Ackee Bamboo starts off with excellent cuts of meat, treats them well and spices with a delicate hand. Goat meat leans towards toughness, and is an easy dish to ruin. The care and long braise it receives here yields a much more tender result. Although I've had hotter curries, the meat is far superior to any other I've tried. The jerk chicken is served with an excess of the traditional paste of ground peppers, herbs and spices. The paste acts as a sauce, so the chicken is almost stewed, rather than the more common dry finish we usually see on jerks in the United States. The talapia filet is cooked in a similar sauce. In fact, if there is any criticism to be made against Ackee Bamboo, it is that some of their dishes taste exactly the same. But when sameness is delicious, why complain?
The festival bread is addictive, although like any fried bread, the quality quickly deteriorates once you take it home. The bland rice and peas (actually beans) are a welcome relief from the heat of the main dishes. The cabbage has been cooked long enough to remove all pungency and is cleverly mixed with shredded carrots, whose sweetness not only complements, but improves the overall flavor of the cabbage. Callaloo is cooked like greens, but is milder, without a trace of bitterness. It is almost like a heartier strain of spinach.
The square patties are flatter and larger than the typical half-moon pastries. The beef patties are surprisingly hot, with a slightly acidic undertone. The chicken patties are made with ground chicken, and surprised me by surpassing the beef in flavor. The vegetable patties immediately cause me to regress to a six-year-old child with a mouthful of spinach. Another palate will have to judge that one, along with the ackee and salt fish.
They serve all manner of interesting bottled juices and drinks. The romantically named Honey Punch is a combination of fruit juices and honey, the most dominant flavors being lemon, strawberry and pineapple. Sipping the Lychee-Pineapple juice was like drinking out of a hummingbird feeder, and the June Plum juice is probably an acquired taste. Ginger beer burns with ginger, so it may not be the best match for spicy dishes. They have a pink version of Ting, the national soda of Jamaica. Ting is a grapefruit soda that would probably go well mixed with gin.
Located in a pretty square across from 5th Street Dick's Cafe, Ackee Bamboo's decor is homey and easygoing. Everything is spotless. You need a key to use the restrooms outside, but the restrooms are also sparkling clean. The practical furniture doesn't invite lingering, but this may be the one of the few places in town that gets you in and out before your lunch hour is over. That doesn't mean you have to rush off. People hang out on the comfortable couch or at the patio tables outside, greeting friends as they pass and giving the restaurant a warm, neighborly feel.
Ackee Bamboo (323) 295-7275
4305 Degnan Blvd. Ste 100 LA CA 90008