The Hot Take
“They’re delicious, innovative, and a joy.”
On the eve of 2017, many of us are making promises to look forward for a new year. Unfortunately, since the beginning of the Wreview I’ve become… let’s say a bit more rotund, something I’ll be looking towards fixing in the future. I’m not one for resolutions myself, as there’s very little accountability and most people accept them as empty promises, but I know a great many people who’ve made them and succeeded. One of the top 10 resolutions in America every year is ‘eating healthier,’ which for a lot of people I’ve known have inspired them to go vegetarian or vegan. Now, we at the Wreview believe that ALL people should have wings, regardless of their dietary preferences, so this time we went vegan for this week’s wreview of…
140 West 4th Street (Greenwich Village)
This week marked the first time that we were joined by Benjamin Schaefer and Sarah Sheppard, as well as the return of Michael David. I’ll also note this was the first time that I came empty-handed to a wreview, which is to say I had nothing to take notes with, and nothing to give my compatriots to do the same.
Red Bamboo is a basement level establishment with a cozy interior. Down the short flight of stairs you will be greeted with a small but well-decorated interior with tables running down either side. The decor is tastefully Asian-themed, with some Japanese paintings and bamboo plants in wall alcoves. The atmosphere and clientele were on a very casual side of upscale, like maybe not a good place to take the kids, but great for a second date or to take your significant other’s parents as long as it’s not your first time meeting them.
While most of the menu here is in keeping with the Asian theme, they do offer a wide variety of non-Asian dishes as well, including Chicken* Parmesan, Spaghetti and Meat*balls, and a Philly Cheesesteak* to name a few. But most importantly to the endeavor at hand, they have wings on the menu.
They only serve 2 types of wings here, both in orders of five, which sticks the PPW at about $2.19. This isn’t the highest PPW to date, but these aren’t quite wings, either, and both of these facts work pretty well in their favor.
*not actual meat. This place does make concessions to the veganism with some dishes offering a choice of dairy cheese, but that’s the only exception I’ve seen.
What We Ordered
Red Bamboo offers only two types of wings: Curry, and Barbecue Buffalo, so we ordered both as well as their Chicken and Fries because I like having three things to write about. SS and I split a bottle of Malbec, while MD and BS had beer, again my lack of notes leaving me in a lack of specificity about the kinds.
Every plate they set in front of us looked great. The Chicken and Fries were plated like a traditional southern plate, the Curry laid flatter, ladled with sauce and plated with thick potato chunks, while the Buffalo Barbecue were stacked more like a traditional wing tossed in a thick red sauce. The Curry was served with what we surmised to be a yogurt sauce, while the Buffalo Barbecue was accompanied by a vegan sesame ranch. It all looked carefully and intentionally plated, and for their differences and the care they put in, the presentation earns an easy 4/5.
Chicken and Fries:
Right up top, despite what I said earlier, I’m giving the Chicken and Fries a pass. There wasn’t any sauce to speak of outside of the “breading” on the outside, which was not enough to differentiate it from the other two wings. While good in its own right, the only real difference from the wings were the size and shape.
I almost wanted to recuse myself from judging this sauce, because though I strive as a human to find a way to love flavors in general, curry is a flavor I still struggle to enjoy. SS “loved the sauce,” and it was “friggin’ delicious!” BS found them to be “far-superior to the Buffalo Barbecue.” While I don’t especially love curry, this sauce was actually really really good. I don’t know enough about curry to be able to call out the notes of flavor represented, but I found that when paired with the sauce and a bite of the potatoes it was incredibly pleasant. I think for getting me to enjoy curry alone is enough to propel this flavor to a 4/5.
Buffalo Barbecue is a bit of a misnomer here. The menu itself describes it as a spiced citrus BBQ sauce, and it really has no resemblance to any Buffalo sauce I’ve tasted before. SS liked that they still “had a little bit of heat,” and that they were “some of the better vegan wings I’ve had.” This citrus was very up-front and present, and the sauce permeated the wing very well, soaking into every bite. It was a very unique flavor to be sure, but despite this it didn’t seem to really excel in any notable way. While tasty, the Barbecue Buffalo was fairly unexceptional giving it a 3/5.
While not a lot of variety to speak of, Red Bamboo is doing great with what they have, and even despite my ambivalence at the Buffalo Barbecue I’m happy to give the overall sauce a 4/5.
This, I’m sure, is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. “Ryan,” I hear your call, “but how were the wings themselves? We know they’re not meat and we’re eager for your description!” Fear not, I will tell you everything.
One of the things that has deterred me the most from going to vegan restaurants is that for the most part, they all have ‘meat’ on their menu, by which I mean soy or seitan shaped and flavored to be meat. I love vegetables and sauces and love to see clever and interesting takes on new recipes, but, at least prior to this visit, I was of a mind to believe that if you’re going to be a vegan place, don’t make pretend meats. Let these foods be their own thing.
This said, had I not known what I was eating, and had their not been a wooden dowel in the middle to mimic a bone, if you had given me just one of these and told me it was a chicken tender, I would likely have believed you. I don’t know what sorcerers they have in their kitchen, but they have made this soy wing into a texture that is so meat-like that it is mind-blowing. The higher PPW becomes less of a factor here, considering how filling these faux-wings are. “They were… surprisingly filling.” Said BS “They were dense, and I was full after the second or third wing.”
As good as they were, I will add that the more you eat, the more apparent it is that they are not meat. As they cool, they get a chewiness to them that is evident of cooked soy, but it doesn’t diminish the white-meat flavor much if at all.
I’m at a crossroads here, and honestly the thing tipping scales in their favor of the higher score is that there is no single ingredient in this food that is in wings, and yet they did a wonderful job at replicating the experience. It’s with this in mind I kind of can’t do anything else but give it a 5/5.
The Hot Take
Eat the wings here. I’ll say that above everything else. Don’t get them for dinner, but go here with some friends and get them as an appetizer. If you’re a vegan, you’ll be familiar with the kind of trickery they do to imitate meat but you’ll also be happy and enjoy what they’ve done. If you’re a meat-eater, you’ll really be able to appreciate the work they’ve been able to put in to making a dish that so closely mimics the original. I don’t think eating a whole order of these by yourself will be great, given how the texture changes over time, but still: get the wings here. They’re delicious, innovative, and a joy. The splitting of hairs makes it a difficult call, because you have to try the wings here for sure, but I can’t say to go here just for the wings, but I’d say the Hot Take is that they have great wings first, and they’re vegan second, an easy 4/5.
I’m so thankful for all y’all that have come out to join me this year, both in eating wings and reading about them. I have a lot of exciting things coming up in 2017, including both a chain that tries to mimic the original Buffalo wing, as well as the wreview of my pilgrimage to Buffalo itself to see if the wings stack up to the ideal. Also, look forward to a minimum 3-part wreview of a Brooklyn joint that has so many varied sauces, it’s gonna take weeks to unravel. Happy New Years everyone, we’ll see you next time!
As always, the Weekly Wing Wreview and MaxFun.nyc are not affiliated with Maximum Fun or its associated products or brands. But we’re pretty big fans.