When I first reviewed Bamba, a lot of readers went off in the comments, saying that I was mistaken, or that it must have been a bad experience. And truly, since then, Bamba has become one of Aguirre’s most beloved restaurants, and Chef Tina Legarda has grown with it. There is hardly any complaint, nay a bad review, about the place, which serves international, slightly upscale comfort food in a setting that makes one feel at home. I always thought Bamba had potential, but had mistakes that were easily fixable. So it was time to revisit the neighborhood restaurant, and see what exactly we’d missed out on during our first review.
Not much on the menu has changed; there are a few new dishes, and maybe a few blackboard specials. But they are all distinctly Bamba, and all read like you’d want to order them any day of the week. Steak with the flavors of tapa? A sandwich with egg, honey, and truffle? Ravioli with cream of foie? It all strikes the perfect balance between slightly indulgent, but never too much, and seems to be the kind of dishes that could transition from brunch to dinner.
Salads are fully loaded, and the TAS (That Awesome Salad) has everything but the kitchen sink. Prawns, mushroom, salmon, fig mash, flakes of parmesan, crispy potato strings, and creamy balsamic. It seems a mouthful, maybe a messy concept, but you can’t deny how surprising the flavor combinations are. It’s like comfort stoner food a rich kid would make, using everything he can possibly find in his loaded refrigerator that has high-end produce. And it’s delicious.
The rest of Bamba’s menu seems done in the same way, a chock full of ingredients that shouldn’t work–sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does, it can lead to a tasty morsel. The tacos illustrate this perfectly. It combines two entirely different plates in one dish, a fish taco with shrimp and watermelon salsa, and beside it, a taco filled with tenderloin, sriracha aioli, and salsa verde. Some odd cheese distracted from the flavors of the ‘turf’ taco, and while the beef was cooked well, it was too much in the wrong direction. The fish taco, however, shines; mixed with some plump shrimp, the salsa gave the right amount of bright sweetness seafood needs. Part of me wishes that serving them apart would make for a better experience, but that again is little fault.
That being said, Legarda is at her best when she tones things down and keeps them simple. The seafood capellini lets the shrimp, squid, and mussels shine by dressing it with nothing but garlic, chili, and olive oil. The lamb adobo, which I had so many issues with, is now worlds away from being almost inedible to the kind of thing I would have for dinner every night if I could. My companion even said it was the best lamb adobo he’d ever had in the city. It was so tender, the sauce was never too salty, and the serving incredibly generous. Eating it with the mint jelly just took it into different territory, and spooning the garlicky sauce over the rice was a delight.
Bamba has improved eons from our first impressions. The service is a little funny (no need to tell you why), some dishes might be too much, but ultimately it is a comforting little place. This is why it’s always great to come back; you never know what to expect. And in this case, I’m glad I did.