Photography by Beau Gustafson
Bamboo on 2nd is a new, wildly popular Asian fusion and sushi restaurant located at 2212 Second Avenue North. Given bamboos are among the world’s fastest growing plants, the restaurant is aptly named. Bamboo on 2nd opened in July, and immediately grew to maximum capacity nightly. Seating 70, with no reservations taken, the restaurant is almost full when we arrive at 5:30 p.m. on a weeknight. It is advised to arrive early or expect to wait, and note that the restaurant cannot accommodate large groups.
You may recognize Sam Fallaw from the former Tavern on the Summit. Former owners Fallaw and Bernie Smith began looking for a new place when Tavern closed. And it was their good fortune—and perhaps fate—to meet chef Abhi Sainju. A self-trained chef, Sainju is a native of Nepal. He started sharpening his knives in 1996, when he moved to U.S. and could not find the same food that he had growing up. Sainju more recently began his own sushi catering business, Everest Sushi, in 2013. Upon meeting, the three men discussed their passions for Asian cuisine and sushi. Seasoned restaurateurs Fallaw and Smith have 25 years of restaurant experience in Birmingham and beyond. Combining their restaurant expertise with Sainju’s culinary skills, the three formed a partnership to create Bamboo on 2nd.
In Asian culture, bamboo means peace and tranquility. The ambience of Bamboo on 2nd was actually inspired by Allan Francis’ serene painting of Asian fisherman. This painting adorns the sidewall in the front window, above the community table. Sharp color contrasts of crisp white, metal chairs, and bold orange upholstery brighten and liven the entire dining space. The main bar flanks one exposed brick wall. A banquette lines the other wall, with bamboo lights hanging above. And at the far end of the space is the sushi bar. Bamboo is incorporated under the counter at the main bar and sushi bar, and along the privacy wall that conceals the servers’ work area. And above all is a burlap-draped wooden ceiling. Eight auspicious symbols of good luck (in Tibetan culture) adorn the draped burlap. The symbols were widely used in Tibet to adorn temples and monasteries. And in recent years, with the increasing popularity of Tibetan Buddhism, they have become globally accepted as general symbols of good fortune, displayed and worn to attract prosperity and harmony. Appleseed Workshop designed and built the space. Bamboo on 2nd opens at 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It closes at 10:00 on Monday through Thursday and at 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Dining at Bamboo on 2nd is an intimate experience of sushi rolls, noodle bowls, and small plates that lend themselves to sharing. We start with Blueberry Smash cocktails. Served in a low ball on the rocks, the thirst-quenching refreshers are made of blueberry vodka, muddled mint, and lemonade. From the specialties list, we order momos. These succulent steamed Nepalese dumplings of ground turkey and Alabama tomato vinaigrette are absolutely delicious and highly recommended. I love Champagne with Asian food, so we opt for a classic, Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label Brut, from the wine list. And with it we pair lumpia, from the small plates section. These crisp Filipino egg rolls are filled with turkey, carrot, celery, and water chestnuts and are served with a delightful house sweet sauce that makes the dish.
The bamboo skewers offer a variety of chicken, beef, shrimp, and pork options. We opt for the pork belly adobo. The thinly sliced, tender bites of succulent pork belly melt in the mouth and are further enhanced by the tangy honey sriracha sauce. We skip the salads and sandwiches but look forward to trying them next time.
Bamboo’s sushi list is extensive, with some having whimsical names, such as the Wham Bam Birmingham. Yet we take Fallaw’s suggestion of Abhi’s Beer Battered Tuna, with cream cheese, seared salmon with sriracha, aioli, and eel sauce. Good advice. Until tonight I had only heard how extraordinary Sainju’s sushi was. I had never experienced it myself nor met the chef before now, and I must agree. The pristine rolls and Asian fusion are indeed the magic of a masterful chef.