Bambu Noodle House @ Stampede Casino – Calgary, AB


Bambu Noodle House
421 – 12 Avenue SE
Calgary, Alberta T2G 1A5
(403) 514-0900

Casinos are interesting studies for the foodie.  In a society that increasingly emphasizes food, casinos, in theory, should be home to great restaurants. After all, it is in their best interest to keep you on the premises for as long as possible. However, restaurants don’t generally contribute to the bottom line of a casino – gaming does. So the dichotomy between wanting to keep you there, without giving up premium gaming space makes for some interesting results.

Bambu Noodle House is one of three restaurants open inside the new Stampede Casino. Positioned as a Pan-Asian noodle house that serves up the best in Chinese, Vietnamese,  and Japanese cuisine, the theory is actually quite sound. Not meaning to stereotype, but a lot of Asians gamble. And Asians like Asian food. At all hours. Seems like a great fit. I myself am hoping for the equivalent of a Pho stand – simple, cheap, and tasty.

The space is pretty nice from a far – dramatic reds, backlit walls, high ceilings, polished concrete – it’s designed like a modern day bistro. On closer look, most of the finishing values are pretty cheap. Laminate. Cheap cloth. Exposed wiring. Nothing really grievous, but not as sexy as it first appeared.

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I seat myself at the bar – and eventually am delivered a menu. The first thing i notice is things aren’t that cheap. appetizers run in the $6-$8 range, and entrees from $7-$14. The second thing i notice is how the line is setup – it’s 3 woks over high intensity burners, a deep fryer, a grill, and some steaming stock pots. Everything is stainless. It looks like a fairly efficient operation for one person to operate.

Looking at the stir fry “rice bowl” next to me, I decide to opt for the Pho. The stir fry actually looked pretty reasonable in the wok – it was heated very hot, smoking oil, quick cooking time. The ingredients did look a bit…sad though.

My bowl of Pho takes 20 minutes to deliver. A bit frustrating, especially for lunch, and somewhere that is relatively quiet (maybe 6 other patrons?). The first thing that comes out is the garnish plate. Oh dear. It did not bode well.

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Yes, that’s it. I didnt eat anything before snapping the picture, which is in extreme close up to try and fill the frame  – that was the extent of the sprouts, and basil i got. Four leaves, about 25 sprouts.

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The Pho itself arrived long after the garnish plate, and was just as disappointing. The broth was a wonton broth. The noodles? Thin chinese rice noodles. The beef was cut thickly, and was the wrong cut of beef for Pho. There was broccoli in it. And the entire bowl? Really really bad. Tasted like dirty dish water. I ate the ingredients, took three sips to make sure i was tasting the same thing, paid and walked out. 35 minutes to get my order, 3 minutes to finish. Not the most flattering ratio.

That’s really all i have to say. Since that time, i noticed they’ve removed the Pho from the menu. But some other menu items havent changed. The prices have gone up, and a new Chinese emphasis is there. In theory, with the equipment they have there, they should be able to produce some good chinese. However, based on the quality of the ingredients, and the expertise of the staff, I have no hopes of this place ever producing passable food. I wouldnt eat here ever again. I’d rather eat a chocolate bar.

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10 thoughts on “Bambu Noodle House @ Stampede Casino – Calgary, AB

  1. Casinos. Food. This is Calgary.
    They must use a different business model when it comes to enticing gamblers to stay. The food isn’t helping, that’s for sure.

    Vegas on the other hand……

  2. You’re right HPeter, but it’s too bad really – what city it is shouldnt matter should it? I have left many casinos that didnt have food I wanted to eat at midnight/1am. If they did, i likely would’ve stayed a few more hours, giving them even more opportunities to steal my lunch money!

    Though i guess it might be the difference in destination travel, versus gaming in your home city – there’s likely a difference in mentality. But if you look at the gaming competition in town, it’s quite fierce. There are a LOT of casinos. According to the laws of competition, if there isnt enough market share for all of them, they should start to try and differentiate themselves. Good food would be a good start.

  3. I heard some positive feedback about the buffet at Grey Eagle. Last month it was seafood themed @ 22.00, with King Crab etc.

    Indeed it should not matter where a casino is located, no better way to a gambler’s wallet than through his stomach. If I judge your meal by food cost, it should be a 100% comp for 15 minutes of play on a Nickel slot….THAT’s how they built Vegas.
    Keep in mind that a very significant percentage of gaming revenue in Vegas is generated by locals, who always fall for the buffet comp after they had to play an hour.

    But this is a food blog, not a gaming analysis…..so I stop now.

  4. I hate experiences like the one you just described. You try a new place and the food turns out to be less than serviceable and expensive. That’s got to be the saddest looking bowl of pho ever, I probably would’ve left after the bean sprouts came out. The fact that it’s a pan-asian noodle place would’ve turned me off right away, but thanks for trying it and letting us know. Been reading this for a few weeks and first time posting.

  5. HPeter – havent ventured over to Grey Eagle yet. The smoking aspect is a bit offputting to me.

    And yes, your gaming analysis is probably bang on. The issue is casinos just don’t have enough volume to run lucrative reward programs here.

    Steven N – i agree with you 100% – im not thrilled with experiences that turnout this way. However, im of the mindset you never find the great diamonds if you don’t eat a lot of coal along the way. It was a sad bowl of pho, but i was in the area, and sometimes, you just take have to take one for the team. :)

    Anyway, thanks for your comments – look forward to your thoughts on other subjects that interest you!

  6. I was debating if I should write this anonymously (i.e., use something like “Anonymous Coward”) or not. At first, I did but that failed when something went wrong with my browser and that gave me time to reconsider it. Having said that…

    I have worked in the gaming industry and here are some details about casinos average people don’t know (all are applicable to Canada, not sure if outside):

    1) Depending on the province, a casino can be operated by a crown corporation (Ontario), licenced to local operators (BC) or a mix (to my understanding, Alberta – though I can be wrong on this one). To a certain extent, for some provinces, saturation is not necessarily a concern. Take a look for example at Niagara Falls: there are two casinos there, Fallsview and Casinos Niagara and both are a couple of blocks from each other…

    2) Depending on the casino operator, food operations (beverage is almost a given) could be outsourced to third parties. Likewise, the operator can choose obtain licences from chains like Triple O’s (River Rock in Richmond) and A&W (Grand Villa Casino in Burnaby). In larger operations, they could even lease some space to a large restaurant. Kirin in Starlight Casinos (New Westminster) would be such an example. In the case of licences, as you can guess, that creates a cost overhead.

    3) There has been a shift of focus in the last couple of years where the plan is to build “entertainment destinations” rather than “gaming destinations” (something that Vegas has done already). This is why you see nowadays sports bar/lounge, theatres, hotels and/or fine-dining restaurants (Kirin mentioned above) along with the casino. The expectations are, of course, if you would go to any of these, you will end up going to the casino as well and/or vice-versa.

    4) Foodosopher, I will assume this place you went was located in the food court area rather than the “fancy” restaurant. If that’s the case, your experience will not surprise me. Don’t get me wrong, you could either get good food or somewhat crappy food there. What you must understand is that the food court is not targetted at people who might be coming to the casino for a quick lunch. Rather, it is for people playing at the casino who wants something to eat. The expectation for a non-gambler is for them to go to the “fancy” one or the buffet (if it is available).

    5) About comps, H.Peter, yes and no. For one, no location in Canada have such saturation of casinos that those tactics used in casinos in Vegas will work. Can the local casino do that? Certainly they could but I have seldom seen that done. Unless, that is, you live in the high limit area…

    Having said all, I am planning to visit Ebo in Grand Villa, the most recent casino opened in Metro Vancouver. Will see how it goes… Oh, BTW, was the dining area close to the gaming floor? If it is, I am surprised you were able to take the pictures, as you are not allowed to do that inside the casino…

  7. Once again, thanks for biting the bullet. That looks like some depressing pho, I wonder what their sate version would have come out like. *shudder* I totally agree, sometimes you find that diamond in the most unusual place, but you have to dig in the dirt.

  8. Raidar,

    There was no sate version. Thankfully we’ll never find out.

    KimHo,

    Im glad you didnt write anonymously. That’s some great information. In this case though, i can clarify many of the details for you.

    Alberta’s casinos are licensed to local operators, but run under a charity casino guidelines (the exception being casinos on native reserve land, which are run strictly for profit. These licenses were granted in exchange for land and right of way for key infrastructure projects in Calgary and Edmonton). Charity casinos have a defined percentage of the proceeds that go to charity.

    In the case of the Stampede Casino, the operations of the casino were licensed out to a partner by the Stampede board. Im not sure if the food was outsourced, but I do not believe so.

    In the case of Bambu, it was not in the food court area. “Grasslands cafe”, which is also not very good, is their cafeteria style eatery. Sadly, this is the “fancy” asian restaurant. Stampede Casino also does food service to the poker room, so it’s not a huge surprise if they were targeting both gamblers, and outsiders with the two fancy restaurants. Of course, based on the speed of the meal, as a gambler, i’d be irritated.

    Lastly, while Calgary, and Alberta, may not have the density that Vegas, or even Tahoe or Reno do, there are a lot of casinos, per capita, in Alberta. Calgary alone has 7 licensed casinos – a lot for a city this size. They do have comp programs, you just have to be aware of them, rather than having them actively marketed. I guess they are after the hardcore gamblers who gamble frequently, who would know about all the available comps, rather than the casual Friday-nighter who likes to throw some money around for entertainment.

    The restaurant, and all the other restaurants and lounge facilities, circle the gaming floor. I actually took several pictures from inside the casino of the exterior of the restaurant. No one said anything :) But of course, from many food adventures, i am well practiced at hiding my camera!

  9. Firstly, within 1/2 hour of loosing over $100.00 on the machines with absolutely no payback on $20.00, then basicly loosing over $30.00 in the restraunt on food which was totally unacceptable, we will not be returning to this casino. Wow! a real money grabber, this was not a place for evening entertainment and fun, its a place to empty your pockets in frustration. We will be returning to other casinos for enjoyment.

  10. Bambu House at Stampede Casino is never open! Twice my officemates and I went hoping to have some of their Green Curry but noone was there. There is also no sign that the place is close. They should permanently close that shop if noone is manning the place. Don’t go, you will just waste your time!

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