Cooking with jazz

By Allan I. Ross

Chinese restaurant stirs live music, world cuisine into wok

Ever since it opened, East Lansing’s Oodles of Noodles/New Dynasty Buffet/ Bamboo Room has bobbed and weaved between being a dine-in Chinese restaurant, a lunch smorgasbord and a Friday night dance club. But a new force has finally united the establishment and it’s, well, pretty jazzy.

“My partner is leaving, so I’m starting a new little adventure here,” said owner Jose Miroquesada. “One of our regular guests suggested bringing in live jazz, so I thought, ‘Sure, why not?’”

Oodles of Noodles opened in 2003 as a Chinese restaurant in the shell of the old Pretzel Bell building. The back section was turned into a buffet room and dubbed New Dynasty Buffet, creating a two-restaurantsin-one facility that also produced a somewhatunclear branding message. Further complicating matters was the fact that each establishment had a separate entrance. Then along came the Bamboo Room. “We had a promoter that came in and wanted to turn the front area into a club,” Miroquesada said. “He brought a lot of people in here for Friday night salsa dancing lessons, but no one was ordering food.”

Miroquesada and the promoter have severed the unofficial partnership. The front area is still called the Bamboo Room (complete with the giant paper balls hanging from the ceiling, a 10-foot-tall waterfall and a full bar) and is a full-service restaurant. In the middle is Oodles of Noodles, a traditional Chinese restaurant, which can expand into the third buffet section (the New Dynasty Buffet name was recently dropped), which is now only open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Miroquesada has tweaked the regular dishes to focus on guest favorites and introduced a new global element to the menu.

Which brings us to his idea for re-imagining the Bamboo Room. On Thursday nights, Rodney Whitaker, director of jazz studies at Michigan State University’s College of Music, will use the space as a sort of practical lab for his students to perform live jazz for diners. Sundays will also have jazz, with a focus on singing, and on Saturdays, starting this week, Miroquesada will unveil his new concept: Milonga Nights. “We’re going to offer four-course dinners and tango lessons for $25 per person,” he said. “Every week the main dish in the dinner will be from a new country, starting in China this week. We’re going to include dishes from Argentina, Peru, Europe — this is going to be a lot of fun.”

Items featured this week include orange flavored chicken ($9.95), which is stirfriend chicken with a spicy orange peel-flavored sauce. Another choice will be shrimp two flavors ($12.95), which comes with lightly fried grand mariner shrimp and sweet and sour shrimp. The dinners also include soup, salad and dessert.

Miroquesada is hoping for a good turnout for Milonga nights. He said he almost didn’t re-open this year after an end-of-year shutdown in late December, but demand from regulars convinced him to re-open in January with a limited menu. “I started asking the regulars for ideas, so that’s how we got to where we are now,” he said. “I hope this is going to be what does it for us.”

Oodles of Noodles and the Bamboo Room, 1020 Trowbridge Road, East Lansing. (517) 333-7171. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon – 9 p.m. Sunday.