Our table was ready at about the one-hour mark, as promised. The interior of the small (about fifteen tables) restaurant has Burmese artwork and sculptures adorning the walls. Not too extravagant or "in your face," but there is a definite theme here. After a few minutes someone came by to take our drink order. The wine list is not much to speak of, so I ordered the ginger lemonade (made from fresh ginger), and my fellow tablemates ordered the young fresh coconut drink -- an actual coconut with a straw poked through it! Both drinks are great, and without too much foreshadowing, they go perfectly with the Burmese cuisine, which has a little kick.
For starters we order two of my favorites: the Rainbow Salad and the Moo Hinga. The Rainbow Salad is not as famous in Burmese cuisine as the popular Tea Leaf Salad, which they also serve, but it is my favorite here as it combines twenty-two different ingredients. There are four types of noodles, papaya, dried shrimp, tofu, and a bunch of other things that I can't place! So refreshing, with great flavor and the perfect amount of "crunch." The Moo Hinga is a hearty catfish chowder served with rice noodles and onions. It's almost stew-like, and the flavor of the broth makes you lick the bowl clean.
After a refill of the lemonade, the main courses came. It's family style here, and today we ordered four dishes for the three of us: Spicy Crispy Chicken, Burmese-style curry with shrimp, SuperStar Noodles, and curry eggplant. Here's the rundown:
The Spicy Crispy Chicken is a simple yet flavorful dish of fried boneless chicken, which is served in a sauce with just the right blend of sweetness and tang. The blanched broccoli garnish was nothing spectacular but went well with the sauce.
The Burmese-Style shrimp curry was SO tasty! Simple, served with potatoes, but there was great flavor in the curry and it was awesome over rice.
The SuperStar noodles were flour noodles with cucumbers, potatoes, dried shrimp, and tofu. The dish was served cold. It had a great consistency, sort of like a Pad Thai. This dish was really good, and it had a surprising kick! This is where you appreciate the cold ginger lemonade and coconut drink! (Speaking of the coconut drink, when you've finished all of the liquid inside, you can ask them to cut the top off and then you have a small dessert of tender coconut flesh inside!)
One thing to remember is that it's not just the dishes themselves, but the combination of flavors that you're able to enjoy here! Have a mouthful of crispy chicken with curried potatoes and garlicky noodles at the same time and you'll know what I mean!
I didn't leave much room to talk about the desserts, but the one I had in mind after looking at the menu was the one that the waitress recommended, so we ordered it. It was an amazing fried coconut cream-filled pastry served with coconut ice cream and condensed milk and strawberry slices on the side. PERFECT!
And even though there was a crowd out front, we were not rushed out as we finished our meal. And the lively Clement area has great shops and stores, so you can walk off the wonderful meal that you just had!
Occupation: Information Technology
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Universal Café
Reviewed Burma SuperStar: Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Before I went to Burma, I decided to check online to see what people were saying about the place. The most consistent comments were that the food is great, but the service is awful and there is usually an hour wait. Well, knowing this, I decided to attempt to miss the hour-long wait for a table and arrive early. We showed up at 6:30pm and were greeted by a very gracious hostess who seated us promptly. I had a good feeling about his place right when I entered. Decor was somewhere between authentic and "Hey, we don't have a lot of cash, so we made do with what we had." But you could see there was some thought put into it.
Everything on the menu sounded good. Our waiter promptly introduced himself and took our drink order. I decided to go with the Ginger Lemon Beer, a half pitcher to split. Good stuff, very refreshing with a nice smooth ginger aftertaste -- not overpowering at all. I highly recommend this beer cooler concoction. For an appetizer, we went with the chix samosas. This was a recommendation by a buddy of mine who had been there several times before. He was another one who raved about the food then followed up with a sucky service comment. Anyway, I had to partially agree with him, the samosas were absolutely fabulous. Best I've ever had, and I have a place that I hold in very high regard when it comes to samosas. The curry spices, potatoes, and chix melded together beautifully. So we agree on that point, but so far the service had been great, not sucky at all. Next we went on to the famous twenty-two-ingredient Rainbow Salad. Lots of the online comments raved about this salad, so I had to have one. It comes out on a big plate with each of the ingredients sectioned out separately. Noodles, papaya, tofu, onions, shrimp, you get the picture. The young guy who brought it out asked us if we would like him to name all the ingredients. Of course we said yes. He did a great job -- not one second of hesitation as he rolled through all twenty-two ingredients. Then, he proceeded to toss/mix all the good stuff together. Another winner in my book. But this is where we hit climax, at least when it came to the food.
Before I go on with the food journey, I must make some comments on the service at this place. For me, it was a complete one-eighty from what I had read and heard. Granted we arrived at 6:30, and the place was maybe a quarter full. I can see this place getting very busy and, due to its size, it might be hard to move around. But in any case, I was impressed with the teamwork that went on in this place. Our food was brought out by several different people throughout our meal, and they were all very gracious and professional. Water refills and plate clearing was timely. As the place started to fill up and the line started to form outside, the temperature inside started to get a little warm. To me, this is a big problem. I hate being at a restaurant when it's not a comfortable temperature inside. Makes me antsy and want to leave. This only started to happen after our dessert came, so it was no big deal. Back to the food…
Our main courses are where it started to go downhill for me. We ordered the pumpkin stew and the chix casserole (the casserole was ordered on recommendation of our server). The pumpkin stew was one of the specials and was described as being served in a pumpkin. This made it sound kinda fun. Well, it wasn't served in a pumpkin but it did have chunks of pumpkin in it. They seemed to be very over-cooked, mushy pumpkin. Yuk! The stew-like broth was hard to make out, but it did have a good favor to it. There were also big chunks of beef that seemed a bit too chewy for my liking. All in all, this was not a winner for me. The Chix Casserole was equally as disappointing. It was very dry rice with a chixleg buried within. The chixleg was not very appetizing because it seemed too brown. Maybe it was the sauce it was cooking in. Don't get me wrong, neither one of the dishes were inedible, just not as spectacular as I had expected. Dessert was straight up BAD. We ordered the Paluda and ice cream sundae made with bread pudding. It sounded good, but what came out was something that reminded me of some kind of experimental concoction I would have come up with when I was five years old. Its colors consisted of red, white, and purple. That's cools...but the taste was gross. There was a milky liquid that had a very artificial taste, which overpowered all other flavors in this thing. Me, wanting to look for the good in all things, decides to take my spoon all the way down to the bottom of the glass to get a taste of the red jewels nicely tucked away at the bottom of the murky sludge. Score!! I get a bunch of these things in my spoon as I pull it back up through the mix of ice cream, milk of magnesia, and then I promptly shove the entire spoon load into my mouth. OH MY GOD… I said this out loud, so everyone is looking at me. Now, do I spit out these jelly balls that taste like a synthetic cancer-causing material, or do I force them down my throat with the remaining splash of ginger lemon beer? I choose to do the latter and am thanking GOD for the yummy ginger aftertaste from the beer. I may have been exaggerating a little on the dessert, but I definitely won't recommend it.
To end, I must say a few more things. I'm sure this place has some good stuff on the menu other that what we had for our main courses, and I was most impressed by the service -- top-notch in my book. As for the bathroom. The bathroom was pretty standard, nothing to write home about as far as decor. It was clean and well stocked. Overall, a nice place. I would and will give it another go.
Occupation: Flight Attendant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Paul K
Reviewed Burma SuperStar: Thursday, October 13, 2005
I am so lucky to live within walking distance of this gem of a restaurant. I travel the world looking for unusual foods and flavors, but this one saves me the jet lag while transporting me to an exotic foreign port.
The great service starts at the front door. If you arrive after 6 o'clock or so, a line starts to form for an available table. The guests put their names on a clipboard hanging by the front door, along with a cell phone number. This allows you to roam away from the entrance, and the hostess will call you when your table is ready. Now, that is innovative and so high-tech today.
There was even an unexpected bit of "entertainment" just after we were seated. A man came into the restaurant with a grocery store shopping cart full of meats, produce, and packaged goods. He wheeled it right between our table and the next, and pushed it right into the kitchen. Talk about fresh! We couldn't believe our eyes and laughed at the informality of it all.
I only have one problem with the menu. I am always torn between ordering the Ginger Salad and the Tea Leaf Salad. Just like the Rainbow Salad, which is a lovely array of noodles and spices, these two salads are presented on a plate as piles of individual ingredients. The gracious waitperson explains each component of the salads, e.g., pickled ginger, dried shrimp, fried garlic, sesame seeds, and split yellow peas, or imported Burmese tea leaves, tomatoes, and peanuts with the same seeds, peas, garlic, and shrimp. There is usually a vegetarian option offered in most selections. The individual piles are then mixed together and presented as a total salad -- refreshing and delicious. Each bite is an amalgamation of crunchy, soft, spicy, light -- a musical page full of staccato notes that all come together to dance a jig in your mouth.