If you haven’t made a reservation, there’s a sign-up sheet and a few seats in case there’s a wait for a table. One of the things I like best about this restaurant is the relatively short wait (less than 20 min) during mid-week dining.
Once we were seated, the service was prompt and attentive. The female waitstaff is dressed in crisp white button-down shirts and colorful sarongs, and the male waitstaff is in a dark shirt and pants. We were given water within a few minutes, and our drink order was taken shortly after. I decided to start with the mango lassi, a drink made by blending mango and yogurt. It wasn’t too sweet, and tasted like fresh mango was used, which I really enjoyed. We also ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc recommended by our waiter, which was very good and reasonably priced at less than $30.
Next up was ordering. This is the tough part because everything looks good. If you’re not sure, the waitstaff will be happy to help you choose, but making a bad decision is pretty difficult here. For the appetizer, I chose the Rainbow Salad – this has three kinds of noodles, a bit of soybean powder, a bunch of fresh vegetables (e.g. tomato, cucumber, carrot, onion, and red cabbage), and a light, tangy dressing. It comes to the table unmixed, and then your waiter or waitress will toss everything together after pointing out each ingredient. This is one of my favorite parts of coming here. I love that they take the time to do this, and are so attentive about making sure that everything is good and ready before serving.
As our main course, we ordered the walnut broccoli (with chicken) and the pumpkin curry (with chicken), which wasn’t on the menu, but was offered as a special. To round it out, we added the Mandalay Special Noodles.
While we waited, we noticed a few fun decorating choices: plastic palm tree lit with tube lights, a small geode fountain, and a ceiling covered with sparkly holiday ornaments. As with the service, it’s cheerful and fun.
When our food arrived, the walnut broccoli with chicken was excellent. The broccoli is perfectly steamed (a little soft but not completely limp), the walnuts provide an added layer of texture, and the chicken is just lightly breaded. The sauce is the star of this dish. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy, and not too overpowering (i.e. you can still taste the broccoli and the walnuts and the chicken).
We moved on to the pumpkin curry with chicken. The presentation of this dish was a pleasant surprise – it comes in a hollowed-out fresh pumpkin with a large sprig of basil. This was acceptable, but didn’t wow me. I loved the presentation, but found that this was at best just on par with other pumpkin curries I’ve tried. That having been said, the ingredients were very fresh (not limp and slimy, as they can be in some curries) and the flavor was nice.
Rounding out our main course roster was the Mandalay Special Noodles dish with tofu. If you don’t like lemongrass, this is not for you. If you’re a lemongrass fan like me, you’ll love this for the bright dressing. Like the Rainbow Salad, this comes to the table un-tossed, and after explaining each of the ingredients, the waiter will mix everything up for you. There are the flat noodles, lime juice, crispy noodles, and a lemongrass dressing. We got this with tofu, which comes in small fried cubes. This adds a bit of crunch to an otherwise smooth, slick noodle dish.
I decided to try a dessert, even though were full. The Paluda, a strawberry ice cream, tapioca, oat, nut, and sauce mixture with candy bits looked too interesting to pass up. I’ve never had anything like this – lots of flavors and very sweet. I don’t know that I would order it again, but I’m usually too stuffed to even think about dessert when I’m here.
Overall, I’ve found this to be one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. The waitstaff is cheerful, helpful, and attentive without being annoying (our conversation wasn’t interrupted to take away food, but they were at the ready when we were clearly done). The food is light without leaving you hungry, and the prices are more than reasonable for the quality that you’ll find on your plate.
Even if you have to go a little out of your way, you should try this quirky gem out in the Richmond district.
Location: San Mateo
Favorite Restaurant: Café Gibraltar
Reviewed Mandalay: Wednesday, May 18, 2011
It was a Wednesday night, and in the fridge at home, not an edible morsel could be found. Happily, with a chirp of the Gmail in-box, a Check, Please! Bay Area email has arrived. A quick spousal phone conference, a manifestation of my wife’s parking karma, and soon we stood in front of Mandalay, looking forward to sating our hunger.
The exterior of Mandalay looked much like the many well-worn San Francisco Chinese eateries. The interior, however, is warm and inviting. The Christmas-y ornaments that hang from the latticed beamed false ceiling give the room an odd and interesting festive air. The efficient staff sat and watered us (offered us beverage selections -- I ordered a Burmese ice coffee and my wife had the fresh, young coconut juice) and left us to contemplate the menu, and we entrusted our dinner and future breakfast to the Mandalay kitchens.
Nga pe jaw (deep fried fish cake) and Burmese fried eggplants began the meal. The nga pe jaw, though saltier than either my wife or I would’ve preferred, were flavorful and paired well with the accompanying pickled cucumber and carrots. The Burmese fried eggplants were hot and crispy; the well-flavored batter adds a hint of curry and kept the eggplant tender and moist without drowning it in oil. They were darn near perfect (and were served with the same dipping sauce and pickles as the fishcakes).
Burmese curried lamb, paratha (Burmese bread), Singapore-style noodles, dry pan-fried string beans (with tofu), and half of a tea-smoked duck continued the meal. After a little wait and some pleasant conversation, the Burmese curried lamb arrived with the paratha, described as Burmese bread. The curry was well flavored, with chunks of tender lamb contrasted by pieces of soft potatoes. The paratha, fluffy, multi-layered, and pleasantly oily, served as a perfect vehicle to sop up the spilled pools of curry. The Singapore-style noodles were the next to arrive, along with the dry pan-fried string beans. The noodles, with chicken, Chinese barbecued pork, and pan-fried prawns, were fragrant and filled one’s mouth with flavors of curry spices and just the right amount of chew. The string beans were also cooked perfectly, still retaining a nice snap while being well flavored with chilies and other ingredients (the tofu was deep-fried with a tender center). The last dish to arrive at the table was the tea-smoked duck. This dish was by far the standout of the meal. The skin on the dark brown duck was crispy to the bite and to my ears, releasing a small tasty portion of rendered duck fat with each eager bite. The meat was moist and hot, the fragrance and taste of the smoke permeating throughout. The flavor of the duck was so delightful that I didn’t use any of the accompanying sauce and buns at all, so focused was I on following a piece of duck with subsequent pieces of duck.
Though we were both quite full, and a bag of leftovers was following us home, we managed to talk ourselves into sampling the dessert section of the menu. Thus the mango with sticky rice and the intriguing paluda ice cream provided the ending to the meal. The mango with sticky rice was a great hit. The mango was sweet and was accentuated by the subtle sweetness of the coconut sauce drizzled sticky rice. The rice was served warm and the mango at room temperature, and this dish was a wonderful way to end the night. The paluda ice cream -- vanilla ice cream, tapioca beads, tropical fruits and Jell-O/gelatin -- was fantastically unusual, yet brought to mind memories of growing up in my homeland of Taiwan and the desserts I had enjoyed. It was certainly an acquired taste, but a taste I happily reacquired.
All and all, dinner at Mandalay was a fine experience and breakfast the next morning was equally fine. Certainly it will be fondly remembered and revisited if we were to dine in the Richmond neighborhood again. After all, the tea-smoked duck and the Burmese fried eggplant are most memorable a food experience!
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Alhamra Indian and Pakistani Restaurant
Reviewed Mandalay: Thursday, June 2, 2011
On an otherwise bleak corner in the Inner Richmond, the Burmese restaurant Mandalay stands out as an oasis of warmth, serving delicious food with down-home hospitality that makes you feel like part of the family. My inaugural trip to this spot is surely going to mark the beginning of a long and fulfilling relationship. The décor is eclectic. A plastic illuminated palm tree sits in one corner, Christmas ornaments hang from the ceiling, and traditional (I’m guessing) Burmese artwork adorns the walls. These seemingly incongruous ornamentals somehow work well together and reinforce a kind of down-to-earth charm
For starters there was much to choose from. We went with the balada. This is similar to a roti dish that you might find in a Malaysian restaurant. It was flakey on the inside crunchy on the outside and accompanied by a bowl of curried dipping sauce. Really delicious. There are a number of salads on the menu that make great appetizers as well, Although were tempted to try the tea-leaf, which looked excellent, we opted for the mango salad. I love the combination of sweet and savory found this kind of dish, its vaguely similar to a green papaya salad found in most Thai restaurants, but the mangoes are more ripe, sweet, and blend nicely with their savory spiced dressing,
The samusa soup is a must at this place. Someone should give a medal to the genius that came up with the idea to combine samusas and broth. I’ve only ever seen this dish at Burmese restaurants and Mandalay’s does not disappoint. Make sure you order enough for everyone at the table. They can customize the size of the order to meet your needs.
The main entrées here range from those you might find on a standard Chinese menu (e.g. Mongolian beef) to more traditional Burmese dishes. The waiter was kind enough to point out some of the more popular dishes in the latter category. One of our favorites was the Mandalay Special Noodle, a dish featuring a bed of noodles and an impressive array of spices, vegetables, and other accoutrements that are all mixed together at the tableside.