309 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94118. Inner Richmond District. (415) 387-2147.
Mr. S and my buddy Dave have teased me about my vocabulary on more than one occasion over the years. Mr. S thinks it's hilarious that despite that fact that I'm not a 90-year old granny, I use old fashioned words like "grousing," "willy-nilly," "squabble," "dapper," "brouhaha," "oopsy-daisy," "cantankerous," and "strumpet," (you get the point) in our every day conversations. I don't do it on purpose. I think my penchant for using antiquated and unusual words could be traced back to my life long love of reading, I've had a voracious appetite for books since I was a kidlet. I believe that reading really does expand your vocabulary and I love learning new words and phrases. It gives you more ways to express how or what you're feeling. I wish Mr.S' kidlets got that, I would love it if for one weekend they'd put down the Xbox controller and picked up a book instead.
Something that I love as much as sinking into a good book or learning a new word is trying an unfamiliar cuisine. A few years ago, a friend of mine and I took a weekend trip to San Francisco. Feeling a bit adventurous one evening, we decided to try Burmese food. We tried to get into the popular Burma Superstar (that my friend Omar recommended) but the wait was so long and they don't take reservations that we settled on grabbing a bite at its sister restaurant down the street, B-Star Bar. The food was absolutely delicious! Since then, I've wanted to return and try the flagship location on Clemente Street (Burma Superstar has 3 locations: Alameda, SF, Oakland plus B-Star Bar). Last month, I was finally able to get over to the Inner Richmond. Amanda and I popped by Burma Superstar for a Saturday lunch after visiting the Ferry Building. The place was bustling and every table was full, but we lucked out and were able to get a table for two within 15 minutes. (Tip: The Clemente Street location is small and the tables are very close together, this is not a good destination for large parties. Keep it to 2-4 people and you'll get in much quicker.)
When we walked in, my nostrils were immediately greeted with delicious aromas. As we made our way through the maze of tables, I caught whiffs of various delectable spices and my stomach started rumbling in ravenous jealousy. We took a cursory look at the menu, but we knew what we wanted to start with- their famous tea leaf salad (la pat dok). I had had it at B-Star Bar and feel head over heels in love with this extraordinary dish. Now don't scoff, this salad isn't like your diner's boring ol' Cobb or Chef salad, it's flippin' incredible. Supposedly they get the tea leaves imported from Burma, but they could get them from Kentucky for all I care- yes, it's that good. The dish is delivered looking pretty, each ingredient in its designated spot on the plate (fermented tea leaves, strips of romaine, crunchy yellow peas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, fresh tomatoes, jalapenos, dried shrimp--and my favorite, the bits of fried garlic); your server tosses it for you tableside, mixing all the wonderful textures and flavors together. (They do also offer a vegetarian version.) Then he finishes it off with a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice. What results is an enchanting umami flavor bomb in your mouth. It was one of those dishes that I really wish I didn't have to share (sorry Amanda!). I could have eaten the entire dish by myself.
For our second course, we opted for the lamb samosas. The golden, hand wrapped packages of lamb and curried potato with red dipping sauce were great and perfect for sharing. Piping hot and crispy on the outside and soft and meaty on the inside. Delish! Service was pleasant, although you don't interact with the staff much, they're busy buzzing back and forth like Whirling Dervishes from the kitchen to the tables. I also ordered a carafe of lychee tea that came with whole lychees and was quite refreshing.
For our main course, we had the Pumpkin Curry with Shrimp with a side of coconut rice. The curry was mild, with large prawns and big chunks of kabocha squash. I thought it was fine but Amanda commented that she found it to be a bit on the sweet side. So if you're looking for something spicier, you might want to opt for a dish like the Fiery Beef, Chili Lamb or Burmese Sour Leaf (Chin Mong Jaw).
Burmese (Myanmar) cuisine is heavily influenced by Thai, Chinese and Indian cooking, so you'll find a lot of ginger, garlic and fermented fish and shrimp in the dishes. The layering of flavors is positively hypnotic and I can see why their three locations are so wildly popular. If I could recreate their tea leaf salad I would (daily!) but since fermented tea leaves are not readily available around here, I'll have to settle for periodically returning to Burma Superstar to get my fix. We had a great experience and maybe next time I'll save room to try some of their raved about vegetarian Samusa soup or a dessert like the warm black rice pudding with coconut ice cream. Ooooh, I'm getting hungry just talking about it!
So next time you're in the city, give Burma Superstar a whirl. Trust me, if you get the tea leaf salad you won't be grousing. You'll be too busy shoving it down your gullet. ;-) This place definitely lives up to the hype.