A Culinary Star on Clement Street
309 Clement St. (between 4th and 5th Avenues), San Francisco
Lunch daily, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; dinner, Sun.-Thu., 5-9:30 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 5:30-10 p.m.
No reservations, major credit cards accepted
A couple of weeks ago, I finally made it to Burma Superstar – the highly popular Burmese restaurant that has been attracting crowds to San Francisco’s Clement Street. I made plans with my friend Lisa to beat the crowds by having dinner at 5:30 p.m. But when I arrived, the tiny restaurant was almost full.
Ironically, Lisa was running late and that actually worked out well for us because by the time she arrived, several tables for two turned over and we didn’t have to wait at all for a table.
The unassuming exterior isn’t at all like the rich, tastefully decorated interior with dark wood furniture and colorful walls with accents of Southeast Asian ornaments. Like I said, it is pretty small, and what I found that to mean is a lot of noise. It was hard to catch up with Lisa, whom I haven’t seen for years.
We started dinner with one of the more popular dishes – the Tea Leaf Salad, made up of Burmese tea leaves, tomatoes, lettuce, dried shrimp, fried garlic, sunflower seeds, peanuts and split yellow peas. I’ve had tea salads at other restaurants and they often have a more herbal taste and look.
But at Burma Superstar, its version is definitely more like a westernized salad with the familiar green lettuce serving as a bold backdrop for the rest of the ingredients. It’s the grounded tea and dressing of fish sauce and lemon that give the salad a distinctive taste. It came to the table with all the ingredients beautifully presented separately, but I only got a photo of the final mixed salad because the server went ahead and tossed the salad at our table before I could stop him for a photo op.
In many of the Burmese or Malaysian restaurants I’ve eaten at, I’ve always ordered any dish that featured mango as an ingredient. So I convinced Lisa to order the Mango Chicken, which is made with a light chili and basil sauce. When the dish arrived, I marveled at how orange the mango chunks looked (some places use under-ripen mangoes that are more yellow) and their taste matched the color as they were sweet, blending nicely with the chicken breast. The dish was balanced and fresh, and was the star of the evening (as all mango dishes should be).
Our final entree was a curry because we both figured we should try one. We took the easy route by ordering the Burmese Style Curry with Lamb, which is Burma Superstar’s special curry. The dish itself came out looking very brown and kind of boring. While the lamb chunks were tender, both Lisa and I agreed that the curry wasn’t very spicy or distinctive in taste. It was a bit generic.
The restaurant’s young staff was very friendly and helpful and we didn’t feel rushed despite the fact that the crowd outside got larger as the night went on. While I did feel the food was tasty and the room charming, I didn’t necessarily feel it was above average compared to other Burmese spots like the nearby Mandalay Restaurant on California Street.
If you can deal with the crowds and the wait, then Burma Superstar should be on your list of restaurants to try. But if you’re craving good Burmese food, then places like Mandalay or Nan Yang in Oakland will probably satisfy you without the hype.
Single guy rating: 3 stars (Everyone's Burmese Secret)
Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
A Culinary Star on Clement Street