Spreading Out in the East Bay
4721 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Lunch and dinner daily, except Monday
No reservations, major credit cards accepted
Lately when I’ve been eating out with my friend Joe, seems like we’ve been hitting new locations of old favorites. First it was Pizzeria Delfina’s larger California Street location, and this past weekend it was checking out Burma Superstar’s week-old location in my Temescal hood.
This star of Burmese cuisine has a slick new look on Telegraph Avenue, which for a few months was the home for an American comfort food joint. What’s funny is that even though Burma Superstar remodeled the place and added all new furnishings, the feel still screamed out American bar rather than Southeast Asian ethnic restaurant.
Maybe they still need to decorate the walls, which were white and empty when Joe and I visited for dinner on Saturday. In the tiny and popular San Francisco location, you definitely got a feel of Burma with the knick-knacks on the walls. But the only touch of Asian at the new location was a huge golden good-luck cat sitting at the edge of the bar. (You know, the one with the one paw up.)
Despite the sterile surroundings, I liked the fact that this space gave you more room to breathe and enjoy the food and company. It’s just as noisy here as in the city, but at least you don’t have to squeeze past other diners.
Burma Superstar is definitely drawing the early crowds to Oakland based on its reputation, but we were still able to get a table without much of a wait. (That probably won’t last.)
I noticed that the menu seemed limited, listing mostly the popular standbys from the original location but not much else. Hopefully the menu will expand as the kitchen gets more comfortable in its new space.
We started with the Rainbow Salad ($10.25), which on the menu states that it was featured on a Food Network show (not sure which one, my guess is that it wasn’t “Diners, Drive-ins & Dive”). I mostly ordered it because I’ve already tried the often-ordered Tea Salad and wanted to try something different.
Like the Tea Salad, the Rainbow Salad is made with a variety of ingredients and then tossed at your table. Burma Superstar supposedly makes its Rainbow Salad with 22 different ingredients, but both Joe and I lost count when we were trying to listen to the server explain each ingredients. I do know that there were several different types of noodles and this really pretty scoop of saffron rice.
The salad was dressed with a tamarind sauce, and it was light and refreshing but nothing spectacular. The ingredients lacked the pungent flavoring you get from the Tea Salad, for example, but I did like the light tamarind sauce.
An unusual-sounding dish was the Classic Burmese Chicken Casserole with Cardamom Cinnamon Rice ($15.75), made with shrimp and cooked in a claypot. When it arrived, Joe commented that it looked like Burmese paella.
The chicken was tender, but the dish was aching for some sauce. With the chicken and rice, it really seemed dry. Overall, the flavoring was more subtle than most dishes I’ve had at Burma Superstar. The rice included fresh pods of cardamom seed, which I’ve never eaten before (I’ve had it as a flavor for ice cream or tea, but never in its natural form). I have to say, while it embarked a floral essence that was unusual, the initial bite is a bit off-putting and herb-like. I don’t know if it’s that smart to include whole cardamom pods in rice. Also, the specks of cloves in the rice weren’t that fun to bite into either.
Our final entrée was the Pumpkin Pork Stew ($14.75). We actually wanted to order a curry, but our server told us that the casserole would carry the same flavor as most curries so it would be smart to try something different. Oddly enough, the casserole didn’t remind me of curry at all, but the pumpkin stew looked like curry albeit less spicy.
The stew was definitely tasty with tender chunks of pork with pumpkin and potato pieces that were cooked perfectly. If spicier, I would definitely think this was pumpkin curry.
Side note: Service was efficient and not scattered like you sometimes experience at newly opened restaurants. I guess that’s a testament to Burma Superstar’s experience with running restaurants. But despite the efficient service, everyone we encountered that night seemed a bit robotic. They weren’t engaging or friendly. They were just there, which to me seemed like an odd note to strike for what should be a neighborhood restaurant.
We capped off our dinner by sharing the Black Rice Pudding ($8.50) with ice cream and strawberries. The pudding was very warm, so that made the ice cream melt quite fast. While the rice had a nice sweet taste, it wasn’t overly sticky or mushy like you would expect when you read the word pudding. It was slightly al dente, which seemed odd.
Overall, I think everyone’s excited about Burma Superstar arriving, especially Joe who’s big on takeout (what’s funny is that there weren’t any takeout menus available at the door). The kitchen was able to transfer its quality cooking from the original location to this new spot, and I definitely think the space has a hip vibe that gives it a nice appeal. If they can make the service more pleasant and possibly add more variety to the menu, then this location may do better than the original Burma Superstar.
Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (Shining bright in Oakland)
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
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Spreading Out in the East Bay