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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Burma Super Star: Super Star Indeed

I was so pleasantly surprised when the hype around Burma Super Star in Clement, San Francisco's other Chinatown, turned out to be true. Most everything we had was delicious and for this Burmese food novice, a complete joy to discover new combination of flavors (fermented tea leaves) and textures (fried garlic, peanuts).

Let's start with the chicken casserole with cardamom cinnamon rice, that was a cornucopia of braised chicken, shrimp baked with biryani rice and raisins and topped with peas, cilantro and sliced almonds. The dish was as good as it sounds. The soft chicken and sauces melded very well with the rest of the ingredients, such as the crunchy almonds.

My favorite dishes hands down were the starters, however. The tea leaf salad was almost beyond words. Who knew fermented tea leaves could add such a nice edge to a plain ol' romaine lettuce and tomato salad? The leaves were slightly bitter but blended so well with the sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and peanuts. The salad barely had any dressing but wasn't dry at all. If you're going to order one thing, this is it. Plus, it's guilt-free. I could easily have this every time I go. It was also a treat seeing our server toss the salad at the table -- although it did feel a bit gimmicky. I mean, do they really do that in Burma, I wonder?

The fried calamari was a thing to behold to begin with but could the batter be any lighter and fluffier with so much flavor? It was straight up fantastic. It came with some kind of lemony sauce that made something fantastic even better, if that's possible.

The calamari was also virtually flash-fried so that the flesh was soft and not overly chewy and tough. I could have this for breakfast. And lunch. get the idea.

Another winner among the appetizers was the samusas, similar to Indian samosas, filled with curried veggies in what seemed like filo dough-type skin and deep fried with a delicious sauce. The samusas were crisp and not too greasy, and the filling was perfectly seasoned and the slightly spicy dip made it all come together.

The main dishes were good but not nearly as good as the starters. I already mentioned the chicken casserole. The other one was a noodle dish served room temperature with cucumber, potatoes, onions and chicken, which was mediocre. This one was probably the only one I wasn't crazy about.

In any case, go early as the seats fill up very quickly by 11:30 am on weekends.

Burma Super Star
309 Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 387-2147

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cork Bar: Go For the Wine, Stay (and Return) for the Food

I found a good place for happy hour or just dinner in downtown LA -- Cork Bar on Grand and 12th just a few blocks east of LA Live. It's also good for pre-concert meals and you get hassle-free, free parking to boot.

It doesn't feel like a bar per se -- more like a wine bar that has really good food. Although I like wine as much as the next glutton, I'm no wine buff. Still, I would return just for the delicious if not expensive crab cakes, creamy and luscious mac-n-cheese with a slight kick from pasilla chiles and its hard-to-beat $2 a pop specials on Tuesdays where the chef uses customers as willing guinea pigs to try out new dishes. Outdoor seating is great in the summer before it gets too crowded.

The crab cake was perfectly seared and very meaty, thankfully, since it cost $17. None of that doughy, breaded stuff distracting us from the glorious white flesh. It was advertised as "spicy" crab cakes and truth be told, they weren't very spicy but I didn't hold it against them. They came with an avocado crème fraiche and topped with a cactus and corn relish that gave them a nice sweetness.

The mac-n-cheese mixed three kinds of cheeses, including the best melting cheeses that also happen to be very flavorful -- fontina, cheddar and asiago. Roasted pasilla chiles did give it a spicier dimension but these chiles are usually fairly mild, and given chef seemed to have gone easy on the chiles here, I could have used more but was still content with this dish.

The $2 a dish on Tuesdays for trial dishes is a fantastic deal, and they serve them until they run out. On a recent Tuesday, that dish was, lucky me, slices of beef tenderloin cooked medium rare on top of a green sauce and some turnips that seemed to have been pan seared. The relish on top was chopped chives and some tomato-y mix. I obviously didn't pay as much attention to the rest of the dish but the "meat" of the dish was superb. As a side dish, this came with a little cherry tomato and raspberry drizzled with some kind of balsamic reduction whose sweetness really complemented the tartness of the berry and the slightly sweet and slightly acidic tomato.

I liked it so much I think I must have had at least six orders. Honest to God. You can't go wrong with $2... On second thought, you can go wrong but not here.

I also liked the various soups they serve daily -- the potato one was excellent, as was the carrot soup. The soups are definite keepers.

The white bean puree toasts were also nutty and it felt good having something that's healthy and a joy to your palate.

I've also had the endive, cashews and grapefruit salad with a lavender-honey dressing that was very refreshing and just the thing for a hot, summer evening.

One thing that could be improved is the burger. I admit I'm a big time burger snob, but for an eatery of this caliber, the burger should have a juicier and bloodier patty, a softer yet sturdier bun and the toppings should be more interesting. I mean, if you're going to do potato gratin pieces instead of humble fries, the least you could do it fancy up the burger with some avocado or arugula or something. Ok, I'm comparing it to the gold standard -- the Houston's burger again (By the way, I discovered that the same restaurant group owns Bandera, which has an equally royal burger).

Service also left some to be desired, especially during the later, busier hours. We were told it was because of a large party in one corner but don't think that should be an excuse not to check up on us for a long time and not giving us our food, etc.

Cork Bar
403 W. 12th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 746-0050