Since Burma is now Myanmar, does Mandalay now technically do Myanmarese food? Either way, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves in for when we made our way to this the restaurant SF locals rave about (at the ever reliable, Chowhound, of course).
But what is travel about, if not discovering new things? We consider ourselves fairly adventurous diners, always willing to try most things once (as long as it’s not still alive…!) and with all my research, I had failed to come across even one bad comment about Burmese cuisine, whatever it may be.
Having dined there now, I can’t say I’m particularly wiser, but I am definitely a fan. I apologise in advance for the poor quality of photo; in my excitement at having arrived in San Francisco, I forgot to charge the battery for the DSLR, so it was left at the hotel and the iPhone had a chance at the limelight instead.
Tea Leaf Salad
Despite it receiving the highest and most unanimous of praise, this was the dish we were most sceptical about. A glance through the constituent ingredients did not leave us any more reassured. But what a revelation it was!
It arrived with all ingredients separate on one plate; the server asked if we had had it before. Upon our negative response, she proceeded to explain what each element was, before mixing it table side.
At first bite, it was salty, I presume from the fermented tea leaves, and also peanuts. Then slightly tangy, from the dressing and the lemon juice freshly squeezed over top. It was leant heat from the jalapenos, which also brought a slight bitter taste to the dish. This was off set by the mild sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, which added juiciness. The whole thing was a texture and taste explosion – dazzling!
Burmese style noodles
I won’t pretend we even knew what to order without taking Chowhound recommendations, and this was another which came highly praised. And supposedly also classically representative of Burmese cuisine. Cannot thank insider knowledge enough!
The noodles had a perfect chewy consistency, making the dish very enjoyable and not at all monotonous. The cilantro gave it a great aroma, while the textures were a delight – the cucumber added a lovely crunch to contrast the chew of the noodles, which were consequently more substantial in bite than the bits of potato hidden in the mix. The dressing was savoury, with a the minutest hint of sweet, and contrary to most instances where the bottom of the dish is drowning in so much of it, the flavours are too overpowering to be enjoyed, this was dressed brilliantly. I suppose the noodles must have held onto the sauce exactly as intended, allowing for a much more even dress. Delicious!
Burmese curry lamb
This was the only dish ordered off book, without guidance. I was nervous because neither Dylan nor I knew what to expect – a more Indian influence (spicy) or more Chinese (heat). Turns out, we had nothing to worry about (of course!)
The curry was aromatic, having a great blend of spices which created a full mouth experience (rather than just on the tongue). The lamb was very tender, if the tiniest bit dry, though very flavourful (i.e., not cooked to within an inch of its life and lacking all of the lamb flavour). Dylan ordered a side of coconut rice to accompany it, which was perfectly cooked and super fragrant – and even I enjoyed it, despite being averse to coconut – and complimented the curry very well. The curry itself was also of a great consistency – not too runny, or too thick.
I think the bill came to less than $40 including one beer, which was a super bargain. Service was friendly and efficient, and our only complaint is that there isn’t a Mandalay in either London or Toronto. Well, this Mandalay anyway.
4348 California Street (at 6th Ave.)
San Francisco, CA 94118