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The Road Back to Mandalay (San Francisco Burmese)

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Three weeks ago we took my dad to dinner at Mandalay, mostly 'cause we thought it would be easy to park at our cousins' house around the corner. Even though the parking didn't work out, I'm glad I went back because the food, and especially the service, were much better than my previous visit. Also the interior has been freshened up and felt much warmer and relaxing. Since we'd had a late (and not terribly tasty) lunch at JCC, we ordered lightly, just two apps and two noodle soups from the Burmese side of the menu for the four of us to share.

The first up, the rainbow salad, featured 10+ different ingredients that were mixed at the table. The dressing had a lot of spark and funk, and this time the deep-fried shallots, golden brown garlic chips and other crunchy bits were fresh as can be. The glass noodles in the center were left uncut making them a bit hard to serve and eat. The small cubes of fried tofu tended to dilute the flavor and I'd have them omitted if I ordered this again.

The balada (aka paratha) was much better than before, flakier and crisper. While the very center was still a bit damp, it wasn't doughy and raw, wet inside like the last time. When I put a wedge on my dad's plate with a spoonful of the accompanying chicken curry and he asked what it was, I answered, "pizza, Burmese style". He decided he liked Burmese pizza!

The daily specials listed on the board included a fish chowder-like description that inquiry id'd as mohinga. This was a wonderful version with a slightly thickened and richly flavored fumet de poisson-like base fish stock. Bits of mild white fish, crunchy yellow peas, crispy fried shallots, sliced hard-cooked egg, and thin rice noodles swirled in the garlicky stock with a more than modest chili heat.

Image of rainbow salad, balada and mohinga -
http://static.flickr.com/110/30618956...

My favorite dish was the coconut chicken noodle soup (ono kaukswe). The mild yellow curry-flavored chicken soup enriched with sweet coconut milk had bite-size pieces of smooth and succulent boneless dark meat chicken and soft egg noodles. Garnished with crispy shallots and garlic, egg, and bright green cilantro leaves, adding a squirt of lemon juice and a spoonful of chili paste highlighted the complex flavors even more. My dad handed me his bowl to ask for more and was visibly dismayed to learn that it was all gone.

With one beer and a ginger-lemonade, our tab with tax and tip was $44. It was just the right amount of delicious chow for a light dinner and a bargain to boot.

Mandalay Restaurant [Richmond
]4348 California St, at 6th
San Francisco 94118
415-386-3895
Locater:
http://yp.yahoo.com/py/ypMap.py?Pyt=T...

Last visit to Mandalay (2003) -
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

Coconut chicken noodle soup at Burma Superstar -
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. Thanks for this report. I used to love going to Mandalay years ago and finally stopped going because I literally could not find parking.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Sharon S.

      At least now the food has improved enough to be worthy of the parking hassles. Maybe lunch time?

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I don't find parking in that neighborhood as difficult as it used to be.

    2. This is one of my favorite and regular restaurants in that neighborhood. I find them pretty consistent, and love anything where they use mango. :)

      2 Replies
      1. re: singleguychef

        I'm sure they're delicious, but I just can't make myself order from the "chinese" side of the menu here. But here's an old report from Maya -
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I always order the Burmese items. The Chinese dishes were not nearly as good when I tried them (years ago now).

      2. I agree with all of you Mandalay is so much nicer a place to eat than Burma Superstar. I never got why people would wait for a table at BS when it was so much simpler to go to Mandalay without the wait.
        Does anyone know why the Chinese dishes are sort of Szechuan influenced? Does it have anything to do with WWII, or is it the proximity of Burma to Szechuan? Thanks, and I better be able to still get a table there or I'm gonna be angry.

        1. If parking isn't so bad, I would go to Mandalay more often. We always order the samosa, our favorite appetizer. The tea salad is also great. It reminded me of the version my friend's mom used to make at home. The smoked tea duck is crispy and flavorful. It comes with steamed buns, like Peking duck. The Mandalay beef and rainbow chicken are also nice.

          1. how can you say it was just the right amount of chow if your dad didn't get his seconds?

            1 Reply
            1. re: echo

              You're right...I did a sleight of hand giving him more of the mohinga that followed and topped him up with one of the complimentary fortune cookies. (vbg)

            2. I'd like to add the Nan Gyi Dok (burmese rice noodle with spiced coconut chicken, split yellow pea powder, and fried onion) to the list of must-eats at Mandalay - the noodles are roughly spaghetti-sized in diameter, perfectly chewy and tender. They've either been cooked or finished in coconut milk, b/c the coconut flavor goes all the way through the noodles - it's definitely not from the chicken alone. Possibly my favorite noodle dish of the year (so far.)

              I also loved the Balada (perfectly flaky and tender on my visit) and the Ginger Salad. While the Tea Leaf Salad was tasty, I found the texture a little too mulch-like. I've had it elsewhere where the leaves were whole, and I liked that better.

              3 Replies
              1. re: daveena

                Mmmmm, thank you! The surprising thing is that my father isn't that fond of coconut, and he slurped up the coconutty noodle soup with gusto.

                Where else do you recommend for tea leaf salad?

                1. re: daveena

                  Is that a noodle dish, or soup?

                  1. re: ChowFun_derek

                    It was a dry noodle dish... I wonder if it's the same one veebee was unimpressed with below. There are three similar sounding noodle dishes.

                2. Sigh... my standard for tea leaf salad was at Cafe Mingala, in Manhattan. Never quite figured out how the UES got such a good Burmese restaurant. Haven't been back in years, don't know if it's still as good.

                  1. Funny, I hadn't even seen this thread, but I just went to Mandalay on a whim today after not having visited for at least 10 years. I used to like Burma Super Star a few years ago, but the waits got much longer while the food got much less interesting.

                    I agree that the food at Mandalay is fantastic.
                    We had the same coconut chicken soup, and also a pumpkin curry with chicken, served in a kabocha squash bowl. It was creamy and complex and so so good with the coconut rice. Also some string beans with fried garlic slices and some kind of spicy dry sauce that seemed to contain shrimp paste. The tea leaf salad was good, hitting all the right notes, without the rancid greasiness bad versions have. We also had a chicken rice noodle dish, which just wasn't as interesting as the rest of the dishes, but was fine.

                    I can't wait to go back.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: veebee

                      Thanks for the report. I've had the coconut chicken noodle soup at about 9 different places. Among the restaurants that are still open, I'd say that Mandalay's is the best version right now.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I'm sorry, but I've to disagree. Many of the dishes at Mandalay are one dimensional (read same sweet sauce). And not that it matters, but many of their dishes are offshoots of Burma's original creation (read Rainbow Salad). If they made it better, then it is a no issue, but there's reason that Mandalay is always empty and Burma SS is always crowded. Okay, crowds might not be the best source of chowish food, but years of lines must mean they're doing something right.

                        1. re: Offal Lover

                          Reading the "Chinese" (gag) side of Mandalay's menu does run the hazard of slipping into a diabetic coma. At Burma SS too, btw. But no need to order those dishes at either Burma SS or Mandalay. My earlier visit in 2003 and this recent one, Mandalay was quite busy. No lines outside of lemmings ala House of Nanking, but not empty.

                          I had a good experience at Mandalay. Have you been there recently? Please share the dishes that you find lacking so we can avoid ordering them the next round.

                          I'll add that I'm from the school that a restaurant can be "great" if it has one fabulous dish and a thousand bad ones. Help us separate the wheat from the chaff at Mandalay.

                    2. All the tables were full at Mandalay on Sunday around 1:30-2:00. No wait, but they were doing a nice business. Agree about the Chinese offerings at Burma Super Star. Tried them once when I was in a big group. Never ordered them again. Can't speak to the Chinese selections at Mandalay, but I'll take your word for it.

                      1. I just wanted to say thank you to Melanie and everyone else who recommended Mandalay--due to the glowing reports here I stopped by last night for some last minute take-out instead of stopping at Burma Super Star as I usually do. And although getting take-out is hardly the best measure of a place, both of the dishes I ordered were fantastic.

                        The tea-leaf salad, as reported, was great--a perfect melange of greaseless, crunchy, freshly-fried garlic chips, split yellow peas, and nuts, offset by the (pleasing) funkiness of the fermented tea leaves. Complex, savory, crunchy...yum. The only downside is that I did miss the pieces of fresh vegetable I seem to remember in Superstar's version, as that lightened things up a bit--"salad" is a bit of a misnomer. But other than this, much better than the Superstar version.

                        The Mandalay special noodles (which I ordered with tofu instead of chicken) were equally savory and complex--perfectly fresh ribbons of rice noodles topped with a rich coconut sauce, fried shallots, long pieces of something crispy (potato? egg noodle?), cilantro, and split-pea powder, lightened with lemon juice. Each bite was a slightly different mix of ingredients, making it addictive to eat. I could have done with more tofu, but other than that, perfect.

                        The other nice thing was that they seem to have the take-out thing down at Mandalay--my salad came with all of the ingredients carefully separated and the tea leaf "dressing" in its own container, and the noodles packed similarly with the sauce separate. (And although I didn't think there was going to be enough sauce, it turned out to be the perfect amount.) And there was enough food for leftovers of both for lunch!

                        In retrospect, I probably wouldn't order those two dishes together again by myself, as the richness of the tea leaf salad was too much in conjunction with the richness of the coconut sauce on the noodles, and the meal felt too heavy. But they would be great in the context of more dishes, served family style. I can't wait to go back and try some of the other dishes on the menu!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Emily Hope

                          Emily, I'm glad you enjoyed Mandalay as a vege experience. Did you ask them to omit the fish sauce too?

                          http://www.mandalaysf.com/

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            No, I've lapsed over the years from a strict vegetarian into a fish-etarian into an occasional chicken-eater, I'm afraid. (But only when I know the chicken is sustainable! Which is why I ordered the dish with tofu.) It seems like they're pretty accomodating to vegetarians, though, so I'm sure that they could do that and it would still be tasty, if less authentic (although I suppose it may be less authentic with tofu, too!).

                        2. I went to Mandalay for lunch today to check it out for a potential chowdown. Had one dish, the fried string beans with tofu, and it was fine. However, the service was extremely distracted and when I was done it took close to 1/2 hour to pay and go. The restaurant was busy, nearly full, which may be unusual for a Friday, and I'll give them another chance next time I'm in town. But I'm not confident enough to schedule an important meal here.

                          Also, the next table ordered mango chicken, one of their signature dishes, and the server said "we don't have that today". Not good.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: otis

                            Thanks for the update, otis. Anyone else been here recently?

                            -----
                            Mandalay Restaurant
                            4344 California St, San Francisco, CA 94118

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              went here a few months ago; another friend went here last month, phenomenal reports from both of us

                              1. re: vulber

                                Details or a link to your report if already posted, please?

                          2. Went to Mandalay last night (I had been there before; my sweetheart hadn't). Fantastic as expected, and my main takeaway was we need to go there a lot more often.

                            But it seems to have been Discovered with a capital damn D since I first went there a few years back. That first time, we tried to go to Burma Superstar, there was an hour wait, we discovered there was another Burmese place a block away, so we went to Mandalay--no reservation, no waiting. Last night we got there about 7:10 and the waiting area was packed (partly due to a party of 10); we waited about half an hour. (Next time I'll make a reservation.) The hostess was unfailingly gracious and good-humored throughout this ordeal (ordeal for her, less so for the people waiting).

                            Anyway: tea leaf salad, Mandalay special noodles, fish chowder (the one Melanie talks about above), mango prawns. All outstanding. The soup was subtly spiced and didn't taste particularly 'fishy', which I loved but might be disappointing depending on one's expectations. The mango prawns were a wonderful sweet/savory combination.

                            I could eat the Mandalay special noodles every day. Coconut sauce, two kinds of noodles, fried shallots, and I forget what all else. Like the tea leaf salad, they mixed this at the table--kind of a nice bit of entertainment.