Chowdown at Larkin Express Deli / Burmese Kitchen
Nine chowhounds met tonight at Burmese Kitchen (formerly Larkin Express Deli) for Burmese comfort food and good company. Our selections included:
A1. La Pat Dok – Tea Leaf Salad
A7. Tamarind Leaf Salad
A9. Samusas Soup
A12. Fried Golden Tofu
A13. Roti & Potato Curry
N1. Moh Hinga
S5. Rainbow Salad
M12. Pork with Pickled Mango
M13. Sauerkraut Pork
M23. Prawns & Pumpkin
M24. Prawn & Sour Leaf
M27. Dried Shrimp Paste
Young Coconut Gelatin
Rich Semolina Cake
Tapioca with Coconut Milk
The menu with further description of the dishes may be found at: http://www.burmesekitchen.com/Menu.html
I was especially looking forward to the tea leaf salad and samusas soup, both of which had received praise on this board.
My first three tastes were the tea leaf salad, tamarind salad, and rainbow salad. The tea leaf salad was nice and crunchy but didn’t impress me. The tamarind salad had more punch to it—it was very sour. I preferred the rainbow salad, which had just the right balance of noodles and vegetables.
The fried golden tofu was very nice, with an excellent texture. I enjoyed the roti & potato curry but they were pretty standard stuff.
I was expecting something more intense from the mohinga soup. It was fairly plain without much fish taste. The samusas soup had a very nice spicy aftertaste and tingle that stayed with me.
I didn’t get enough of the prawns & pumpkin to form an opinion but no one else seemed impressed with it.
The standout for me was the prawn and sour leaf which had complexity and a nice tang. The pork with pickled mango was also very good—the dried mango made the dish but its flavors don’t much permeate the sauce. My first bites didn’t include any mango and didn’t excite me, then I hit the jackpot with my first dried mango bite. I also liked the sauerkraut pork.
The young coconut gelatin was very refreshing. I liked the semolina cake but it might be too sweet for some.
We had plenty of food for $170 pre-tip. Thank you, Otis for organizing the event.
Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen
452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102
And even more pictures...
Pic 13: Roti (with green potato curry; roti was warm, flaky, oily and delicious)
Pic 14: Sauerkraut Pork (this was good)
Pic 15: Pork with Pickled Mango (but this was even better - my favorite!)
Pic 16: Dried Shrimp Paste condiment (what wouldn't this taste good on?)
Thanks charliemyboy for the detailed documentation and mitch119 for the equally detailed photo record!! My favorites were the strongly flavored items: the shrimp with sour leaf, the dried shrimp condiment and the pork with pickled mango (which was like bits from a jar of Indian pickle spooned into the dish...I have some Palat brand in my rerig right now and it would be easy neough to try this at home). The fried tofu would have been a star in any cuisine: crispy crackly on the outside, custard-y in the middle, who wouldn't like that?
Many of the other dishes were overly mild for my taste and I recall stronger spicing back in the Deli days. (They used to make two tea leaf salads: the "traditional" one being served now and a stronger, tarter version. They have discontinued the second, which I preferred.) The samusa soup especially is a paradox because the flavors are complex yet subtle and hard to focus on in the context of a big meal. I'd go back and try just that by itself and work on the samusa till it's gone.
By the way, the service was great and host Dennis was very accommodating... as was an anonymous customer (also the house artist, who shared his portfolio) who jumped in to help. Thanks to all!
Thanks Otis for putting this together! This was my first Chowdown and I had a great time eating good food and meeting some great people. Now on to my review....
Of the three salads (tea leaf, rainbow, and tamarind), the tamarind was my favorite. The tea leaf lacked the "tea-like" qualities I was hoping for that are featured more heavily in the tea leaf salads at BSS and Manadalay. The rainbow salad was a little underwhelming. While the texture was great, it lacked a certain bite. The tamarind salad was very interesting, with a nice sweet and sour flavor.
Of the the two soups we had, the moh hinga was by far my favorite (and quite possibly my favorite dish of the evening.) It was deep, flavorful, and complex. I loved the texture contrast between the soft noodles and the crunch of a tempura like item. I didn't enjoy the samusa soup much. It lacked salt and depth and while I got chunks of falafal, I never got a bit of any samusas.
Of the main dishes, the pickled mango pork was my favorite. It reminded me of an Indian condiment that we used to eat growing up, but instead of a lot of veggies and fruit, there were chunks of pork. The saurkraut pork was also very interesting with some nice sour notes. The prawns with sour leaf salad was just a bit too sour for me. While I liked my first bite, my it wore on my taste buds a bit after my second bite.
Overall, for the price, great meal. I still prefer the flavors of BSS and Mandalay, but for the price, Larkin Express is a great bargain
Your complaints about the mohinga and tea leaf salad mirror my experiences at Larkin Express. I also enjoy the sour vegetable with prawn at Larkin Express, but I'm not sure it is better than either of Pagan's two locations, where I like the tea leaf salad better and have generally tastier more well-rounded meals.
Maybe it's time for a chowdown series including Pagan and the new place in Daly City/South San Francisco.
Burmese Kitchen stockpiles sour vegetable during the season and freezes it for use during the winter. I agree that the version here can't touch what I've had at Pagan in the Outer Richmond. The shrimp were kind of mealy. The dish was out of balance because it didn't have enough fish sauce, garlic and chile to balance the sourness. Adding some of the balachaung helped but I shouldn't have had to do that it.
We have had sort of a Burmese series, and chowed down at Pagan's original location last fall. We have not had a group at Mandalay yet, and I would nudge those who mentioned it favorably to consider hosting one sometime. I had lunch at Little Yangon again last week and now having returned to Burmese Ktichen can say that Little Yangon surpasses it easily.
Edited to add:
The Burmese chowdowns I can recall off the top of my head:
Yellow Pa Taut
B Star Bar
Burma Super Star (SF)
Pagan (Outer Richmond)
Chiming in here, first off, thanks again to Otis for organizing. This was my first chowdown, had some great food and company, and definitely look forward to doing this again!
On to the food -
La Pat Dok – Tea Leaf Salad
I usually love tea leaf salad, and I was pretty disappointed by this rendition. For me, it lacked the "funkiness" that I enjoy in other versions of this salad. Perhaps there wasn't enough tea leaves, perhaps it wasn't fermented enough. It was tasty enough, it just wasn't what I expected here.
Tamarind Leaf Salad
This was something I've never had before. While this one was definitely more bold in flavor than the tea leaf salad, I don't think I was a huge fan. Something about the flavors didn't come together for me.
I've never been a huge fan of rainbow salad at other Burmese places I've been. That said, this was definitely one of the better versions I've had. It was a little bland / underseasoned, but I still enjoyed it.
This was one of my standouts for the meal. Great, deep flavor, satisfying and filling, this is something I'd definitely return for.
To echo another review here, I think this one got a little lost in the meal. It was underwhelming, and just didn't stand up flavor-wise to the other dishes we had. I failed to notice any samusas in the soup (or perhaps they had broken apart by the time I got to it).
Fried Golden Tofu
This was also very tasty. The menu said this was a housemade tofu made with yellow split pea - you definitely got that yellow split flavor here. Crispy, ungreasy, flavorful.
Roti & Potato Curry
Pretty standard, didn't make much of an impact on me.
Pork with Pickled Mango
This was one of my favorite dishes at the meal, something pretty unexpected. The pickled mango was very reminiscent of the pickled mango you get as a condiment at indian meals (achaar), but instead here forming the base of sauce for the pork. The pork, while slightly dry / overcooked, melded nicely with the tartness of the mango.
Another interesting dish. I made the comment at the meal that, if I was served this dish without any context, I couldn't have told you what culture if came from. Each bite started with flavors that fit an Indian profile, but finished with a suprising sourness from the sauerkraut.
Prawns & Pumpkin
Nothing here really stood out, pretty standard version.
Prawn & Sour Leaf
I liked the flavors of the sour vegetables (not sure exactly what they were). The prawns themselves were unimportant to the dish - a little textural cand taste contrast, but the focus here was undoubtedly on the vegetables.
Young Coconut Gelatin
I had expected coconut flavored gelatin. Instead, in addition, there were ribbons of soft young coconut draped over the dish. A nice, refreshing way to finish the meal.
Rich Semolina Cake
Pretty standard, a bit too sweet for me.
Tapioca with Coconut Milk
A warm soup, tasty enough, didn't really jump out at me.
All in all, a good meal, with a few standout dishes lingering in my memory. Overall, I think I still prefer Mandalay for my Burmese fix, at least in the city. Still, while not a destination-worthy restaurant, given the reasonable prices and the uniqueness of some of the dishes, I'll definitely return if in the area!