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Aug 10, 2012 12:36 PM

Sapphire Lounge [San Francisco]

I looked around this board, couldn't find anything about this place. Friends took me last night for a birthday happy hour. The place has been through a few incarnations - a couple of asian buffet-type places, and once a Spanish tapas kind of place. Now, Burmese. "Lounge" is stretching it - the feel of the place is cafeteria-ish. It's cavernous, with t.v. monitors playing sports, loud dance music, overhead spotlights that get too bright, and a big, curving full bar. A very young crowd - and not your typical FiDi types. Not great ambiance, but the food is really good. Their happy hour is from 4-7:30 p.m., and ALL food items are $5.00 a plate. They have cocktail/beer specials as well. The food portions are very generous. I loved their version of tea leaf salad - very fresh, distinctive tea leaf flavor, crispy-crunchy, with a little bit of heat (it could be a lot hotter, for me - and probably could do without the tomatoes which i'm never sure if they are typical?). In fact, i picked up some for lunch today, and noticed that it IS an asian-buffet-type place during the day! your standard chinese buffet - the steam tables were hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling curtain last night. The tea leaf salad is not on any menu i could see at lunchtime, but it took just a few minutes to make me one to go.

For happy hour fare, we loved the samusas, crispy chicken wontons, pot stickers, garlic chicken, crispy lentil cakes, and crunchy citrus chicken. Everything was very tasty, especially the wontons, pot stickers and garlic chicken - we liked these so much that we ordered them, as well as the tea leaf salad, again. The owner came over to talk to us and then made us a complimentary bowl of monhinga - fish chowder, described as rice vermicelli noodles in a lemongrass fish soup, garnished with cilantro and a boiled egg. I need to explore more of the menu (though it will be difficult not to order the tea leaf salad every time - it just feels like such a healthy option!) to try other Burmese dishes. I'm so glad i found out about this place, right around the corner from my office.

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  1. Burmese in the FiDi, woot! Lovely find, mc, on my list for next trip. Looking forward to your continued investigations of their menu. How does their tea leaf salad compare to Mandalay's?

    5 Replies
    1. re: grayelf

      it does not, really, ge. it's good and i liked it because it's, you know, tea leaf salad, and nearby, but by the time i got to the end of the dish i wasn't quite as enamored. needed more heat, more lemon, tomatoes got a tad soggy.... but you know, in a pinch! it's a good bar/snacky place, cheap, not sure it's a destination, but i'm glad it's near me for lunch. i'll check out some other things on the menu and let you know.

      1. re: mariacarmen

        Did they premix the salad when you ordered it to go? I always get mine "segregated" here if I'm not eating it immediately which helps immeasurably with the sog factor... though I feel a bit guilty about all those little containers :-(.

        1. re: grayelf

          i work so close, it couldn't have been that.... i just think the tomatoes were a bit soggy, but the rest was nice and crunchy. i really just think i ate too much, so i'm not as excited as i was that first day! but i'll be back!!

          1. re: grayelf

            I haven't been to Sapphire, but I always insist on tea leaf salad not being pre-mixed for to-go orders. This is an important pointer and I agree with you. Even eating in a restaurant, I want it to be mixed in front of me. Things are soggy and soaked through in about 10 minutes at the table.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              We get take-out at the office from Green Elephant in PA (MV?), and we get one big container with all the salad bits (not mixed) and one small container of the tea leaves, and mix it ourselves. Few containers, crunch problem solved.

      2. We brought takeout food into the office today, and had a great meal.

        We tried:

        Burmese beef curry
        Tea leaf salad (which I will also post about in the Dish of the Month Discussion)
        Burmese tofu salad
        Noodle salad (both chicken and shrimp versions)
        Keema Paratha

        Keema paratha was a surprise hit for me.....slightly sweet ground meat sandwiched in a thick pancake, served with a cabbage salad on the side.

        Tea leaf salad didn't travel super well, since the lettuce was a bit wilted by the time we ate it. But there was a nice crunch from the crispy lentils and the amount of tea leaves was on par with most other places, including Mandalay. But this version certainly was a bit "wetter" than Mandalay's.

        Noodle salad was spicy and flavorful, with plenty of fried shallots in the dressing. Tofu salad was also a bit spicy, and had a similar flavor profile. The yellow chickpea tofu had a great texture—not too mealy, and it was cut in small strips that held together well. One co-worker at first mistook it for a mango salad.

        Beef curry had tender pieces of beef in a mild sauce with what I think were chickpeas.

        Mohinga was my least favorite—soup was served separate from the noodles and crispy lentils for takeout, but even when we combined them, I thought the soup lacked depth. I wanted more catfish flavor.

        We had enough food for 14 people, and total bill before tip was only $120, so it was a good bargain for a takeout office lunch. Though it may not be the best Burmese in the city, it's certainly a good option downtown.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Dave MP

          I quite liked the tea leaf salad, both the crunch and the flavor--went back for thirds! In comparison to my memory of the tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar though, this version is far less funky/pungent. Which is to my liking, but since it's a fermented dish I wondered if its mildness might not veer away from more traditional versions?

          I also very much enjoyed the tofu salad, though I'd disagree that it was a bit spicy. But maybe that's because I ate it after trying the shrimp noodle salad, which did have a nice bite to it.

          I'd definitely get food from Sapphire again for a work lunch. It's a great change of pace, and was tasty and affordable.

          1. re: DeborahL

            DeborahL, glad you posted this. I'd read your earlier post in the other thread about not liking the funky/pungent aspects elsewhere and was trying to figure out how to break it to you that these are a fermented product and unavoidable. If Sapphire Lounge's is less funky, well, maybe it doesn't have as much of the main ingredient which would be a major ding. Also, there's typically some dried shrimp which are smelly, as well as a dash of fish sauce that is quite pungent too. You might enjoy other Burmese salads, such as the ginger salad, more.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              i have to say that after my initial excitement on finding this dish so close to my office, it is the lack of pungency and the soggy factors that have kept me from returning.

            2. re: DeborahL

              The funkiness of Burmese fermented tea leaf varies. Burmese Kitchen's was milder and lighter in color than what I'd had at Burma Superstar and Mandalay, I asked the owner about that and he said the version they used was made from younger leaves that were soaked in running water for a long time before being fermented.

              If you don't like the funkiness, most places make ginger and/or rainbow salad which are similar but without the tea leaf.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Thanks for the tips Melanie and Robert! I love ginger, so next time I'll go for the ginger salad.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Sapphire doesn't have ginger salad on the menu.