Rangoon Ruby, PA ?
I tried hitting Rangoon Ruby's, in Palo Alto, in the space that had Baklava and iTapas and I can't remember what before.
The place was *packed*, people spilling out onto the sidewalk. It was a friday before a football game, maybe parents back in town, but still ... ? No notes here yet.
New Chin's, in RWC, is an interesting place. It's some kind of mad mashup of south east asian in a formica low rent location. The food isn't great, but it's kind of a hoot, with thai, viet, chinese all represented in a single soup - and individual entrees. Prices are cheap. We may be back - but it was kind of low-rent, not in a good way.
Vesta is still killing it.
There's a new Thai place in Mountain View, Bangkok Bistro, at the corner of Rengsdorf and Middlefield. It's kind of a one-man-show, one good thai cook - really good thai cook - putting out some very homey curries in a slightly upscale but very small place. They've got a lot of teething pains, with half the menu items not available, and of the four scale of "hot" -- "hot" wasn't "thai hot". Worth a shot if you live in that neck of the woods - in a few weeks.
Near work, I am still eating a lot of La Bamba (next to La Costena), but I've identified a new place for after work beer & food.
Francesca's. 23 beers on tap, the only place I've seen both Budweiser and Lagunitas. I tried to stop by this week, and there were no seats available. It's a funny road-house kind of place with slightly scary big-haired women from the local trailer park. But, with a good beer list, as long as the wings or burgers are tolerable, why wouldn't one go? Sponsors BARF, the local sportsbike online forum, and an AFM racer.
At work we are liking Samovar Deli for lunch. I haven't actually been in, but I think the owners might be Azerbajani, and the best thing I've cadged from co-workers is a funny meat pie. Good spice, good gravy.
To kick off Tea Leaf Salad month, I hustled over to Rangoon Ruby for dinner on the 1st with my brother, and for reinforcement, our friend’s son. This turned out to be a good choice of dining companions, as the teen had been to Burma Superstar in Oakland recently and could offer ready comparison.
I’d made a reservation via Opentable. After circling a couple times, I used the valet across the street at Evvia for parking ($6). About half the square footage is devoted to the bar area and several were waiting for tables, making me glad I’d reserved ahead. Our server explained that the bar specializes in tiki drinks. I’d wanted to order a cocktail but passed after I saw the $11 to $16 price range. She asked our desired heat level and we specified medium for some and hot on others depending on the dish. We tried:
Palata served with lamb curry ($8 + $2 supplement) – This was ordered “hot” and barely registered as mildly piquant. I flagged down our server who rushed over assuming our food was too spicy. No, we told her, not hot at all. She said she’d inform the kitchen to turn it up. The palata itself was quite nice with beautiful crisp layers. Besides being spice-deficient, the chunks of lamb in red curry were dry and stringy, not worth eating. This dish worked out to be a $10 piece of flatbread.
Tea leaf salad, $12, mixed and dressed with lemon juice at the table – Before ordering this, I’d asked our server if the dish included any lettuce or cabbage. Once affirmed, I made sure that it would be mixed at the table in case I needed to change any proportions (i.e., remove some lettuce). The presentation included some tableside flair of squeezing the lemon half from height over the plate. This photo also shows the tiki-ization of the diet coke ($3.50) in the background.
The tea leaf salad turned out to be the best dish of this meal and a reason to return here. While the plate included some chopped romaine, this was just a small amount compared with the outsize portion of actual tea leaves and tender shoots. The pickled whole leaves and tiny crisp shoots seemed much more special than I’ve been served at our other local restaurants. Our server had asked if dried shrimp would be a problem, and the inclusion in this dish gave it the Southeast Asian taste missing from the others.
Pumpkin pork stew, $15 – Our server had explained that the dishes were sized to serve more than one person, to be shared family style. This was indeed a big portion. The kabocha was cooked thoroughly to bring out all the flavor, but some of the pork was overdone though a few of the pieces were fine. This had been ordered medium-spicy and was quite mild. The yellow curry was pretty boring and the fresh mint leaf garnish clashed with the flavor profile. Still, we agreed that this was tastier and larger than Burma Superstar’s version even if we didn’t feel like finishing it.
Egg and okra curry, $12 – Besides the tea leaf salad, this was the only other dish that I’d order again. Bathed in red curry, somehow the same spice blend flattered this vegetarian version more than the lamb prep. The eggs were deep-fried with rubbery, golden-brown exteriors and the okra seemed frozen rather than fresh, also rather rubbery. We’d ordered this “hot”, and the kitchen spiced it up by including slices of fresh jalapeño and extra garlic that added more personality than merely amping up cayenne for raw heat.
Coconut rice, $3 – Unlike other versions, the heady scent of coconut was missing from this dish. And quite faint on the palate too, as well as the grains of rice being overcooked. Plain rice is a buck less and the kitchen definitely shorted us on the coconut front.
Nan gyi dok, $12 – For a first visit to a Burmese place, I’ll usually order ono kauk swe. But since we wanted to try more dishes, we opted for the non-soup version of the same ingredients served with rice noodles. Presented in components and then mixed at the table, the coconut chicken curry was as safe and boring as the pumpkin dish. The crispy fried pastry bits were a nice touch. Don’t think I’ll be ordering ono kauk swe here.
I’d asked for some balachaung and fish sauce to doctor our food. None ever arrived, not sure if this was a service issue or some other problem.
Low point of this meal turned out to be dessert. Both things we tried were simply awful. I asked our server the source of the mediocre ice cream. It’s made by Crystal (Foster Farms) and has too much overrun, gummy mouthfeel and faint, artificial tasting flavors. For $10 desserts, the ice cream needs to be much better quality than this.
Sweet sticky rice with coconut ice cream, $10 – The black rice was overcooked and falling apart instead of being chewy grains. Again, it was low on the promised coconut quotient. And the coconut ice cream didn’t taste much like coconut.
Coconut pudding with mango ice cream, $10 – Lumps of decidedly un-coconut flavored starch were battered, deep-fried and drizzled with some sweetened condensed milk. I’d hoped this might be something like the fried milk that Seafood Harbor used to serve but no such luck. Stinginess with coconut seems to be a signature style here.
The setting is contemporary and attractive. However, the tables are squashed so tightly together I could hear all the much too intimate details of the conversation at the next table. When the people behind us attempted to leave, their chairs bumped into us. The person sitting on the aisle side can count on jostled by passers-by. And we’re not large people. Anyone over 250 pounds should think twice about eating in this sardine can.
The bill came to $120 including tax, tip and two diet cokes, or $40 per person sans alcohol. I compared notes with a chowhound pal we ran into that night and his bill with cocktails came to $50 per person. We agreed that this is the Downtown Palo Alto premium padding the tab. At that price I’d want food that’s a bit more special than this with more comfort at the table. Aside from the desserts and coconut drought, this was above average Burmese food and better than Burma Superstar where the chefs used to work.
re: Melanie Wong
Very interesting regarding spice level. I am starting to wonder if people 'round here really punish restaurants for high spice levels - saying they can handle it then sending dishes back. My statement "forget the label, just make each dish like they would make it in Burma" got us some serious kick without being blinding. I think they still dialed back.
We sat at the bar, a good choice.
Customers might not be sending dishes back, but just leaving the food on their plates where the staff can see that it is unsatisfactory (and then never returning). I had read your comments in the thread about the Cambodian/Thai place in Mountain View, and am glad to see your new approach working. Any scale has to be calibrated first, so it takes a few tries even when one asks for "spicy hot" or "10 out of 10". Also not every dish is meant to be raging hot, for example, the mohinga (catfish chowder) you ordered is eaten less spicy I'm told when it's the morning breakfast. So, yes, best to ask the server how someone Burmese would like the dish spiced.
I had noticed the happy hour notation on the drinks menu and asked the hostess about it. She said that there's no food served at that time but they're working on it. She didn't mention any discounts on drinks either. If you return, please see what's in store.
Burmese Indie Rock
Finally, Rangoon Ruby, and other palo alto news.
RR is authentically good, and worth a stop. This place will be around for a while.
It's got an upscale bar, with bonuses like dry ice in the tiki drinks and all your tiki favorites. Any place with both kinds of bullit, and three kinds of potrero gin, is clearly a quality bar. Beer selection is a little unusual, but in a good way. Slanted toward lager/pilsner with a lesser known west coast IPA (forget the brewer).
On to the food. We ate at the bar, so the bartender was our waiter, and he was genuinely cool.
Let me digress and talk about heat. Our waiter (barman) asked how hot we wanted each dish. I'm trying a new algo, "tell the kitchen to make it like that make it in [ burma ]". I don't want it any hotter, but I don't want it toned down. We asked for descriptions of some dishes, and he said "this dish is made with dark meat chicken, can be a bit much for some people", we said "not us", trying to get a little authenticity. I laid down my new line for the entree, and GF blurted out "Dear God, No!".
The barman translated this into "hot, not very hot".
We started with the catfish chowder, which is an exceptional dish. There's not a lot of catfish, but there's something like mung bean brittle, and the soup is like a cajun roux. Tableside, the runner brought a dish of dried peppers and a lemon, and said, "how hot do you want it?" After the "Dear God No" I was in a mood to let GF call the shot on other dishes, but she said Hot, and he dumped in all the peppers and squeezed in the lemon. It was not too hot - it was a decent kick, and made the dish. Very nice complexity.
Second up was the tea leaf salad, just because it's tea leaf salad month. The dish was very good - enough tea leaf - but slightly lacking in sour and kick. Could have used 3x the amount of peppers. Still, lots of crunch, lots of tea. GF had never had tea leaf, so a bonus for her.
Third was the mint jalapeno jelly chicken, recommended by the barman. He said it was "bold", and he was right. At level "hot" it had a solid kick. The coconut rice was the best pairing. The mint was slightly buried, the chicken was high quality, the spices and pepper were fighting in a pleasant way.
A friend of mine showed up (love those social apps), and we ordered the Village Catfish. Friend checked out the dish we had ordered "hot" and said "do that again". The sauce was very good, excellent complexity, fish wasn't terribly noticeable. With a sauce like that, who cared.
Back to the bar. We had three of the tiki drinks, and I wouldn't say they were the height of mixology. Not Tradr Sam or Forbidden Island. Good news: high quality spirits. Bad news: not enough focus on the freshness of the juice. Prices were on the high side - we're now well past the $10 cocktail into the $12 base up through $15. Given the tiki-ware served, and the pleasant dry ice, and stiff pours, I did not feel cheated. I did feel a little "geeze, I'm getting old". The other tiki-ish place on University Ave, The Bar associated with Madam Tam's, has cheaper drinks but much lower booze quality. I would rather have one of these than two at The Bar.
One word about the menu. It looks long, but it's actually shorter than it looks. There are really about 6 preps, and they break out separate menu items for whether the protein is tofu, beef, chicken, pork, shrimp. 3 pages turns into 1. Some of the dishes I liked best at BSS were more unusual, like the yellow bean tofu. RR has some dishes I've never seen before (like the Mint/Chicken thing), but there really aren't that many dishes. I hope they keep rotating new things in.
Price - I think we walked out at about $40/pp all in, averaging a drink each, stuffed. The owner was lurking around by the end of the evening, and ended up at the front corner of the bar. He's in his early 50's and is a bit round and happy in the face.
I've been a fan of each of the restaurants to inhabit this space, but it's a bit cursed. iTapas, with its crispy smelts and very solid bar, then Baklava (which didn't last as long), now Rangoon Ruby. The space is still high and bright - not quite as awe-filled hushed as Tamerine - and can be louder. They could turn down the lights a bit.
Better than BSS? Yes, at a price.
re: Melanie Wong
Levanda closed, not sure how long ago. They tried going croatian for a while, some alternate menus, didn't work. Incoming will be some kind of thin crust pizza. Will miss the live music spilling out the front door.
Miyake has paper over the windows. A facebook post says the phone is disconnected.
The Bar (Madame Tan) now has happy hour all evening, even on a friday. At $5 for a tolerable glass of sangria, it's worth getting a lousy bahn mi (not enough pepper, good bread), at these prices.
Rangoon Ruby is still crowded, tried a few more times but wandered away.
Food at Gravity is lower than at sister Reposado. Not charming enough to return.
Regarding RWC - Spaghetti House is not tolerable. Food grade is lower than Cheesecake Factory. Wait staff was pushy but charmingly so.
Update on Gravity
They are now open until 12 midnight every night of the week!
At that hour, they're the best bet in town --- so we've eaten there a few more times and have warmed to them.
Price is a little high for what you get - I am preferring Left Bank for that kind of thing.