Brett had Bay Area bloggers buzzing. “Where is he taking you?” they asked when I told them about our e-mail exchange. The exchange went like this:
Me: I want to meet you!
Brett: Great! Let’s meet for lunch Thursday.
Me: Ok. But there’s a problem.
Me: I’m going to MANRESA that night and I don’t want to eat too big a lunch.
Brett: Hmmm… Ok, I’ve thought it over and I have the perfect place.
Me: You do?
Brett: Yes. It’s a surprise. See you Thursday!
So I told everyone he had a perfect place but that it was a surprise and everyone was anxious to know what it was. So was I. He picked me up near where I was staying in the Castro and drove me north or south or east or west, I really have no idea. I do know he said we were in the more authentic Chinatown. And then he said, “Here we are,” and we were there in front of the best-named restaurant in the history of restaurants: Burma Superstar.
Some background first: Brett is the cheerily unpretentious chef/host of In Praise of Sardines, a much beloved site on the web that features stories, chef tricks and travel accounts which have earned him a loving audience. Lately, though, Brett’s site has become uniquely interesting: now it’s an online account of his exploits opening his own restaurant, Olallie, which will debut in the Fall of 2007 in the Noe Valley neighborhood.
So I was in good company when we sat down at Burma Superstar. I had tons to ask him–how do you design a restaurant? How will you manage the staff? How will you choose the menu?–but I was also hungry. So Brett studied the Burma Superstar menu and I told him to choose his favorites, I’m very open minded:
The place, by the way, was buzzing. Apparently at night there’s a huge wait; by day we only waited around ten minutes. I loved its authenticity (when I went to the bathroom, I peeked into the kitchen and saw unique cooking vessels and cooking utensils—wok-like pots with various liquids bubbling away). I also loved the enthusiasm of the staff: our waitress steered us through the menu with great energy and care.
Brett and I drank Ginger Lemonade:
A perfectly balanced beverage with just the right amount of ginger.
Then for the coolest dish: Tea Leaf Salad.
According to the Burma Superstar website the salad has: “urmese tea leaves, tomatoes, lettuce, dried shrimp (or vegetarian), fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts, and split yellow peas.”
The waitress tossed it table-side so it ended up looking like this:
What a salad! I wish you could eat this salad. If you live in the area, you really should go right now and eat this salad. I’ll wait.
It’s just one of those salads or dishes that create a synaptic event in your brain, a taste memory that wasn’t there before. The depth of flavor brought by the tea leaves and then how they’re combined with everything else is really extraordinary. Worthy of a superstar title.
We had Vegetarian Samusa Soup:
It had “samusas broken up with falafels, lentils, cabbage, and onions.” I loved how the falafel still stayed crispy and firm in the soup, and though it was slightly too spicy for my taste, I could see myself loving this in winter.
At the suggestion of the waitress, we had the Vegetable Curry Deluxe:
This had eggplants, squash, tomatoes and tofu and though it was really well prepared, it was my least favorite dish because I feel like I’ve had the same elsewhere and just as good. Not true this noodle dish:
This, I think (Brett ordered), was the Bun Tay Kauswer: “Flour noodles with a stronger coconut curry sauce, split yellow pea, eggs, cabbage, and fried onions.” (I’m guessing it was that one because of the eggs.) I’ve never had anything like it and that’s enough to recommend it alone. It wasn’t as good as the tea leaf salad, but what is?
All in all, this was an outstanding choice for lunch by Brett. The Bay Area bloggers were right to buzz. And even if it had been a bad choice, it was a treat to get to spend time with such a knowledgable but unassuming guy. Can’t wait to see how Olallie develops and, more importantly, I can’t wait to visit again and eat there! Thanks Brett for a great day.
[UPDATE: Read Brett’s take on our lunch here!.]