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Burma Superstar

Mission of Burma

Open since 1992, Burma Superstar is a clean, cheerful restaurant, located on bustling Clement Street with a notorious wait list and a menu that reflects Burmaís place within the world. That is, as a country bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand, the Burmese borrow from their neighbors -- from stir-fries to rich curries to deep-fried fritters and salads with fish sauce and nuts -- in order to create a unique cuisine that brings together the regionís favorites.

On our first visit to Burma Superstar, it was late afternoon on a Sunday, so we didnít experience a wait. The dining room contained tables covered with white cloths, and minimal Burmese-style decorations; the atmosphere was relaxing.
Our waiter pointed us toward authentic Burmese dishes so we could sample the countryís specialties, suggesting tea leaf salad ($8) and Burmese style beef curry ($11). We also ordered pumpkin shrimp stew ($12) with a side of "Tan Poi" rice, a savory rice made with Burmese spices, along with the ubiquitous coconut rice ($2 each).

We could see why the tea leaf salad was a favorite -- served composed on a square white plate, it looked lovely. The server identified each of the ingredients, pointing out the minced brown tea leaves, the chopped tomatoes, the slivers of garlic, along with the dried shrimp, sesame seeds, peanuts, romaine, and yellow split peas. All was tossed with dressing at the table, producing a crisp delicious salad with a nutty flavor.

After this starter, we were served the Burmese style beef curry, containing large chunks of beef and potato with a golden curry sauce. This dish paired well with the Tan Poi rice, though the curry wasnít necessarily distinctive or spicy. Next came the pumpkin shrimp stew, which turned out to be little more than half-mashed pumpkin with shrimp -- a little sweet, with an odd, lumpy texture. Overall, the service was a little slow, especially considering there were less customers in the restaurant than usual.

On another visit, a Wednesday somewhere close to 6:30 pm, we were told the wait would be around forty minutes. We gave the hostess our cell number and went up the street for a beer at a pub, so the wait was relatively painless. This time we tried the "Rainbow Salad" ($9), "Vegetarian Samusa Soup" ($9), garlic chili shrimp ($12), "Vegetable Curry Delux" ($9), and more of the coconut rice. We noted our neighbors drinking Thai ice tea ($9) and sangria (pitcher = $17, 1/2 pitcher = $12), but opted for a ginger lemonade ($3) and a jasmine tea ($3).

Again, our server mixed the salad at our table, and though it was more of a noodle salad, we found the fresh papaya and tamarind dressing made it both interesting and complex. Next came the samusa soup. This dish contained bits of fried tofu, falafel, and chunks of chopped samusa, the fried potato-filled appetizers similar to an Indian samosa. This soup was a favorite, and though we enjoyed the shrimp, and passively nibbled at the "Vegetable Curry Delux," we fought over and devoured every bit of the soup.

So, not every dish was a star, but best were those that combined ingredients in fresh ways -- tea and romaine, noodles and papaya, and fried dumplings in a soup. This time service was swift, no doubt because there was a line of ten people on the sidewalk, waiting for a table. And we could see Burma Superstarís attraction -- their distinctly Burmese dishes, a nice change from the profusion of Indian, Chinese and Thai eateries, succeeded in delivering a pastiche of Southeast Asia with every bite.

Inner Richmond

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