It was a rainy night (as opposed to a dark and stormy night, because that would mean I am Snoopy) and a couple good friends wanted to scoop me up for a last-minute dinner somewhere new. Oh yeah, and it's Saturday, 8pm. And we don't have reservations anywhere. Bleak, no?
Not quite. I suggested the new-ish ~B STAR BAR~, just a few blocks down from the original Burma Superstar, and was shocked when we were able to snag a table over the phone, especially considering the usual interminable waits at Burma Superstar. "Can you be here in 15 minutes?" Hells yes. Fortunately, the parking fairy helped us meet our commitment. Score.
This casual restaurant opened in the former Bistro Clement space about six months ago, and is so well lit you really can't miss it. Beam me up, Scotty. There are a number of bright globe lights suspended from the ceiling that have a vintage-y institutional look and cast an even glow on the room--our table was divided on whether we liked the warm brightness.
The look is kind of Shaker-meets-Asian, or perhaps Pier One bistro goes to the flea market in Philly, with Americana elements like wood banquettes and tables, a wood plank floor that had a lovely patina, old fashioned desk/banker chairs, a clever coat hook made with shoe trees, and a blackboard above a rustic hostess desk, all paired with a quirky modern floral display, some Asian statuary, bright green chopsticks on each table, and Mondrian-esque mirrors that are best described as Asian-industrial.
The menu reflects this same fusion/cross hybridization approach. You'll find a few Burma Superstar favorites, like the tea leaf salad ($8.50) and a variety of noodles dishes, but then you'll also find flank steak salad ($11), figs n' pigs ($11), prosciutto-wrapped figs with blue cheese, and "beer-fed" pork belly with white beans and bok choy ($13.50). Burmese bistro?
The menu is all over the map, but this is why it's a cinch for group dining: I'd wager almost everyone would find something they would like, especially good for those tricky meat-eater and vegetarian mixed groups. Plus most of the dishes are affordable, and easy to share.
There were a couple big parties seated in the back, on the upper level of the dining room, which did make for some noise. Thank god the (ugly) flat screen TV above the bar had the volume off--I am so tired of seeing TVs in non-sports bar restaurants. We were seated in the front lower section, which shielded us a bit from the group roar, but also made for rather sporadic service. Our servers were definitely friendly, just a bit forgetful. A few times we almost heard crickets at our table, cheep cheep.
We started with the recommended kabocha croquettes ($6), three piping hot panko-breaded balls that featured a whisper of curry, with scallion scattered on top, and a soy-based sauce drizzled on the plate. Big hit. Crunchy meets creamy. We also couldn't resist the fish and chips ($8), a pile of fried baby smelts under a blanket of house-made potato chips. We took turns dipping the crispy little fries with eyes into the sides of curry aioli and malt vinegar, but my favorite way was to just eat the little buggers plain.
I'm nuts about eggs, I would eat them every day and on everything, so we had to order the deviled tea eggs topped with tobiko ($5). Four egg halves were plated on a bed of red cabbage (the cabbage was also a base for the croquettes). I fully embrace spicy, I think I have at least eight hot sauces in my fridge, but the sriracha aioli just obliterated any nuance from the tea smoking.
It was a chilly night, so we couldn't wait for our bowl of vegetarian samusa soup ($9.50) to show up. Food comes out here fast and furious, so we didn't wait long. In fact, tell your server you'll want your food coursed after your appetizers, otherwise everything may come out at once--our mains showed up way too early and ended up sitting and cooling while we were just getting started with our soup. But what a soup it was: rib-sticking thick, tangy, and spiced (one friend broke out in a sweat), with satisfying chunks of potato, crunchy chunks of falafel, lentils, and cabbage. The serving was quite big, but just right for three-four people (I wouldn't order this as my own dish--too much of one thing).
We continued on the hearty tip, ordering the kau soi coconut chicken noodles ($11), described as border-town food from Burma. This sloppy (well, maybe I am sloppy--I splashed some sauce not once but twice on my shirt) and seasoned dish was full of flavor and texture, with ground chicken, hard-boiled egg, pickled mustard greens, crunchy bean spouts, cilantro, and crisp won ton chips. Good rainy night food, but it might be a mess of too many flavors for those who prefer simpler flavors and dishes.
We also dug into the yellow bean vegetarian ragu ($8.50), a spicy number made with lentils, tomato, zucchini, and almonds, accompanied by almond-topped rice. Nothing earth shattering, and the lentils were a touch undercooked, but it was savory nonetheless. For you vegetable-heads, there are all kinds of vegetarian options on the menu, like wild rice salad ($8.50), at least three noodle dishes, and ten of the 14 appetizers are vegetarian as well.
I counted 16 mains in all, with many choices that sounded interesting, like a green curry salmon potpie ($12), or Prather Ranch oxtail with a parsnip mash ($16.50). The most expensive item is the 10-12 oz. grilled rib eye ($18), so dinner won't bleed you dry. Small note: they will hopefully start using Prather Ranch for the rib eye, so I imagine the price will go up a smidge.
Desserts include an affogato and warm chocolate cake, but we opted for the black rice pudding ($6.75), with coconut cream, strawberries, and coconut ice cream--we scooped up every bite of this refreshing finish. We also ordered some Vietnamese coffee, but the condensed milk that was mixed in was so cold it made the coffee lukewarm.
Is this perfect food? No, but it's easy and what I call Monday night food (as in "I don't feel like cooking") and "get together with friends" food. I like how cheeky the menu is, with little bits of humor and personality throughout.
We were fired up that the food-friendly Chimay Tripel was offered on tap--we ordered a 48 oz. pitcher for $25 (no, that was just not for me), and there is also Pilsner Urquell (another fave with food), Hefeweizen, and Peroni on draft too. The tight wine list includes Navarro and Ridge, so that's commendable, and there are soju cocktails as well.
Shhhh, secret time: there is a spacious patio in the back. No, it's not really the season for it, but the enclosed patio is well heated, and even on a rainy night was quite cozy. I can imagine it being an ideal lunch spot in the summer, and they also serve brunch on the weekend.
127 Clement St.
Cross: 2nd Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94119