Munch goes to Burma Tokyo
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Munch grew up down the street from a Scottish joint that served sushi one day a week. That's right, on Sushi Tuesday (or Monday?), you could get your oatmeal-stuffed sheep intestines with a side of raw fish. Munch found this pretty unappetizing, and wondered who the heck would go to a Scottish restaurant to get sushi? That'd be like trying to order pizza from Primanti Brothers, or proposing a tax on local college students. Nonsense.
Burma Tokyo, a new restaurant in the heart of the charming Bohemia of Oakland, does just this: combining two disparate and difficult-to-master cuisines on the same menu, side by side. (At least both are on the Asian continent.)
The hole-in-the-wall joint serves a wide selection of sushi and hibachi items, but its real treasure is the Burmese cuisine. And the food is prepared fresh and fast, making it an ideal choice for both Foodie Friend of Munch and Perpetually Busy Friend of Munch, who was looking for a meal that could be eaten quickly and with his favorite food, Blackberry (the electronic version).
To be clear, the sushi is not terrible, it's just not great. And on Munch's first visit, Munch and Foodie Friend of Munch ordered a lobster Masago roll ($6) and the pork dumplings ($4.99) for starters. The lobster roll was forgettable, but the pork dumplings by comparison were standouts. Scrumptious pork and scallion filling were wrapped in a beautifully crunchy, almost pastry-like jacket and served with a sweetened soy sauce dipping accompaniment.
And Munch, regrettably, started off with an incredibly rich avocado shake ($3.50), a heavenly creamy smoothie of avocado, cream and a touch of honey. It was simultaneously strange and delicious (Munch that avocado was a savory thing!) but it quickly ate up valuable tummy space for the banquet that was to come.
Next came the Burmese food. First there was the Kyar San Hingar ($7), which the menu indicated is "One of the most famous soups in Burma." Munch agreed. If Kyar San Hingar was a Pittsburgh celebrity, it'd be like Michael Keaton: famous, but for good reason, like the Batman movies. The broth -- intensely salty with fish sauce -- was chock full of glass noodles and fish balls. (Stop your giggling. They're the Asian cousin of gefilte fish.) Munch and FFOM slurped it up enthusiastically. The accompaniments of lime and cilantro offered a welcome respite from the occasionally overwhelming saltiness of the dish.
Next came the Dan Pauk, which was listed under the section of the menu of specialty dishes from other Asian counties, but our waitress explained that these foods were actually Burmese. Burmese food is heavily influenced by Burma's Asian neighbors, near and far, so the food was listed with its influence. In the case of the Dan Pauk, it was India.
The rice and chicken dish came out wonderfully, a whole thigh of chicken cooked to moist perfection. The bed of rice it sat on was punctuated by cashews and tangy raisins and flavored with a blend of spices, curry and cinnamon among them.
With PBFOM, we had little time to linger, so we ordered the dumplings, the pork sumai ($4.99) and a piping hot bowl of Kyae Oae ($7), a Burmese noodle soup. The sumai (Japanese dumplings) came out a little on the soggy side. The Kyae Oae had a simple clear broth filled with opaque rice noodles and a menagerie of toppings, including creamy-centered quail eggs, pork meatballs and fish balls.
PBFOM's assessment came in the enthusiasm with which he slurped down the noodles and shoveled in the sumai, rather than in actual words.
So Munch's call? Come for the Burmese food, stay for the waitress' tales of her homeland of Burma and leave the sushi. Period.
First Published December 10, 2009 12:00 am