Last night, I had dinner with my college boyfriend’s parents. On the heels of a recent break up, it might seem a little odd to have dinner with the parents of a different ex-boyfriend or maybe having dinner with any ex-boyfriend’s parents for that matter, but I’ve known them for years (I still can’t address them by their first names) and they’re such incredibly warm, generous, funny, interesting people and we always have a great time together.
Mrs. K picked me up in the afternoon and took me to Telegraph Hill, a neighborhood famous for its flock of wild parrots, which descended from escaped or released pets. We had a really lovely walk and talked about what we had been up to, about my fears and hopes for the future. We didn’t see any parrots, but I had such a nice time looking for them that I didn’t really mind.
After our walk, we picked up Mr. K and we drove down to Clement Street in the Inner Richmond. B Star was opened after the success of its sister restaurant, Burma Superstar, which lives up its boastful name with the legendary two hour waits at its three locations (one just down the street, one in Oakland and one in Alameda). B Star’s concept is more pan-Asian fusion, but the owners brought the most popular items from Burma Superstar to its little sister down Clement.
One of the wildly popular dishes on the menus at both restaurants is the tea leaf salad, which Mrs. K assured me was a must. The salad, a modern take on traditional Burmese la phet thote, is composed of fermented tea leaves, fried garlic, peanuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, jalepenos, pickled ginger and romaine lettuce. It is mixed at the table with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
I can see why this dish is so popular around these parts. It’s very fresh and flavorful and nutritious. I was a little wary of the tea leaves (I feared they would be bitter or strange), but the fermentation process makes them surprisingly mild and they add something special to what is otherwise just… well, a salad.
For those of you who think you can make this at home (I certainly did), the restaurant is quick to assert on the menu at Burma Superstar that “Yes, we really do go to Burma to get the tea for this salad, and it’s worth the trip.” Others foolhardy enough to try this at home took to Chowhound.com desperately seeking fermented tea leaves in the Bay Area to no avail.
One person recounted asking a Burmese restaurant about their supplier and was told a Burmese sailor brings large quantities for them whenever he comes through town. Others trying to be helpful suggested he go to a Burmese monastery and ask the monks. No wonder people wait in line for hours to eat this stuff. Getting a hold of the key ingredient involves something like the opening scenes of Batman Begins.
For our main course, we decided to share three dishes. The first was miso cod on garlic noodles, which was very good, though I didn’t really taste the miso and found the fish a little overseasoned. Putting aside one line cook’s heavy hand with the salt shaker, it was probably my favorite dish.
We also shared the braised pork belly and white beans, which was rather nice. My mother made a lot of braised meat dishes when I was growing up, so it was especially nostalgic and satisfying to my palate. In this post-David Chang world we’re living in, pork belly is something of a cliche on menus, but people love it for a reason. It tastes really good. Fatty, salty things usually do.
The least exciting, though still very edible, dish was the spicy shrimp and eggplant tomato curry. It wasn’t bad by any means. In fact, like everything else, it was pretty tasty. It just suffered from being forgettable. It was the food equivalent of a nice guy who’s a friend of a friend and you always seem to have pleasant, enjoyable conversations whenever you run into him at parties but you can’t for the life of you remember his name.
Overall, the food was quite good and well-priced. My only real complaint about the restaurant is the service. Everyone was friendly enough, but they had obviously been trained to hurry people along so they could turn over the tables as expeditiously as possible. It’s definitely not the sort of place you go on a date to look longingly into each other’s eyes and talk for hours over a bottle of wine. It’s noisy and packed mostly with families and people eat quickly.
I get it, but we were about halfway through our meal when a waiter came up to us and asked, “So are you ready for boxes yet?” I wasn’t even sure what he meant at first. And then when I realized he was trying to get us to pack up our food and go, I was shocked.
He and his co-workers came by a few more times to try and collect our plates before we were finished. Annoyingly, when I actually wanted someone to come by to refill my water, they were nowhere to be found. When I finally got the waiter’s attention and asked him for more water, he joked, “Oh, sorry. We’re all out.” I might have thought it were funny if I didn’t think he had spent the previous 20 minutes passive aggressively trying to get rid of us.
Despite all this, we stayed for dessert and had black rice pudding with coconut ice cream that had just the right amount of saltiness to add a nice counterpoint to the sweetness. I think black rice is beautiful and love its nutty flavor and wholesome texture. It somehow feels nutritious even when it’s drowned in everything bad for you.
Before we finished, a waitress put the bill on the table and said, “Whenever you’re ready.” I’ve begun to despise that phrase because it’s a lie. If you really meant “whenever you’re ready,” you wouldn’t slap it down on the table before I even asked for it. The seemingly polite phrase is belied by the rude action accompanying it.
It’s a lot like when people say, “No offense, but…” and then follow it with something offensive. The “no offense” doesn’t make the comment inoffensive. You’re still saying something offensive. So no offense, B Star, but your service sucks.