Annika, 20-something, and Mark, 70-something, are out to find the Mission’s most noteworthy noodles.
Over a game of poker one night, my friends posed a question to the table: Would you rather be a famous celebrity or a famous athlete?
I see that question, Mark, and raise you another: Would you rather be a superstar, or in love?
That’s right, I took the plunge and entered Burma Love, the “contemporary younger sister” of the famed local chain Burma Superstar. While I had never eaten at the more renowned Burma Superstar (I know, bad Bay Area native), plenty of other people have. Its delicious food famously skyrocketed it to stardom and established an empire of Burmese kitchens regionwide.
I figured I’d avoid the hoopla and drop by Burma Love on Tuesday night, when it would be relatively quiet and casual. Instead, I walked in on a crowd of fans.
To the surprise of the waitress (and me), every table was taken. Couples curled up over drinks, friends gossiped while passing noodles, and, most notably, taking center stage was one giant birthday party (or post-work networking event; I can’t ever tell in this town). What a debut.
Thus, I snagged a seat at the bar and ordered the nan pia dok, a coconut chicken curry noodle dish. To quench my thirst I ordered a Burma Superstar cocktail, which consisted of alluring ingredients: bourbon, guava, pineapple, lime juice, and thai-chili hibiscus all topped up with a chili. The peppery flavors brought me back to a sweet chili sauce I used to dip lumpia with as a child. It was strange, but I admired it. It’s probably not for everyone. When I described it to a friend, he promptly replied: “Gross.”
Returning with my yet-to-be-assembled nan pia dok in hand, my waitress asked if I’d like to see a show. Like a magician requesting the audience to pick a card, she flourished the ensemble of vibrant ingredients distinctly arrayed in the bowl: clean-cut green string beans, a mound of tender tan garlic, purply slivers of red onion, and a raincoat-yellow lemon. Then, the trick. Was I ready? Yes. One, two, kazaam! With a whirling fork she mixed, and before my eyes she pulled colorless flat noodles out of thin air. At the end, the noodles lay happily dressed with the rest of its ingredient entourage. Ta-da!
It was love at first bite. I immediately tasted the potent coconut curry. My tongue tingled upon the spicy sensation. Every subsequent bite showcased a new star: the soft and tender shredded chicken, the baby bite of the baby peanuts, the gentle tear of lettuce.
The crisp and bright green beans snapped perfectly and left a demure and slightly sweet aftertaste. It reminded me of my grandpa’s beans, grown with special care. I must have actually exclaimed, “holy shit, this is so good” three times. There’s a reason why SpongeBob’s Krabby Patty’s secret ingredient, however cheesy, is love.
Yet, as Shakespearians know, star-crossed love can go awry. Toward the end of the meal I had to deal with an unequal ratio of noodles/veggies to chicken. The spice, mounted by the cocktail and the spiced curry chicken, started to feel more like pissed-off bees were in my stomach instead of butterflies. But, like true love, the fight was worth it.
Toward the end of the night, I spotted the Burma Superstar cookbook displayed prominently on the edge of the bar.
Huh, I thought. A Superstar in Love.
Maybe you can have it all.
Some will disagree, as is their right, but I think I would make a lovely superstar.
I can’t believe you wasted your youth noodling around Foster City, and never paid your respects to the sainted Burmese (Myanmese?) flagship on Clement.
At least once.
I count myself among its earliest admirers, having stopped by often after late hikes on Mt. Tam in Marin. Until it became too popular; too much of the scene you describe bulldozing its way into my gastronomic consciousness.
Did you know Oct. 6 is National Noodle Day? Do you think our Mission Local overlords will celebrate by giving its overworked reporters the day off (paid)? Ha ha. Instead The Editor piles on noodles to the news.
“Make the best of it,” I grumbled, so I went for the Burma Love garlic noodles, because that’s what I usually order when I’m watching the Giants and, this year especially, they’ve become the team’s lucky noodle.
Since the Giants were pounding the Padres, I had more than enough bandwidth to pay close attention to what I was eating.
The dish had an orange hue; maybe more tangerine than orange, definitely not blue, which I took to be a good omen.
The noodles were of the round egg variety, cut to a manageable length with a bitability and a boldness I imagined to be characteristic of my imaginary Burma. They gracefully clung to my fork and did not sog out under the sauce, which was sweet and spicy, mixed in with garlic and, of course, scallions and onions.
I also added shrimp, which was plentiful enough and played a firm, if low-key, supporting role. The superstar of this Burma Love extravaganza would be the noodles.
I dug in as Buster Posey singled home a run. It tasted just like the old days. Do you find taste contains its own memories?
And illusions. I noticed something tentative. As if the noodles seemed anxious to show off their noodlyness, but were being held back by the sauce. Sweet, yes, but not enough garlic, or oil. Where was the spice? It covered but did not infuse the noodles. I was happy with the game, but uneasy about the meal. What was it?
In the ninth inning of a game that had been over long ago, I found the word: Dull.
What a reversal from the old days, when the noodles were scintillating and the Giants were dull. Yet there was no question, no doubting my taste buds: these garlic noodles had little going for them.
Extra oil helped, but I felt like it was still covering up a lackluster performance with an oily sheen, rather than engaging in and bringing out the inner noodle. Like a cloth mask, the dish was better than nothing, but still below the N95 standards I expected (or what I told myself I remembered).
With the Giants winning, I had no reason to indulge my disappointment, but it lingered well into the post-game. Has the Burma Superstar Empire grown too big too fast? Has Love been sunk by Stardom?
Or was it just an off night? Slumps happen.
Hope it’s not a bad omen for the playoffs.
Burma Love (website) is at 211 Valencia St. near Duboce Avenue, and has another location downtown.