KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: B Star Bar Attempts Burmese Fusion
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Thursday, June 21, 2007
B Star Bar Attempts Burmese Fusion
Last week, a friend from cooking class tipped me off to B Star Bar, the month-old offshoot of Burma Superstar that's located two blocks away on Clement Street. B Star Bar offers a blend of Burmese, Asian, and Western dishes, and though it doesn't outshine the Mother Ship, it's worth a visit if you can't bear BSS's legendary two-hour wait.

Though they don't take reservations for parties smaller than six, when I called they were kind enough to take one anyway for the three of us. A nice touch, I thought, and smart for a new restaurant that's trying to attract customers. There's no sign up yet, but if you look for a swash of yellow paint you'll see the words B Star Bar stenciled on the window. We walked in last Saturday night to find some friends killing time (and taking the edge off their hunger) while they waited for their table at Burma Superstar. "Order the croquettes!" they advised.

I didn't linger in the large, spare front room, but headed straight to the back patio, which is the place to be. Buddha statues and lush green foliage create an exotic, jungle-y feel for the dozen or so tables, and a few glimpses of the night sky peek out from the tent. There are enough heat lamps to keep everybody comfortable in shirtsleeves.

The menu combines traditional Burmese preparations with Asian and Western classics. Sometimes the dishes are a mix of several traditions, but more often than not each one sticks to its own. We started with spicy edamame ($3.95), a bowl of green pods slick with red chilies and chunks of garlic. They were fiery, and after a few bites my battle-damaged tongue begged for a break.

I was dismayed when everything we ordered arrived at once, and though the wait staff were attentive, the coursing made it clear both they and the kitchen are inexperienced. The Kabocha croquettes ($5.95) came three panko-dusted orbs to a plate. They're filled with Kabocha squash and seasoned with tomatoes and curry before being deep-fried. They were sweet, as was the addictive sticky sauce that accompanied them. Though the result wasn't quite one-dimensional, I wouldn't have objected to a bit more crunch.

I was eagerly anticipating the tealeaf salad ($7.95), a BSS classic. I was disappointed that it wasn't tossed tableside, and it was missing some of the complexity I loved due to the omission of dried shrimp and jalapeños. But the uniquely bitter tang of tealeaves was unmistakable, and we polished off every last bite. A desperate plea to the management: please, please, please, bring back the original.

We ordered two kinds of noodles, and my favorite dish of the evening was the kau soi ($8.95)- ramen-like noodles mixed with ground chicken and pickled mustard greens in a coconut curry sauce. The menu calls this bordertown food; I don't know if that refers to Bangladesh, India, China, Laos or Thailand, all of which butt up to Myanmar. It's similar to BSS's nan pia dok, a dish that I once said I would walk through crushed glass to eat, and I would do the same for the kau soi.

The other noodle dish was see jyet ($7.95), thin, long noodles with fried garlic, shredded duck, and cucumbers. It wasn't garlicky enough to wow me, or to surpass its virtuoso cousin, but my dining companions lapped it up.

The Asian Niçoise salad with grilled cod ($10.95) is one of the few creations that blends culinary traditions. Field greens were topped with lightly blanched asparagus, fanned avocado slices, shiitake mushrooms, hard-boiled egg, and grilled cod and tossed with miso dressing. My favorite part was the pile of handmade sweet potato chips on the side, but I'd probably skip the entire thing next time.

Short ribs with Hawaiian-style pineapple fried rice ($9.95) were hit and miss. The rice was built with juicy chunks of grilled pineapple and grains moistened by a slippery fried egg yolk. The kimchee was bracingly hot, but the short ribs were tough and fatty. If they'd upgrade the meat, however, I'd order it again in a heartbeat.

We brought our own wine, but they have some decent options by the glass, carafe, and bottle, as well as soju cocktails and the famous Burma cooler, beer spiked with ginger and fresh lemon. After gorging ourselves on noodles, we passed on dessert.

Though I applaud the Burma Superstar crew for wanting to spread their wings, by far the most successful dishes were the Burmese-leaning ones. If B Star Bar can tighten up the menu, incorporating intoxicating Burmese touches with better-executed pan-Asian and Western ideas, they could have a good thing going. For now, keep them in mind if you simply can't stomach the wait up the street.

Note: This write-up is based on one anonymous visit.

B Star Bar
127 Clement St. b/w 2nd & 3rd
San Francisco
(415) 933-9900
Open every day but Wednesday for lunch and dinner

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