Burmese Food at Yellow Pa Taut, San Francisco

by foodhoe on October 20, 2008

15 Boardman Place (@ Bryant), San Francisco, CA 415.701.8188 | website | Sun-Th 11-9; Fri-Sat 11-9:30

This gem is tucked away in an obscure SOMA alley, across from the Hall of Justice, and is surrounded by businesses offering bail bonds. Notice the unmarked police car parked in the no parking anytime zone, the bail bonds sign next door with an additional sign proclaiming Helena is in the House. As the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words…

But inside is a calm oasis, the first thing you see is a large stone waterfall rippling along the entire wall in the entry. Then you pass a couple of trees with Yellow Pa Taut blooming, which is a Burmese flower that blooms during the Burmese New Year in April. The menu offers a taste of Rangoon, Mandalay, Maymyo and Meiktila all which are in the central and southern areas of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). In 1989 they passed a law that officially changed the English version of their country’s name to Myanmar, so I wonder if this should be called Myanmari Food?

Well, since I am unclear, I’ll continue to call it Burmese. The cuisine is influenced by the flavors and spices of its neighbors, India, China, Laos, and Thailand. The owner and chef Kam Fong Eng was very helpful in placing our orders and keeping the food flowing for our table of 10, I was very impressed that she left us an extra pile of napkins, which is something I always have to ask for.

Samosas (4 pieces) $5.95. Fried golden triangle shapes filled with curry potato served with special sauce. The wrappers are sheer and delicate and shatter with a satisfying crunch when you bite into it.

Normally I’m suspicious of special sauce, but this was something entirely different. It was spicy with chilies, garlic and some fragrant herbs and ignited anything it touched.

Fried Opo By Thee Kyaw ($6.50) served with another special sauce that was darker in color and didn’t include any fresh chunks of garlic or herbs. This seasonal vegetable is also known as the bottle gourd or calabash.

The owner Kam said it is a squash that looks sort of like zucchini but is sweeter and reminds me of chayote. It has a dense, starchy texture that is well suited to being dipped in batter and deep fried.

The last of our three appetizers was Pa Zune Kuat Kyaw ($5.50) Whole shrimp (with heads and shells) on top of a pile of bean sprouts that is battered and fried and served with the same delicious spicy sauce as the Opo squash. They looked like weird insects slumbering in a nest and the shells added an intense crunchy texture. In retrospect, we should have tried at least one non-fried appetizers, no?

Garlic Noodle with Sliced Pork Se Gyet Khauk Se’ ($8.95) is the one Burmese dish I am familiar with. The flat noodles are tossed in a pungent garlic oil, then topped with sliced pork, green onion and fried garlic. The noodles were supple and elastic – perfectly cooked and the combination of ingredients was light and refreshing.

This plate of chili laced cucumber and onion relishy stuff was spicy, tart and sweet and went really well with the noodles, although Kam said they weren’t specifically for them…

She dropped off a small bowl of clear chicken broth with thin slices of green onion and minced garlic that I latched onto. It was a really good bowl of chicken soup with clean fresh flavors.

At last, the Tea Leaf Salad Lap Pat Thouk ($9.95) arrived. Fermented tea leaves (Lahpet) are a national delicacy and are believed to have medicinal benefits. The pickled leaf is pungently salty, sour and tart and is tossed in with crisp fried garlic, peas and peanuts, toasted sesame, crushed dried shrimp, preserved shredded ginger and fried shredded coconut. The salad also includes fresh tomatoes, sliced green chilli, shredded cabbage and is laced with a dressing of fish sauce, sesame oil and a squeeze of lime. It is a brilliant combination of tastes and crunchy textures. Mr. K and I think we liked Burma Superstar’s version better, but that’s really throwing the gauntlet down and I think we need to go back first to compare…

Coconut Curry Chicken (Own Thee Kyat Tha Chet) ($8.95) Chicken cooked in a rich golden coconut curry sauce that was mild heatwise, but very flavorful. Mmm, just imagine the aroma coming up from this dish with that pile of cilantro…

Curry Beef with Aloo Amae Tha Aloo Se Pyan ($10.95) The meat was slow cooked with Indian spices until it became meltingly tender. Both the meat and the potatoes absorbed the rich and complex flavors of the curry.

Burmese Curry Pork Belly with Bamboo Shoot Wet Tha Myint Se Pyan ($9.95) was my favorite dish of the evening, one that I can’t stop thinking about. It wasn’t particularly spicy, but was bright and fragrant and full of fatty and obscenely delectable pork belly. I read that Burmese curries, like Thai curries, are herb based, rather than spice based and typically are made from garlic, ginger, chili, turmeric and dry shrimp paste.

The tender, slow-cooked pork belly meat fell apart when prodded with your fork and the soft gooey globules of fat glistened, runny with the spicy sauce. It literally melted in my mouth, leaving me craving more, lots more… I complimented Kam effusively and she smiled and said that you have to treat yourself sometimes.

They were out of most of the desserts and only had sherbet, falooda and fried bananas. Since we had overdosed on fried appetizers, we tried an order of the other two. These were both disappointing. We started with Coconut Cream Sherbert (Shew Yin Aye) $5.95 Chengdol, sago, coconut agar agar, glutinous rice and white bread served with coconut milk. We were all thinking, bread? Ice cubes? Cherie really couldn’t come to terms with the pieces of bread floating on top, or the ice cubes… There was no sherbet, just a few chunks of sticky rice. A disappointment for sure, especially after all of the very delicious dishes we had just finished eating… but then we were so full we probably were very picky

Falooda ($6.25) Ice cream, jello and tapioca with rose syrup. Apparently this is famous in Myanmar a combination of ice-cream, egg pudding, milk etc in sweet syrup. It is believed to be an adaptation of a Persian beverage that is named for the strands of cornflour vermicelli that float in it. The Burmese version has agar-agar jelly, flavoured with rose and coloured green or red. It reminded me of strawberry milk with some jello bits and was not very popular at the table.

Also floating inside were chunks of an egg custard that had a distinctly burnt appearance and a dry spongy chewy texture. I might have liked it better if it had been a creamy custard-y texture but I found this dish to be puzzling, overall I’d say it was a dud.

I must point out the stunning architectural elements that indicate some of the famous landmarks in San Francisco…

Mr. K gives it a solid B and said he’d definitely go back. I don’t do a grading system, but I’m already planning a trip back for that pork belly and thought that the curries were all so lip smacking good! The menu is fairly long and there were many dishes on it that I’d like to try, but next time I’ll definitely will fill up on the regular menu and skip the dessert…

Yellow Pa Taut on Urbanspoon

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Single Guy Chef October 20, 2008 at 10:39 pm

Oh, my, gaawd, Foodhoe. I think you outdid yourself in the fried eating! That sure was a lot of fried things. That fountain drink looks so refreshing. Who knew there were restaurants across the Hall of Justice other than Bail Bondsmen.

Single Guy Chefs last blog post..Postcard from Buenos Aires

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Rosa October 20, 2008 at 11:19 pm

An interesting place! Such restaurants are rare here… Nice food!

Cheers,

Rosa

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Midnight Snack October 21, 2008 at 9:21 am

Very nice pictures. What kind of camera are you using?

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foodhoe October 21, 2008 at 12:45 pm

single guy, yeah I was in fried food heaven! that location is a little unfortunate, there’s no foot traffic at night really…
Rosa, yes very nice food
Midnight Snack, thanks for visiting and for the compliment! I just use a little point and click Fuji Finepix F20. It’s a great little camera and does excellent in low light situations w/o the flash.

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grace October 21, 2008 at 4:50 pm

the decor looks lovely, but the food looks out of this world!
falooda–fun to say…not so fun to eat. πŸ™‚

graces last blog post..overabundance of orange, part 3

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Mrs. L October 21, 2008 at 5:07 pm

I was scrolling down looking at the photos going, yum until I hit that pork belly and it stopped me with a ‘WHOA’!! This place definitely goes on my try list.

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Passionate Eater October 21, 2008 at 10:20 pm

I hope that Kasma taught you some tips that can translate over to Burmese food too. What a feast! You have been hitting up quite a few of those Southeast Asian places lately!

Passionate Eaters last blog post..Honeymooning, Do Not Disturb (Just Kidding, Feel Free!)

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foodhoe October 22, 2008 at 7:22 am

grace, I’ve had other falooda that I liked, this was definitely the strangest version yet…
Mrs. L, yes WHOA !! try that pork belly!
PE, that would be a good thing, I was trying to find a recipe for that crazy pork belly and burmese curry in general lol. SE food is the best!

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Gastronomer October 22, 2008 at 8:44 am

Great find, Foodhoe. Many of America’s culinary treasures are located in the hood. The Burmese Curry Pork Belly with Bamboo Shoot did look great.

Gastronomers last blog post..Soaked in Sapa

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rowena October 22, 2008 at 11:41 pm

When you first described this place and then I was studying the pic, the first thought in my mind was how on earth did you find this unlikely place? (I’m sure it had to be the mention of the ‘Helena is in the House’ sign)

Anyway…doesn’t really matter, ’cause when I saw the opo squash I immediately remembered the ones that my grandma grew in her garden. They are delicious!

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http://www.tastememory.com/ October 27, 2008 at 1:35 pm

very nice! the tea leaf salad looks sooo inviting and the coconut curry chicken does look flavorful – look at all that cilantro! just love cilantro…..they seem to combine many layers of texture, spicy, hot + cold….looks like another great find.

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foodhoe October 27, 2008 at 2:45 pm

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