*Dang, the word on the internets is that Burmese Cafe is over. I too, saw the gates down last weekend and worried. (11/16/07)
I can’t even begin to explain how misguided it was to try and peacefully shop at the Elmhurst Target the Friday before Christmas (and this was intended as an antidote to the always troubling Atlantic Center Target that had been attempted earlier in the day) so I’ll refrain. But at least I was able to squeeze in a new Roosevelt Avenue Asian restaurant into the migraine-inducing trip. Burmese Café appears to have taken over the corner spot that used to be Karihan ni Tata Bino.
My only experience with Burmese food includes two non-recent visits to Rangoon in Philadelphia and a late '90s undocumented delivery meal from Village Mingala in the East Village (strangely, Village Mingala is quite possibly the first restaurant I ever set foot in in NYC. I first visited in '94 and accompanied a friend to pick up a take out order for the artsy bisexual Indonesian girl who was letting us stay at her 11th St. and Ave. C walk-up). I recall things like night market noodles and thousand layer bread, rich dishes that hinted at India. Burmese Café is nothing like that.
Part of me doesn’t want to admit that their food wasn’t immediately accessible. Some cuisines jump out while others don’t. I find Thai and Sichuan food grabs my attention without even trying, and not just because of the spice. Also heat-driven and good-oily, Malaysian and Indonesian fall right behind. Burmese feels like it’s in the realm of Laotian or Cambodian, lesser known and kind of raw and sharp. Though I don’t think Myanmar shares much in common with the Philippines, the vinegary, bitter, pungent qualities I tasted in the dishes we ordered felt vaguely Filipino. The style could grow on me but I have to get to know it better.
The tea leaf salad truly is a strange combo, hot, sour and crunchy all at once. It seemed to contain sesame seeds, sliced green chiles, bean sprouts, dried broad beans, peanuts, dried shrimp and tomato slices. James, who’s fairly open-minded food-wise said, “I hope it tastes better than it looks.” It did look a little swampy. Let’s just say I had plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day (it's better fresh because after a few hours the crunch turns to mush). I was thinking the leaves would be dry like you’d find in a teabag but they’re wet and fermented, very much like grape leaves for dolmas. I don't recall it being described as using green tea leaves, but that's the case.
I thought it was strange that James ate this without complaint since it was way funkier than the tea leaf salad. It contained bitter greens that might’ve been mustard, odd bits of poultry and blobs of liver (which only I ate) in a sour broth. James compared this to something his mom might cook, unconsciously delving into a heavily boiled, vinegary Filipino repertoire that his Midwestern father isn’t fond of.
Ok, I “got” this dish. It’s basically Burmese rendang, stiff chunks of meat stewed with coconut milk and aromatics until most of the liquid is absorbed. Like I was saying above about Malay-Indonesian food being good-oily. I’m not scared of the shiny orange pool that coats the bowl.
Burmese Café * 71-34 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY