If you lived here, you’d be home now — that is, if home was Silver Spring, Maryland. Really, if one has to pick another non-Arlington DC suburb onclave to live in – Silver Spring these days might be it. Now, while the places with doggie menus are not quite as abundant as in Old Town Alexandria – personally, I’m not that target market. What Silver Spring DOES offer though, is one of the covert cultural movie lover’s treasures of DC, and quite possibly my co-favorite restaurant in the metropolis, Mandalay Restaurant and Cafe. As Tyler Cowen points out in his invaluable ethnic dining guide, Mandalay is perhaps, in this town “the best Burmese around.” Of course, I have not tried many Burmese places here, but it is hard to argue.
Arriving for dinner on a very busy Saturday, we started with a solid round of appetizers. There were the shrimp fritters (PaZun Gyaw) and eggplant fritters (KayanThee Gaw), each your basic batter fried. Really, no other description is necessary – is there a food that is altogether BAD deep fried? Anyway, the treatments of both were rock solid, and the frying was neither greasy nor overdone and the food on the inside was solidly done. With the spicy dipping sauce, it worked very well. But the real star of the starter round was the Let Phet Toke (Green Tea Leaf salad) which contains tomato, cabbage, green tea leaves (fermented) and Burmese dressing (crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, gram powder, lemon juice, garlic oil, and fish sauce). Besides the depth of flavor of the tea leaves, it was refreshing to have a different flavor profile to the dressing – much less acid than one is used to and no vinegar at all.
My entree was the Nan Nan Bin Hin, chunks of dark meat chicken in a tomato and onion curry sauce. I am a sucker first of all for any sort of simmer sauce and rice asian entree (India, Burma, whatever) – and when the staff asked me for spice level and I told them SPICY, they did not skimp – fire without compromising flavor. The onion and tomato sauce had that savory curry flavor you expect from Burmese or other Indian influenced cuisine. Add the BaLaChaung, a dried shrimp and shrimp paste condiment which provided some savory depth and subtle heat – and the overall flavor profile was complex and delicious – savory food at its finest. The vegan pineapple ice cream with its tang and cute mini-pineapple housing was a perfect cherry on top.
If I lived in Maryland and not Arlington, Mandalay would be my Hong Kong Palace.