Bill Daley, Chronicle Staff Critic
Open 18 years, Mandalay Restaurant is still dishing out with verve a bargain-priced Burmese and Mandarin menu in San Francisco’s Richmond District.
Taste, texture and color are all-important here. The always-popular tea salad is a Mandalay signature dish, along with the squid, a gorgeous dish of snowy white seafood with vibrantly green spinach. A ruddy hot- sour sauce marries the two perfectly cooked ingredients.
The plump, dimpled fried fish cakes, almost bouncy in texture like orecchiette on steroids, have a clean, briny flavor. The delicate wrappers on the triangle-shaped Burmese samosas encase a luxuriously smooth filling of chicken and potato.
On the other hand, the potsticker dumplings were boring. The pleated crescents received perfunctory browning, and the filling lacked taste.
As with the Mandalay squid, there’s a riot of texture, color and flavor in Singapore-style noodles, spicy-sweet thin rice noodles studded with pork, shrimp, chicken, bell pepper, onions and celery.
A liberal sprinkling of fried garlic and a mix of ground shrimp and other seasonings give extra gusto to dry-fried string beans.
Curry beef, a straightforward dish of beef cubes and potato chunks in a small puddle of mild curry, wasn’t as successful, mostly because of the tough meat, which could have benefited from longer, slower cooking.
Coconut rice offers a cozy counterpoint to the zestier dishes, with coconut milk infusing a whiff of tropical sweetness.
Mandalay’s desserts can be challenging if you’re unfamiliar with this style.
Jao jaw, for example, is a cake of firm unsweetened agar topped with equally stiff coconut pudding. It is refreshing. Sort of. More accessible, perhaps because it’s made with cream of wheat, coconut milk and eggs, is sui gi mok. These molded wavy-cut strips have a polenta-like texture and a mildly sweet taste.
Service at Mandalay is friendly, and the pace is relaxed. Though the dining room is basic, the decor is enlivened by Burmese art. It’s a pleasant setting for fare tingling with the flavors of Southeast Asia.