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A Taste of Burma, Burmese in Sterling

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Sterling is not a dining mecca, but my parents and girlfriend live out there, so I occasionally find myself leaving Arlington and heading west on Route 7, knowing that I am going to have to try and find the diamonds in the rough. And there are absolutely a few diamonds out there.

A Taste of Burma is a relatively new restaurant in Sterling. I read about it in the Post, saw it while visiting my parents, checked out its menu online, and finally had a chance to try it last night. It is located in Countryside Shopping Center, directly across from Dulles Town Center Mall on Route 7, in eastern Loudoun.

While Sterling is becoming increasingly ethnically diverse, it is still, largely, a sleepy suburb with less-than-adventurous diners. A Taste of Burma takes the place of a Thai restaurant, Big Mango, which was both high-quality (best massamun curry I’ve ever had) and affordable. If the space couldn’t support a good Thai restaurant, I don’t know how the owners of A Taste of Burma think they can make it there. Maybe they’re banking on the notion that Thai restaurants are fairly common along Route 7, while a Burmese restaurant is unique to that area. Based on my dinner there last night, Sterling diners will be losing a very good thing if they let A Taste of Burma fall victim to lack of traffic.

My girlfriend and I got there around 9:30 p.m., and we were the only people in the small restaurant besides one diner finishing up his dinner. The interior reflects the owners’ pride in their restaurant: modern lines, beautiful Burmese art hung on the walls and displayed throughout the dining room, and light blonde chairs and tables. Our server was a young male who, after seeing that his customers were young and in good cheer, was relaxed, friendly, and helpful.

We each ordered a salad and then split one appetizer and one entrée. The appetizer, “fried yellow Burmese tofu,” came out first. This is a simple, but satisfying, appetizer. Seven medium-sized, thin triangles are served minus unnecessary decoration on a white plate with a long, thin bowl of chili tamarind sauce. The menu describes the tofu as “chickpeas tofu,” which is new to me, but which explains why this tofu was nothing like the tofu I’ve tried at Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Malaysian, or American restaurants. The tofu triangles were almost potato-like in texture and flavor, and were airy, as opposed to dense. They came out hot, crisp on the outside, and with a thin layer of soft, mashed chickpea tofu on the inside. The chili tamarind sauce was sweet, with a pronounced, spicy tang attributable to the chili flakes.

My girlfriend had the “Chickpeas Burmese tofu salad.” Despite the menu’s long description of the salad, its appearance is simple. It looks like a small structure built of medium-thick beams of yellow tofu (the flavorful, potato-like tofu found in the appetizer) supporting the other salad elements: garlic, cilantro, cabbage, and chili flakes. The sweet tamarind sauce is used sparingly. Both of us enjoyed the dish.

I ordered the fermented tea leaf salad. I’ve always understood the tea leaf salad to be a Burmese specialty, and the description on the menu was enticingly complex. The salad is served as a big, pyramid-like mound, and it looks as involved as its description sounds. The salad incorporates pickled tea leaves, shredded cabbage, slivers of roast tomato, sesame seeds, peanuts, lime, garlic chips, and “seasonings.” I cannot say that I loved the salad, but I did enjoy it enough to clean my plate and would consider trying it again. I think I was unprepared for the matured taste of the fermented salad ingredients, but found myself enjoying the taste more as I delved further into the salad. The garlic chips and peanuts added a satisfying crunch to the salad, though the garlic flavor was a bit overpowering. I will know, next time, to set aside some of the garlic chips.

I order pumpkin at Afghan restaurants as a rule, as I enjoy its sweet flavor, soft texture, and usual yogurt accompaniment. I had not had pumpkin at an Asian restaurant, so ordering A Taste of Burma’s “Asian pumpkin curry” entrée was a given. The dish is not very big, more like a big appetizer than an entrée. But, for $8.95, and in light of all the other plates we were trying, we did not mind the portion size. A Taste of Burma’s version is not as dessert-sweet as the pumpkin found on most Afghan menus. The pumpkin’s texture was solid, but soft enough to mash with a fork, and slightly pulpy (but not stringy). The green rind of the pumpkin is roasted along with the rest of the fruit, and reminded me of the flavor of its acorn squash cousin. The lemongrass and scallions served with the pumpkin were simply for appearance, as their flavors did not infuse the dish. I liked this entrée a lot, but I wanted more of a contrast between the pumpkin’s sweetness and the curry, which was not as spicy as I had assumed it would be. But the burden was on me to ask about the dish’s spiciness, and I will know, next time, to ask for the pumpkin to have a bit of fire to it.

The check (including one glass of wine and one cup of coffee), with tax, came to less than $40.00, which is more than reasonable for a pleasant, and interesting, break from the norm. A Taste of Burma looks to be another diamond in Sterling.

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This replaced Big Mango Thai sometime within the last few months and most of the interior is a hold over from that. The location is horrible. It's not visible from the street and unless you know there's something back there you won't find it. I went there for lunch about a week ago and it was really good. It's not as good as Myanmar but the service was faster and the menu is about as big. I had the Green Curry Beef and it was done nicely.

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Only alien abduction could explain finding myself in Sterling, VA yesterday. Luckily, though, I found an iPhone where I expected a probe to be, so I brought up the DR Dining Guide and chose A Taste of Burma--and I'm glad I did. The first thing I appreciated was the hot towel which I certainly needed at the time. The second was the non-Lipton iced tea (I probably order iced tea 90% of the time if I don't drink and I appreciate the places that try a little harder). The streak was broken a little bit with the samosa appetizer that switched the customary fried dough for fried wonton wrappers. What was served looked like 4 paper footballs with an ok tamarind dipping sauce. The dish was ok, but I missed dough, the normal amount of stuffing, and the extra spice that most places use. Just adding a little more spice would probably be enough to improve this significantly. For my entree I got an excellent dish of beef in a sweet basil sauce. Seriously, I could probably eat that dish every day. The sauce was somewhat sweet and salty with a subtle spicing from mixed-in a chili paste, the beef was tender, and the stirfried asian eggplant and peppers were perfect accents. I can see why the menu lists it as "Chef Recommended". For chili heads, they should probably specify a desire for more heat, but I have to say that I really like the balance of flavors that could be compromised by spiking the spiciness. Regardless, it was a really good dish that should certainly entice those looking to avoid the chains of Sterling.



P.S. I drove by Sweetwater Tavern on the way home and remembered it as a place that my wife really enjoyed when we were at another branch a few years ago. It might be helpful to double-list restaurants that have multiple locations, but that may upset Don's Zen. I think I forget about checking the Multiple Locations forum for decent options. It was one reason why I only checked out A&J fairly recently.

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I thought I'd revive this thread since we've been eating (mostly take-out) from Taste of Burma at least once a month since we discovered it 2 years ago. It's a great alternative to the tired suburban Thai places, and much more interesting (in my opinion) than most Chinese places. Very generally speaking, Burmese food combines elements of Indian, Chinese, and Thai, but has its own unique tastes and dishes. More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisine_of_Burma. Taste of Burma owned and run by a very friendly family and it is the type of place that you like to see succeeding.

The dining room is nothing special, nor is the wine list, but it's not overpriced. Good selection of beers, though.

The appetizer section is probably my least favorite part of the menu. Most items are fried, and I've never loved any of them, but I also try to not to overload on fried foods. What you need to know is that the salads really make for more interesting starters.

Some of my favorite salads:

  • Fermented tea leaf salad is a good shared appetizer, with a nice variety of textures - peanuts, tea leaves, beans, garlic chips, in a nice lime dressing.
  • Glass Noodle salad is outstanding; cold glass noodles, shrimp and chicken, other flavors and textures, and just spicy enough. Can be an entree.
  • Crispy Bean Sprout & Shrimp Salad is basically a giant ball of fried shrimp and bean sprouts. If you're into fried, this is for you. Probably best shared.
  • Grilled Beef Salad - essentially a higher-grade version of Yum Nua (Thai Beef Salad)
  • Triple Layered Pork Salad: Fatty, spicy, tasty.
  • Green Mango Salad: Mango is pervasive on the menu and this is a nice way to sample the fruit without going overboard.

Noodles - good variety here. My favorites are Rangoon Night Market and Singapore Street. You can get most of these with your choice of meat/seafood. The Malaysian Style Noodles effectively amount to Drunken Noodles Thai-style.

The rest of the entrees are grouped by Vegetarian, Chicken, Seafood/Fish, Beef, and Pork/Lamb/Goat. In each section you have a consistent curry option, with a flavor closer to Indian than Thai curry.

Other entree highlights:

  • Beef with Sweet Basil (as noted above) has a great flavor, and easy for someone timid about trying new flavors.
  • Triple Layer Pork -- warm entree version of the salad
  • Spicy Beef with String Beans - more great flavor, just try it.

For dessert, try the Burmese Farluda, you've probably never had anything like it if you haven't eaten Burmese.

Bottom line: If you live near-by, you have no excuse for not trying out Taste of Burma. Otherwise, find or make up an excuse to visit Sterling on the basis of trying one of the very few Burmese restaurants in the DC area. Try something that you have never had before or ask the staff for their recommendations.

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