Sunday, January 28, 2007

Taste of Burma - Guest Review

Happy eats at “Taste of Burma”


by Mihnea Nemes

Anyone who lives in Hawaii for a few years will have a tough time returning to his original point of departure. But as magnetic Hawaii may be, family is a stronger magnet. After five years in the happy isles my wife and I decided to leave. But we took our time and a convoluted return path, making it back on the East Coast after 9 months spent backpacking on the roads and rails of Asia and Europe. I am a Washingtonian again, but after being away for so many years, I feel like a little alien in this Greater Washington, D.C. Area. Years ago, comfort food consisted mainly of bread, tomatoes and sheep cheese. Now, after Hawaii and a year on the road, comfort food includes Thai curry, Thai (in fact Laotian) sticky rice and Vietnamese noodle soup.

Now the tragedy: we haven’t found yet in our new home area a Thai restaurant to match any of those in Hawaii or Thailand. Luckily, there are a plethora of excellent Vietnamese restaurants (including an entire Vietnamese shopping center nicknamed “Little Saigon”), serving the food one might find in the streets of Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). But the restaurant that got our attention, and to which we keep coming back doesn’t get its food inspiration from Thailand or Vietnam, but from a country we have not visited and we know little about: Burma.

We spotted “A Taste of Burma” on our way to the CVS Pharmacy. We asked for a menu, and a polite and friendly waiter (perhaps the son of the owners) gave us a card with the restaurant website on it: When we got home, we filed the card, never to retrieve it again from its safe location. Months later, while trying to decide where to take our guest to dinner, we thought: why not Taste of Burma? We lowered the expectations by telling our guest we hadn’t tried the restaurant before. But she was as eager as us to embark on a new culinary adventure.

The same friendly young man welcomed us into a neat, bright, colorful dining area. Fresh orchids were on every table and soothing music played in the background. Just when you thought you could pinpoint the flute music as coming from the depths of India, all of a sudden you had the distinct impression you just heard a Native-American rhythm. I felt like having tea and not leaving the place for hours, and thankfully, “street-corner chai” was on the menu. We ordered curries all-around. Hard-boiled egg and potato curry for me, Asian pumpkin curry for my wife and tamarind curry for our guest. We all shared. Although I loved my egg-and-potato curry (reminiscent of the Indonesian gado-gado) it was the Asian pumpkin curry that won the evening’s amateur’s taste award. It was the Asian pumpkin curry that brought us back for a second visit, too.

This time we expanded into the realm of salads. In addition to the pumpkin curry and the chef recommended green curry, we also ordered the golden samosa salad. The samosas (fried pastries filled with potato) came smothered in chickpea gravy and topped with tamarind sauce. Our tongues wanted to say: “Novel and excellent!!!” But the best was yet to come. The mom, cook and possibly owner, came to say hi and inquire if we liked the food. “We love it!” came the answer. “Are you vegetarians?” “Yes” both my wife and I replied.

The mom came back and served us another vegetarian salad, the Fermented Tea Salad, and an eight-dollar value, on the house! Well, as you probably have guessed, the Fermented Tea Salad won the evening’s honors. The peanuts, broad beans, and sesame make it the crunchiest salad in the world, too.

Today we came back and had a hana-hou at the pumpkin curry, and tasted the cousin of the tea salad, the Burmese ginger salad, which ties the Tea salad for crunchiness.

You probably wonder how many times I’ll be able to return for the pumpkin curry and the crunchy salads. I’m curious about one thing, too:

When was the last time you tasted Burmese food?

Guest Reviews

In 2007 Eating Fred, Texas will be hosting guest reviews. It will come as no surprise that a lot of my friends like food, too. I'm giving them a chance to highlight some of their local eateries. World traveller and exemplary Romanian, Mihnea Nemes, is our first correspondent.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


We're hopping and bopping to the Osaka rock.

Location: 13492 Research Blvd #160, Austin, TX 78750
Phone: 512-918-8012
Hours: Mon-Sat 11a-10p

So, it's the rush-hour dance that has become the catalyst for most of the recent entries. The Woman and I are in north Austin, we live in south Austin, and it's 5 pm. Not the time to get on MoPac or even 360. Solution: do some shopping, some eating, and then go home when the traffic thins out.

I was looking for some books on writing screenplays. I really wanted to go to BookPeople since I've been here for 9 months and haven't been, but it's downtown, the exact spot you don't want to go during rush hour. So it was a back-road trek to the Anderson Mill location of Half Price Books, a great place to blow some significant time without blowing significant cash. I actually found one of the books Darden recommended, so I was happy.

In the same strip mall there happened to be a place called Osaka. (Which is a city in southern Japan where I once bought a CD from a band called Cram-Bo playing on a bridge by the train station.) On the sign it said "Japanese - Korean." ?!?!? OK, so it's not THE Korean place. That place is in south Austin. But even so, it did say Korean. Yes, I am not ashamed to say the heart lept up when I beheld it.

Of course, if you go into an obviously Japanese place and order Korean, you're taking a chance. Just to be safe, we also ordered a spider roll. It was a pretty good spider roll, too. The table near us had some serious sushi action going on and it all looked great. But you can get sushi, even good sushi, lots of places. Not so with Korean.

Not sure the size of the servings, we ordered bulgogi and kalbi. We could have ordered just one and been satisfied, but they were both so great, we were glad to have them. Made for some nice bulgogi sandwiches the next day. And the sizzling platters were surrounded by 10 bowls of various sides, including kimchee, daikon, green beans, pickled seaweed, candied potatoes, azuki beans, bean sprouts and other things I can't remember.

It was the real deal, a table so crowded with dishes it was hard to find a place to put your glass down, and a mixture of flavors that you won't find anywhere else. The meat was moist, spicy and sweet. The photos are from my Rokr, so it's not easy to see detail. The kalbi was cut like this picture, with a thin cross-section of a single bone and an inch or so meat. In Hawaii the Korean fast-food places cut the meat more like shown in this recipie, multiple bone cross-sections per slice, only there tended to be less meat. The higher-class places had a 3-inch-wide section of bone with a nice, thick, 6-inch slab of meat hanging off it.

Since it was mainly Japanese, it wasn't set up for yakiniku, which involves grills at each table where you cook the meat as desired, or sometimes the server will start it for you. I'm hoping the other place is yakiniku. But until we have a chance to get there, we may find ourselves back at Osaka on our rush hour dates. If we go often enough, we might actually get around to ordering sushi.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Galaxy Cafe

It's outta this world. (Actually, it's in Austin, but that's close enough.)


You might as well know right up front, I didn’t make it to the Korean place this week, either. If they are relying on me to pay the rent, they’ll be out of business soon. Of course, they’ve been doing just fine without me, I guess, so they’ll probably be there next week.

Instead we went to the Galaxy Café. The Woman and I were short on time, shopping after work in a torrential downpour, and needing a quick bite. (And of course, you don’t do full yakiniku Korean quickly.) The Galaxy was just around the corner and we only got slightly drenched running from the parking lot.

I first went to the Galaxy Café in December 2004 while writing “Hell in a Briefcase.” We were in from Honolulu for 3 weeks to inspect The #1 Grandson. (He passed inspection.) But you can look at a 1-month-old kid only so long before the mind begins to wander. (Others, who shall remain unnamed, can look for a loooong time, so your mileage may vary.) Besides, I had a novel to write and a deadline 3 months away.

I spent most of my time in the guest cabin at the double-in-laws, writing like a maniac. (Dang, these folks are so nice that they almost reach The Woman status!) But the cabin had no Internet access and I got tired of sitting on a boulder by the neighbor’s house at night in 30-degree weather, slipstreaming on their wireless access to check for emails from Phil and some do quick-and-chilly research. So I started catching a ride to Mozart’s (review coming one day) and ingesting high-test caffeine while writing like a maniac.

But one evening it was cold and wet and I needed some Net, but the boulder was out. I didn’t want to drive all the way out to Mozart’s. That’s when The Good Daughter told me about the Galaxy Café, with decent wines by the glass and free Internet access. I was on it like stink on a dog. Now, a few years later, we are in a position to make the quick trip to the Galaxy while shopping.

In Austin, places like the Galaxy Café pop up like zits on a teenager. The unfortunate gastronomes in the provinces would trade five Dairy Queens, seven McDonalds and a Golden Corral for one trendy café like this. Regular readers of this blog will recognize the phrasing on the “About Us” page as a common description for several of the places I’ve reviewed, with comments like “high quality homemade food,” “freshest ingredients,” “gourmet flair,” “moderate pricing,” and “breads baked fresh daily.”

In my attempts to be a good boy, I’ve restricted my choices to lower fat and glycemic index items. I can vouch for the grilled chicken chipotle wrap on a spinach tortilla, the club wrap on a wheat torilla and the hot shrimp salad with baby spinach. The sweet potato fries are the side of choice. Several of my trips to the Galaxy have been in groups of those of the younger persuasion and I have heard nothing but sounds of contentment as they grazed on items that didn’t fit my profile, such as the bleu cheese bacon burger, the chipotle-apricot glazed pork chops and the grilled skirt steak with chimichurri sauce. They also have Odwalla specialty juices, herbal iced tea, and a nice selection of wines and beers.

I’ve never done breakfast at the Galaxy, but I’d certainly like to try it. In addition to a wide variety of breakfast wraps and the traditional breakfast options, they have “Breakfast from around the Galaxy” with American (eggs, bacon, sausage, toast), Mexican (migas, beans, tortillas), Mediterranean (eggs with roma tomatoes, feta cheese and basil, toast and fruit) and French (quiche, fruit, toast) options. And since they serve it until 11:30 during the week and until 4:00 on weekends, I might actually be awake and ambulatory in time to try it.

By the way, I did 30,000 words of first draft in 3 weeks on The #1 Grandson Inspection Tour. It gave me a great start and I finished “Hell in a Briefcase” by April. And the Galaxy Café helped.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Buzzard Billy's Armadillo Bar and Grillo

Home of the Crappy Beer Night


I had great plans to do Korean this week, but a trip to Waco intervened and I found myself reminiscing with The SpyMan over lunch at the legendary Buzzard Billy’s Armadillo Bar and Grillo on University Parks Drive. Before they opened in 1993, The Water Works was the only place in Waco you could get Guiness on tap.

We used to play an open mike there on Sunday nights back 10+ years ago. One night a stranger walked up and asked if he could sit in on fiddle. I was skeptical, even when he whipped out his Texas Fiddle Players Association card. To test his chops, I invited him to jam with me while I tuned up out front by the old black-and-white Andy Griffith cop car. In about 2.3 seconds I realized I was in the presence of incredible talent. He sat in on my set and made me sound better than I knew I could, even on the originals he had never heard. He was passing through from recording a CMT music video and had stopped at Buzzard Billy’s for dinner. Never saw or heard him again. Cajun name. Alan D-something. (Alan, if you’re reading this, drop me a line.)

Also like The Water Works, it was a great place to hear live music. I watched Mike Morgan walk between tables and dancers and out the back door onto the deck while playing a marathon guitar solo. The last time I was in Buzzard Billy’s was for the going-away party the TSTC gang threw in 1996 to launch me on a decade of wanderings. The place hadn’t changed much, which was good. No need to fix something that is working just fine.

The SpyMan made the excellent suggestion of four appetizers in lieu of two entrees. We sifted through the many options on the menu and settled on:

  • Armadillo Eggs: Bacon wrapped chicken tenders stuffed with sliced jalapenos and pepper-jack cheese. (Based on South Texas dove camps recipes.)
  • Seafood Stuffed Mushrooms: Large mushroom caps stuffed with a blend of crabmeat, cheese, breadcrumbs, and Cajun spices.
  • Mean Green Buzzard Wings: Breaded chicken wings fried and coated with a sweet and spicy jalapeno lime sauce.
  • Gator Fingers: Alligator strips deep-fried, with a Creole honey-mustard dipping sauce.
OK, so we didn’t win any health-nut awards, but as dedicated gastronomes we gladly place ourselves at risk in the service of civilization. I assure you that everything was just as good as it sounds. The Armadillo Eggs are not to be missed. We wanted to add the Cajun Popcorn (deep-fried crawfish tails) but they were out. Probably for the best.

Assuming everything that wasn’t broke wasn’t fixed, the gumbo, red beans and rice, and the FettucciniAlfredeaux are worth sampling. I hear good things about the burgers, too. In fact, Buzzard Billy’s is so good, it’s worth driving to Waco to check it out. The buzzards have also opened restaurants in Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Not sure what it is with buzzards and cold places, but there you have it. If you hit the Waco location, say hi to The SpyMan.

This Korean thing is getting out of hand. I need some kimchee spinach. It's gotta happen this week.