Burmese Food Worth Waiting For
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009
At a glance: Mandalay has the look of an Elk's Club meeting room or a church basement where Boy Scouts might gather: low ceilings, minimal decoration aside from Christmas lights, Bud Light posters and random photos on the walls. (Who are those kids photographed in the back, anyway?) It's not cozy or quaint. And you definitely won't feel as if you've traveled to Burma after driving through Silver Spring to get here.
On the menu: What Mandalay lacks in decor, however, it makes up for in tasty entrees. The Burmese food here is lighter than most Indian dishes and more flavorful than Thai. I enjoyed the Nyat KaukSwe Gyaw. (Don't worry, you can just tell the waiter the entree number.) It's flat rice noodles, bean sprouts, lettuce and peanuts topped with egg, and a spicy peanut sauce on the side. Order it with chicken or pork. (Note: All the chicken on the menu, except for one entree, is dark.) If you like peanuts, you'll love this.
Other dishes revolve around a few sauce themes: a brown sauce, an onion and tomato base curry and a coconut curry. The onion-tomato sauce in AMeThar ALoo Hin, which is more like a thick broth than a creamy roux, has strips of beef and potatoes, and is scrumptious and light. The brown sauce with beef, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and carrots in the AMeThar ASane Gyaw, while not at all bad, lacked the flavor of the tomato sauce.
I really enjoyed the Kyet/Thar Ohnno Hin, which is chicken with a coconut sauce, the creamiest of the Mandalay sauces.
Mandalay also offers an extensive vegetarian menu, which is similar to the rest of the options, substituting tofu and vegetables.
For all the dishes, diners choose their spice preference: light, medium or hot. The medium was perfect for anyone who wants a little kick without having to blow her nose between every bite.
Though I normally go strictly for chocolate desserts, I was pleasantly surprised by the ShweJi, which is similar to a bread pudding. It's lightly sweetened with a coconut flavor and raisins, and topped with poppy seeds. It's perfect for the un-sweet tooth.
At your service: I have a dining pet peeve: keeping customers waiting while tables (five to be exact) remain unoccupied. On a Saturday night, we had to wait with six other parties around the corner from the main dining area in a dark room with a flat-screen TV and colorful mini Malibu-bottle lights around a bar. They weren't serving drinks from that area, so we couldn't even quench our thirst. We did wait less than the 10 to 20 minutes they said we would, but I wondered why we had to wait at all.
Another thing to note if you go on the weekend is parking. Mandalay has a small lot right next to it, but at 7:30 on a Saturday, it was full. Street parking around the corner was not too hard to find, however.
Returning on a weekday, we had no problem parking and being seated right away.
What to avoid: The TheeSon Hin, or vegetable soup, was bland and watery. The spring rolls, while not bad, are just what you would expect and nothing to rave about.
Wet your whistle: Mandalay doesn't seem like a place you would go to get your drink on, but you can if you want to. With dinner, you can order one of many fancy cocktails (think chocolate martini, mai tai, bloody mary), wine or beer. There are many Asian beers, such as Singha and Tsingtao, and Kirin Ichiban is on tap. (Yay!)
Bottom line: Mandalay doesn't pay attention to the details. The walls could be painted, the hostesses a little more diligent and the entree presentation prettier, yet this is one of the better dinner deals around. Expect solid, flavorful food that satisfies your appetite without leaving you feeling heavy.
2005 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, October 16, 2005
One of the most exotic vacations from workaday Washington is a meal at Mandalay, home to pork stew bulked up with pickled mango, and sauteed shrimp charged with cilantro, onions and sour mustard leaves. Both Burmese dishes are irresistible. Both also face stiff competition on a long menu whose frequent references to noodles, cumin, curry leaves and fermented fish and shrimp pastes all underscore Burma's connections to China, India and Southeast Asia. Prime detours are any of the refreshing salads (make mine pickled tea leaves); beef with tomato-onion gravy and a sprinkling of (yeow!) red chili flakes; and mohingar, Burma's famous fish-and-rice-noodle soup. The dining room is only slightly dressy, with dark wood tables and booths covered in orange-gold fabric, and the service runs hot and cold. Food -- fragrant, nuanced and somewhat mysterious -- offered at gentle prices is what really keeps me coming back.