Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Daw Yee Myanmar Cafe: Burmese in Monterey Park

"I eat faster than I write" has been my default mea culpa of late, usually accompanied by a helpless shrug.  So it is that I'm writing about a visit to Daw Yee Myanmar Café - back in June - now in September.  Better late than never?

The only time I'd ever tried Burmese food before this, was at Burma Superstar in San Francisco - but that was pre-blog, no Instagram, no post, so it didn't really happen, right?

In a less frequented part of Monterey Park, I'd expected Daw Yee to be a no frills hole in the wall - like many other restaurants that wear it's 'no decor' approach as a badge of honor vouching for its credibility and authenticity.  The space was indeed tiny, but obvious care had been taken to balance a modern, clean and cozy environment with nods to Burmese culture in the form of ornate, towering urns. The kind of space I love, as you see the pride the owners take in the space - minus the pretentiousness or pandering too often exhibited in higher concept western translations of ethnic food.
We started off, of course, with the signature Burmese dish: Tea Leaf Salad ($6.95) - the presentation on this one was beautiful, with it's collage of vibrant colors and varying textures.  It's made with Myanmar imported fermented tea leaves, tomatoes, roasted nuts, and fried garlic.  I have to say I loved this version much more than Lukshon's (knowing of course that the two are of completely different approaches) - it seems counterintuitive, but Daw Yee's version just seemed more...sophisticated...in its layering of textures and flavors.

Then there was the Myanmar Tofu ($5.50 for 6pcs) - a super simple but incredibly delicious dish of fresh tofu freshly made with chickpeas, and fried in the lightest of slabs to a golden brown crisp on the outside, and silky smooth inside.   

One that I didn't anticipate loving as much as I did was the Rice Salad ($5.95) made with jasmine rice in spicy tamarind sauce with fish cake.  It's kind of like cold fried rice, tinged with sweetness and hint of heat.  With a party of 5, I tried to grab as much as I could as subtly as I could without seeming like a manner-less hog - but really wanted to take the whole plate and shovel it into my mouth with chopsticks while I prop my legs up on the nearest chair for balance.  Nope, no decorum, at all.

Another signature Burmese / Daw Yee specialty is Kima Platha ($5.95) handmade pancakes stuffed with masala seasoned beef (you have the option of choosing chicken).  We couldn't scarf these fragrant little pancakes down fast enough!

Somebody else (clearly :P) ordered the Vegetables Sampler ($5.95) with cucumber, okra, cabbage, fresh mango, seasonal vegetables served with Balachaung (Burmese dried shrimp relish).  LOVED the relish - with the garlic, shallots, shrimp paste and chilies, it was an addictive party-for-your-tastebuds blast of bold flavors.  The veggies just served as canvas for the flavor-colorful dip.
You can't say you've had Burmese food until you've tried their national dish: Mohinga ($5.95) - rice noodles in catfish chowder.  Knowledgeable friends advised that Daw Yee's is not the best rendition of mohinga, but it's tasty nonetheless and since we were already there and two of us had never had Mohinga, we had to try it.  It was more of a soup than chowder, and delicious, but I think I kind of expected higher intensity - given the flavor-forward approach of the other dishes we'd had so far. 

We also tried the Fish Cake Curry ($6.95) which the menu describes as made with fishcakes, tomatoes and cilantro.  It was creamy, coconut-y, and more chowder-like than the mohinga, and drizzled with chili oil.  I liked this one more than the mohinga, actually. 

While waiting for dishes we had discovered that the elegant, gold-colored urns with elaborate embellishments that served as centerpiece to our table...

...actually opens up to reveal storage for toothpicks and pepper packets!  I found it amusing that such an ornate piece (albeit plastic) hid a treasure trove of such 'street' fare - to me that was an indication of a sense of humor about it all, that I loved.

Aside from the restaurant, Daw Yee also has a few shelves of Burmese groceries along one wall for those interested in 'souvenir snacks' or buying some of the spices or tea leaves to try your hand at recreating the cuisine at home.

All in all, a fun way to experience a small taste of the culture without travelling all the way across the world (just a half hour or so drive from mid-city LA!).  And super affordable as well - with every dish we tried under $10! 

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 95%

Daw Yee Myanmar Café
111 N Rural Dr
., Monterey Park, CA 91755
Ph: 626.573.8080

Daw Yee Myanmar Café on Urbanspoon

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