A&E

Review: Beautiful Burmese fare

Palo Alto's bustling Rangoon Ruby serves up bright flavors amid upscale surroundings

Just about everyone orders the profoundly beautiful tea leaf salad at Rangoon Ruby, downtown Palo Alto's upscale Burmese hot spot. It tastes as good as it looks.

The only issue is to gauge how much salad you or your party can eat, because you'll want to leave room for other dishes and this one is not good as a leftover. Tea leaf salad quickly degrades into a sad, limp memory.

Rangoon Ruby's gleaming beachhead is fortified by the young and well-heeled. It is nothing like Rangoon, the plain Jane Chinese-Burmese restaurant that used to be on Bryant Street. Rangoon Ruby is pretty much the opposite of the other Burmese restaurant in town, Green Elephant Gourmet, which caters to a neighborhood and family clientele. Located in South Palo Alto, Green Elephant is quieter and cheaper, and features many Chinese dishes.

Under high ceilings and swirling Medusa-like light fixtures, Rangoon Ruby bustles with people enjoying the scene, the bright flavors and the extensive cocktail menu. It's a good idea to make a reservation.

In addition to whimsical tiki drinks there are microbrews and imports on draft, changing seasonally. Among them recently was Hanger 24 Orange Wheat ($6), which paired perfectly with the menu's vibrant herbs and spices.

Curiously, the wine list is less fertile. It's overloaded with heavy-duty chardonnays and cabernets.

But back to the signature tea leaf salad ($14), served in pieces and assembled for you at the table. As with many dishes at Rangoon Ruby, tea leaf salad can be made vegetarian. The standard version involves dried shrimp, Burmese tea leaves, fried garlic, yellow beans, chopped lettuce, jalapeno peppers, sesame seeds and peanuts.

"This special salad will awaken your taste buds," the menu promises. Indeed.

Once awakened, your taste buds may also enjoy fiery pork tofu ($17). While our neighbors scarfed up their tofu one recent evening, we were having buyers' remorse about our monk hingar ($13), pureed catfish chowder. It was just dull.

Another Burmese tradition, the noodle dish nan gyi dok ($14), is served in components like the salad and then mixed table-side. Rice noodles are slathered in coconut chicken sauce and amplified by yellow bean powder, cilantro and fried onion. Slices of hard-boiled egg add creaminess, wontons crispiness.

Burma draws culinary influences from its neighbors. Tastes of Thailand, China and India figure prominently, as do seafood, freshwater fish, rice and noodles.

Dishes arrived at a good pace, not all at once. Rangoon Ruby's servers make a strong effort to please — not a given when dining out.

Our server recommended basil chili beef ($18), which I liked but my companion judged not spicy enough.

Rangoon Ruby is loud and sleek. Scenic photo collages climb the walls, white-clothed tables nestle close together, and stylish tableware includes square bowls and food-friendly forks with long tines.

Vegetarian and vegan options abound on the wide-ranging menu.

Rangoon Ruby opened in June 2012 in the former Cafe Baklava. A sister ship opened last May in San Carlos. The chefs are veterans of Burma Superstar, the Bay Area's hot little chain. Owner John Lee, born and raised in Burma, honed his hospitality skills while working at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel. He minds the details, right down to the mouthwash dispenser in the restrooms.

Rangoon Ruby

445 Emerson St., Palo Alto.

650-323-6543

www.rangoonruby.com

Hours: Lunch daily, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Dinner menu weekends and holidays). Dinner, Sun.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., Fri-Sun. 5-10:30 p.m.

Reservations: yes

Credit cards: yes

Parking: street and city lots

Alcohol: full bar

Children: yes

Outdoor dining: no

Party and banquet facilities: no

Noise level: high

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent

Comments

Posted by real or fake, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2014 at 10:42 am

Do they use authentic recipes or do they dumb down their food for American tastes? Way too many "Asian-American" restaurants pump up the sugar and oil and reduce the fresh herbs to give their foods a more Americanized flavor.


Posted by T B Avoided, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 7, 2014 at 5:43 pm

We tried Rangoon Ruby last weekend after a movie at the Aquarius. We had to wait for nearly an hour to be seated, and another half hour to have someone take our order. Probably just the novelty of it all, and the chefs/servers are overwhelmed, we thought.

Wow, were we disappointed. We ordered one appetizer to split between the two of us, one salad to split between the two of us, two main courses and some rice, as well as one beer. The total: $116.60

We won't be back. Green Elephant on Charleston and Middlefield is better, tastier, and far, far cheaper: we have paid for a party of five for less than what we paid Rangoon Ruby last weekend!


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2014 at 7:54 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2014 at 5:55 pm

My post was deleted, but I was just pointing out the TB Avoided's claim is impossible - go look at the menu. 1 appetizer, 1 salad, 2 entrees, rice, and a beer can't add up to anything close to 116.60, even if they picked the most expensive item in each section.


Posted by Long Time Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 8, 2014 at 7:56 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2014 at 7:59 pm

My Burmese girlfriend and I went to Rangoon Ruby's a bit after they first opened.

She was surprised at how high the prices were, and now I see the menu the prices are noticeably even higher than they were then.

I don't know if this is a question of "dumbing down the recipes" for American tastes ... being American I usually prefer slightly less than authentic food, as I don't like fiery burning food. Also American ingredients are not usually so bad, though they are not going to be as fresh as in Burma where they buy food fresh in the market daily.

I was not so impressed. The Tea Leaf Salad to me was too dry for my American tastes. There are a lot of dry ingredients that make it hard for me to eat. I like greens and tomatoes with my salads, not nuts and seeds and dried tea leaves. But it is the prices that make many Palo Alto places hard to stomach for me.

I think the problem that reduces the quality of a lot of Palo Alto places is just the rent that is charged to the restaurant owners ... the have to find ways to cut costs and increase profits of they cannot do business. This is why so many Palo Alto restaurants are so over-priced and under-deliver.

I agree with TBA above, Green Elephant is a better deal with just as good food if not better. To tell the truth though, we most often go to Jing Jing the Chinese place next door.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Scottís Seafood Mountain View to close, reopen as new concept
By Elena Kadvany | 11 comments | 3,335 views

Who Says Kids Donít Eat Vegetables?
By Laura Stec | 9 comments | 1,722 views

Breastfeeding Tips
By Jessica T | 11 comments | 1,568 views

How Bad Policy Happens
By Douglas Moran | 19 comments | 1,053 views

The life of Zarf
By Sally Torbey | 6 comments | 603 views