Monday, December 14, 2009

Rangoon : Philadelphia

Rangoon frequently makes local foodies' restaurant favorite lists and yet somehow it has just languished on my to-try list for 2 1/2 years.

So my gf and I trekked out to Chinatown to rectify the situation.

Strangely, it's turned out to be one of the more confounding eating experiences to think about.  Not that I thought it was bad at all; certainly execution was solid throughout and service was friendly.

It was more that the flavor and ingredient combinations struck a bit too close to home.  Many of the dishes  seemed like a literal fusions of Chinese, Indian and Thai flavors and ingredients, coming uncomfortably close to either cooking experiments I'd do at home or a simple medley of bits and pieces of dishes that I've tried at Chinese, Indian and Thai restaurants.  I will say that my experience with the Burmese cuisine is extremely limited, so I have no way of knowing whether this is how food in Burma really is or it's simply an artifact of the wider availability of Chinese and Indian ingredients in this area or the customer demographic or some other reason.

In any case, I think it's worthwhile saying that perhaps the wow factor for this restaurant is a matter of what your background is and your level of familiarity/intimacy with Chinese/Indian/Thai food.  Personally, the experience felt like if I had met myself in a parallel universe, where I had pursued a culinary career and had been given free reign over a restaurant.

Spring Ginger Salad - Ginger w/ cabbage, sesame, peanuts, tomatoes, split peas, fried onions, dried shrimp & seasoning. - Decent, but can a salad ever be mind-blowing? I almost always come away thinking that I can duplicate the salads at home. The ginger slivers seemed to be slightly cooked, toning down their natural spicy kick. The cabbage, ginger, tomatoes, fried onions and dressing(?) creating a lighter, tangy flavoring, which was counter-balanced by the earthier, crunchy split peas (I think these are the deep-fried Indian snacks you can buy...) and the peanuts.

Thousand Layer Bread w/ Curry Chicken Dip - Homemade bread & curry chicken dipping sauce - The thousand layer bread tasting like a slightly buttery (ghee?), thinner and flaky scallion pancake without the scallions.  It's certainly tasty by itself or with the accompanying curry chicken.  The curry tasted as if someone combined a standard curry sauce with my Mom's oxtail soup, a combination of stewed potatoes chunks, tomatoes and onions.

Shrimp Lemon Grass Soup - Shrimp, mushroom & Lemon Grass in a hot & sour chicken broth - A nice full flavor, with the slices of thai chilis supplying the heat, and the lemon grass and mushrooms filling out the flavor.  It's such a large, full flavor that it somewhat distracts from the fact that the soup is actually more on the watery side.

Festival Rice - Chicken cooked with cinnamon, bay leaves, raisins with a touch of butter served on rice - I used to really love adding raisins to my fried rice, since they added a natural burst of sweetness to a usual savory dish.  Nowadays, I'm not sure it holds the same fascination. In any case, the rice was slightly flavored with I suspect tamarind and one or two other Indian spices.  The chicken was in a rich, stew-like sauce.  If it were just these two things, it'd be a very homey, familiar and perhaps slightly Americanized type dish, but they added a healthy scoop of Indian pickle, which is complex in a preserved sort of way and has a starkly sour bite to it.  (This dish in particular struck a bit too close to home - the use of the Indian pickle or something preserved is something I'd imagine myself doing if a dish was coming off as too simplistic)

Okra Bala Chang - okra with dry shrimp paste & onions - It was interesting that the okra was not cut up, since I thought that was necessary to prevent the slimey boogery texture inside. Texture-wise, most of the attention is to the crunch of the outside of the thick okra skin and to the grilled onions.  Flavor-wise, it's mostly the grainy shrimp paste and grilled onions. The shrimp paste had a slight kick to it and both in terms of flavor and texture reminded me of one of the slightly spicy Lao Gan Ma sauces I have at home.

To sum up, this was a  relatively simple, but well-executed, homey meal with friendly service to boot.   The dishes came across as a fusion of Chinese, Indian and Thai flavors, which I personally didn't find all that novel, but for others, its familiar flavors spun in different ways might be worthwhile trying out.

112 North 9th Street Philadelphia, PA 19107-2401 (Map)
(215) 829-8939

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