SF Chronicle critic Soleil Ho ventured over to Fremont for her latest review of Burmese restaurant Kyain Kyain. The review followed a tour of the area’s Burmese restaurants, and a serious deep dive into the cuisine, with which Ho, like many Bay Area transplants, was not familiar.
The result was a thoughtful review with informed criticism of dishes like lahpet thoke, the ubiquitous tea leaf salad that, with its many textures and dressing of fermented tea leaves, Ho declared “the best in the Bay Area.” It also included an examination of the chicken curry, which the critic said “was the oilest I’ve had yet.” However, Ho had been in contact with Burmese expert and MiMi Aye, who explained that oiliness. “The most famous Burmese cooking technique is see-pyan, meaning ‘the oil returns,” Aye told Ho. “It’s a way of cooking a curry down so much that the oil first disappears into the sauce and then rises back up.”
That oily, saucy curry is actually preferred by Burmese diners, who are then able to use it as a condiment on vegetables, rice, and bread throughout the meal — a piece of information that the French culinary-trained critic admits could have impacted the review, had she not understood Burmese techniques. Of the curry, Ho wrote: “Unsurprisingly, this is a dish that will fill you up to a full KO. I would order it again — and clear out my appointments for a few hours afterwards.”
As most of Ho’s reviews tend to do, there was more than one lesson embedded in her critique. The underlying theme of this review, which also spent time specifically examining the dishes of Kyain Kyain, was letting go of diner insecurity when eating outside one’s comfort zone.
“Sometimes I get notes from Chronicle readers who are put off by menus with dishes they can’t pronounce, whose fear of confusion keeps them from trying out restaurants — often those run by recent immigrants,” wrote Ho. “They tell me that they refuse to order dishes whose names they’ve never spoken aloud, so many of my reviews are useless to them.”
Her response? “It’s OK to mispronounce things. It’s OK to ask questions if you don’t know. You don’t have to be an expert in everything, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep learning. Think of what you’d be missing out on! I still stumble over lahpet thoke, but I can endure some embarrassment for a version as unforgettable as Kyain Kyain’s.”
Want to learn more about Burmese restaurants in the Bay Area? Head over to our handy guide, including more details on Kyain Kyain.
Pete Kane loved Verjus, too
Last week Soleil Ho delivered a full-on rave of Verjus, the new wine bar from Lindsay and Michael Tusk. This week, Pete Kane delivered his own enthusiastic praise for the restaurant, which he said is “intellectual without becoming pompous or mannered. It’s not just fun to eat here; it’s exciting.”
Kane’s main criticisms were the slightly confusing layout (“First, I never know which door I’m supposed to walk into and at what time of day, or if I’m supposed to wait there at the threshold or immediately approach one of the two counters,”) and disappointingly flimsy napkins (“Cloth, please! Or, barring that, functional paper you don’t have to wad up.”).
Ultimately though, the critic was wowed from top to bottom. “From the menu to the no-reservations policy to the service, Verjus is top-down bohemia. You will have to experiment at least a little, and no you cannot have a whole roast chicken. Spoilsports might quibble about the slight lack of choices, and there is a paucity of sensuous reds by the glass, but if you give in and let Verjus be the boss, you’ll find the lack of safety novel and refreshing. This is the vibe, no doubt about it.”