The owners of Silver Spring’s Mandalay opened another restaurant in Shaw a couple of months ago, with little fanfare. Chef Aung, who left his mother and brother’s side to start the new restaurant, may have started quietly but has big ideas. Inspired by friends and family with varying dietary restrictions and preferences, he decided that every day’s 7-course fixed menu would be specialized according to the needs of his diners. Accordingly, patrons reserve their spot 24 hours in advance and state their preferences (vegan, no nuts, I hate cilantro, etc). Aung uses these to draw up the menu the night before, goes shopping at 4 am, and prepares a test run of every item in the morning with his team. Because he can’t take advantage of wholesale ingredients, dinner is set at $70.
We checked out a special vegetarian night (discounted at $50) early last month. Aung and his staff were welcoming and solicitous, explaining the concept and walking us through each dish. We started with crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside bean fritters:
The patties were made of mung and red bean puree along with whole black beans and black-eyed peas. The result was light and delicious. Even if you’re not a huge fan of spice, be sure to try them with a bit of smoked chili with garlic and ginger (available on request).
The next course, ginger salad, was just about perfect as well. Intensely flavored and featuring a mix of exciting textures, Burmese salads are often a highlight of the meal. Here, ginger salad was fresh, spicy, and sour, with plenty of crunch from peanuts, sesame seeds, and chip-like fried garlic.
Soup, featuring chunks of winter squash in a thin broth got mixed reviews. Half of us found it bland while the other half appreciated its simplicity.
Eggplant, which is smoked, chilled, and tossed with lime, sesame, shallots, and ginger in one of my favorite Burmese salads, was disappointing here. Steamed and presented alongside okra (usually also a favorite), this dish was unanimously deemed both bland and oily.
Thankfully, entrees put us back on the right track. Soft chunks of pumpkin, carrots, and peppers in a delicate creamy coconut sauce made for a pleasant departure from the usual fiery Thai version of this curry. Noodles with fried tofu, peanuts, and crispy tofu skins stood out with just the right amount of turmeric and South Asian spices.
Dessert, a vegan concoction of sweet potatoes in banana coconut sauce, erred on the side of baby food rather than comfort food. Too bad, considering that Mandalay’s semolina cake is a well-known area favorite.
All in all, we enjoyed our experience and most of the meal. We also agreed that while worth the discounted price, the standard $70 price tag would need to come with fewer misses.
The good news is that since opening, Chef Aung has decided to offer a la carte items – nothing over $10 – downstairs in the lounge, and is also “looking at ways to possibly lower the price” of the set menu. We’ll certainly be paying attention.
1501 9th St NW
Reservations available at City Eats