Took an old friend to Mandalay for a belated birthday lunch on Saturday...he has always wanted to try the place, his wife won't go near it, and I was stuck at the comcast ctr all morning, so it seemed like a logical thing to do.
Based on Tyler Cowen's review and several other things I have heard, my expectations were extremely high. Which is probably why although the meal was very good, I was not overly impressed. My overall assessment is that it's definitely a place to go to if you're in or close to the area, if you have a hankerin' for burmese food, or if you haven't had burmese food before. Based on my one visit, I don't think it's necessarily any better than Myanmar in Falls Church, for NoVA folks...and Myanmar offers "sampler" type platters better suited for curious folks who haven't eaten burmese before. I like Myanmar a lot too, so that's not intended to be a negative comment.
I know nothing about burmese food, other than hearing that it is "kind of a cross between thai and indian." To me, its a lot closer to thai or malaysian than indian, but I have a fairly strong regional bias in my indian food experience so it's possible I'm off there.
We split a ginger salad and some gram fritters to start things off, then I let my pal order a couple entrees. One was a beef curry dish heavy with cilantro, the other was a creamier chicken curry . Entrees were served with white rice.
It has been a while since I have eaten at Myanmar, but there was no memorable difference between the ginger salad at the two places...which is not necessarily a bad thing, as both were quite good (if you like ginger). The gram fritters were not something I would have ordered, but were surprisingly tasty, and served with a nice spicy sauce.
We told them we wanted one beef and one chicken dish, and followed their recommendations. They were numbers beef-6 and chicken-11. Sorry I don't remember the real names. Of note, they did strongly encourage us to try some seafood dishes, but my friend was not in a seafood mood, much to my chagrin. The birthday boy wins out.
They asked if we wanted no spice, mild, medium, or spicy. We asked for spicy. I'm not sure how spicy burmese food is supposed to be, but if you like spicyness at all, ask for spicy at a minimum. The level of spice in the dishes was about what I would have expected for the mild-medium borderline, which was fine by me really, but my friend weas disappointed with the lack of kick. This was in contrast to what I read in a review (something about asking for spicy being rewarded with searing heat).
Both dishes were good. Though it took me a few bites to adjust to the cilantro, we both agreed that the beef dish was the more interesting of the two. The chicken dish was quite reminiscent of a thai red curry...though it was quite tasty (though mild) for what it was, I felt I was missing out on a chance to explore a new taste.
We were full and skipped dessert.
Service was good for the most part. The big guy who took our orders wasn't the warmest guy I've ever encountered, but we didn't expect to be pampered.
I will definitely go back next time I'm up that way...at a minimum, I want to try the fish soup and a shrimp dish they had recommended.