Celery and I had dinner last night at Nan Yang, a Burmese restaurant in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood.
Chatting chowhound with Celery was fun, as always, but eating at that restaurant continues to be a bittersweet experience for me.
I chose Nan Yang because on a cold winter night I had a craving for their Chicken Noodle soup. Right away, the nostalgia sets in: at Nan Yang's original location in Oakland Chinatown, the dish was known as "Curried Chicken Noodle soup."
But that was then, almost 20 years ago when Nan Yang was just another formica-topped restaurant in Chinatown with some Burmese specialities mixed in with standard Chinese restaurant offerings. The Burmese specialities caught on, and in 1992 the owner opened a more upscale Burmese-only restaurant in Rockridge. Eventually the original location closed.
Maybe the food at the new location is more "authentic" -- I don't know -- but it is more refined, and I miss the peasant heartiness of the old renditions. The service is more formal, too (and last night was rather too leisurely, with each of the three dishes we ordered to share served as a separate course with long pauses in between).
The soup was delicious, even though I wished for a slightly larger bowl with more noodles. The "broth" was almost thick enough to be considered a sauce, rich with coconut milk, bright yellow with turmeric, and with a slight crunch from the topping of crisp fried onions.
We also ordered another house specialty, the ginger salad. Tossed at the table, this dish is a wonderful melange of shredded fresh ginger, cabbage and onion with toasted peanuts, fava beans, split peas, coconut chips, tossed with lemon juice and garlic oil. Although it was good, again it suffered from my memory -- perhaps 20 years later the flavors no longer have the brilliance lent by discovery, or perhaps it needed a dash more lemon juice and a sprinkle more salt.
The most flawed but in some ways the most interesting dish was the "curried smoked eggplant": seared eggplant, onion, garlic, and peppers, dry stir-fried with a light touch of red curry powder. The veggies were wonderfully charred, but the eggplant pieces were unevenly cooked: one piece I picked up was tender and melting in the way I associate with well-cooked Asian-style eggplant, while the first piece I picked up was unpleasantly chewy and spongy, reminding me of what I don't like about most European eggplant preparations.
Celery and I eyed the eggplant and each other across the table with dubious expressions at first bite. However, inspired by the presence of another chow hound I didn't push it away after the first taste and the dish grew on me. The smoking did impart an intriguing flavor and texture to the eggplant once I got used to it. At least I didn't have rose-colored lenses of nostalgia tinting my view of this dish!
6048 College Avenue (at Claremont)
Open for both lunch and dinner 7 days a week.