Saturday, November 1, 2014

Cafe Mingala

With Second Avenue subway construction well underway in the East 70s, a lot of businesses are struggling. Add scaffolding over your restaurant to the mix and it’s a real challenge. What that means to me, is a compelling reason to try a restaurant in my neighborhood that I’ve been told to visit for many months.

Mingala is probably the only Burmese restaurant left in Manhattan. After its sister location closed in the East Village, my friend CC — partially Burmese herself — recommended the Upper East Side outpost, so (eventually) off we went. No outside photo due to the scaffold and narrowed sidewalk, but it’s fairly narrow and nondescript, a little neon, nothing flashy.

The expansive menu captures lots of dishes clearly inspired by Thai, Indian and maybe even a little Chinese cuisine, but with its own spice profile. We ordered all over the place, and wound up with too much food for two. This is kind of a pattern when I eat out, apparently.

First up, a recommended appetizer: Golden Triangles. Described as “Delicious curried potatoes in triangular shell”, they were indeed that, and quite pretty in presentation.

While CC expected them a deeper golden brown, they were sufficiently crispy, providing a textural contrast to the spicy, but not overly hot, potato pockets.

On name alone I suggested we get the Thousand Layered Bread. What arrived was a reasonably large disc cut into six triangles. This turned out a little less fluffy than expected: four, maaaaybe five hundred layers, tops. But it was decent, and worked well later with the other dishes’ sauces. It also wasn’t our last brush with the bread that evening.

So, onto a “let’s try to pretend this meal is somewhat healthy” turn, CC picked the Mango Salad: sliced mango, crispy onion, chopped peanuts, and “Burmese seasonings”. As expected, this turned out light and refreshing, and we went back to this periodically when the entrees got too heavy.

And the entrees were indeed anything but light. First, the Rangoon Night Market Noodles — egg noodles with “tender duck in light garlic sauce” Coconut Crispy Noodles Soup, with crispy onions on the side. This was quite heavy, and not as expected for my Burmese friend me — she may have I had my dishes mixed up — but this was creamy, rather buttery sauce, and it overwhelmed the duck breast chicken pieces, not to mention the noodles, even though it was soupier than we’d anticipated.

Dressed up, it looked more appetizing: my first bowl of noodles was topped with some crispy onions that arrived with the bowl and, well, those aren’t scallions as described, but they provided color, and a bunch of red pepper. Now that CC has corrected me, I recall her asking if I wanted any of the hard-boiled egg, which I declined. The flavors of the onion and pepper made this more interesting, though I doubt I’d return to this dish any time soon.

We’d wanted to try the keema — thousand-layered bread “stuffed” with minced ground beef in curry sauce — even though we’d already picked the basic unadorned bread. It was a little odd to have the minced beef, spiced in a familiar Indian profile, essentially dumped on top, but we made do, spooning the mixture onto plates and more or less mopping it up with the bread. I wouldn’t suggest this is a necessary dish, but maybe if we hadn’t ordered so many dishes competing for our attention…

Like the star of the evening for me, Mo-Goke Pork: “juicy roasted pork loin in delicious brown sauce”. We are told this is a “very special dish from Mo-Goke, the land of rubies and riches in upper Burma”.

And it was fork-tender, and quite juicy. Lots of pork flavor in a sticky, rather sweet brown sauce. Aside from the broccoli, which I graciously declined to eat, I wound up devouring most of this plate.

With the standard plate of oranges to freshen us on the way out the door, our evening at Cafe Mingala came to a close, and we wandered back onto Second Avenue, full to bursting but glad to have experienced Cafe Mingala.

The check from this attempt at trying a little of everything, including tax and generous tip, barely cleared $70. We left a small amount of everything uneaten, so honestly, we would have been more successful at joining the Clean Plate Club by ordering one fewer entree, saving us a good $15-18 all told.

Service was attentive, and our server enjoyed talking about the dishes, especially so when he learned of my friend’s Burmese background. He was more Burmese than CC and had grown up with some of the dishes on the menu, too. Dishes came out well-spaced when necessary, and the water glasses were refilled constantly. We were quite comfortable. I enjoyed my dinner at Cafe Mingala, and I recommend a trip up to my neighborhood to experience Burmese cooking for yourself.

Café Mingala on Urbanspoon
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Comments

13 Responses to “Cafe Mingala”
  1. TT says:

    mmm keema. now that it is getting cooler out, it may be time to perfect my recipe.

  2. This looks really good. Did you find out what the garlic sauce for the noodles was? I think I’d like to eat it but I’m always wary eating anything creamy from the SE Asian region because they love coconut milk there.

    • BeerBoor says:

      There were several dishes I was certain had coconut; fortunately the servers seem to know what’s in everything. I would not be surprised if the noodle dish had coconut, however; there was a sweetness I couldn’t attribute to just butteriness.

  3. SugarButter says:

    I LOVE MINGALA!! (oops, sorry I shouted.) My mom’s family is Burmese and I grew up eating a lot of the cuisine. Mom and Granny used to make ono kow swear (coconut curried chicken soup) from scratch using homemade coconut milk. Those were the good old days before canned coconut milk came along to thin out the yummy rich gravy. :(

    BTW, that picture of the Rangoon Night Market noodles looks like ono kow swear to me, and the meat looks like chicken; the night market noodles are brown (the color varies depending on who cooks it) and aren’t especially saucy. Those samusas, however, look amazing!

    • BeerBoor says:

      You and jw a little farther down are indeed correct; CC herself wrote me to let me know that while we discussed getting the Rangoon dish, we instead opted for the Coconut Chicken Noodles Soup at the last minute, and I forgot that part. Dumb BeerBoor! Changes made to the post above…

      • SugarButter says:

        Not dumb, just… silly. It did make me stop and wonder if maybe I’d gotten the dishes mixed up!

        So, uh, now I want ono kow swear and am going to make it myself. Kinda wondering if I should go as far as making my own coconut milk too…

  4. T.C. says:

    Mingala is awesome. I need to go back again sometime. I had the mohinga (rice noodles in fish soup) when I went years back but looks like I should try that noodles dish above. Their Thousand Layered Bread was quite addictive. Similar realm of a non-scallion pancakes and the like.

  5. jw says:

    oh! cafe mingala is so great! but yeah, I agree with SugarButter; the noodle dish with the creamy sauce is not the night market noodles. I order it from them all the time and it’s more like a lo mein type dish (with delicious nubbins of duck in a brown sauce and crispy onions on top). maybe there was an ordering miscommunication? also, they have a fantastic lunch special where a large portion of the menu can be had for slightly under $7.

  6. hungry says:

    Hmm, I just realized that I’ve never had Burmese food before.

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