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Be a Shopping Star at B Star Bar 

Fabulous fusion on one of San Francisco's best streets.

Wednesday, Jan 21 2009

San Francisco is fortunate in having a number of delightful shopping-and-eating streets: Haight, Mission, Union, and Valencia spring to mind, and we could go on. They're the kind of boulevards where you can start out with nothing more in mind than a casual stroll and end up at one of a number of alluring restaurants with bags of unexpected finds by your side.

For our money, the best single walking street is Clement, with every block between Arguello and Funston (and beyond) stuffed with antique stores, gift shops, bookstores (including San Francisco's best, Green Apple), produce markets, restaurant supply stores (don't miss Kamei), and a dazzling array of eateries. You can choose from among American, Burmese, Chinese, French, Hawaiian, Indian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Thai, Turkish — the list is nearly endless.

On a recent brisk and sunny Saturday, three of us set out for a Clement ramble for window-shopping and a little sustenance. We found ourselves intrigued by the brunch-and-lunch menu posted in the window of B Star Bar. In addition to an array of interesting-sounding eggy dishes, we saw pulled-pork bun sliders, a soft-shell-crab po'boy, samusa soup, Thai salmon green curry pot pie, and jook. Suddenly we were hungrier than we'd thought — I'd been considering lunching on Vietnamese crab, blocks away — and found ourselves seated inside and admiring the rather chic and casual room. It looks nothing like a bar, despite its name, and the cocktails are made with nothing harder than soju or sparkling wine.

One of us went straight for the hanger steak and fried egg ($11); the others found it more difficult to choose. Eventually we decided on chicken and shrimp biryani ($12) and tocino with fried egg ($11). The orderer of the steak requested an extra egg and that they be poached instead, changes that were cheerfully made. His beautifully composed plate featured half a dozen slices of rosy-hearted seared meat; a heap of generously salted and peppered thin, crisp fries; and two perfectly poached eggs ready to release their saucy golden yolks. I was delighted with my tocino, a sweetish cured pork product similar to Canadian bacon that's native to the Philippines, served with a fried egg and a heap of garlicky rice. But my favorite dish was the fragrant biryani, served in a little round casserole, its baked rice crowned with cilantro and crunchy toasted almonds that hid tender pieces of chicken, large pink shrimp, peas, and hard-boiled eggs, with hints of clove, cardamom, and cumin as well as ginger and garlic. It was one of the best I'd ever eaten.

The presence of tea leaf salad ($9) and samusa soup ($7-$13.25) on the menu reminded me that B Star was the younger sibling of Burma Superstar, the venerable (since 1992) and popular traditional Burmese restaurant a couple of blocks up the street. Burmese cooking is a fusion cuisine, incorporating elements of its bordering countries, including China, India, Thailand, and Laos. B Star's menu states that its "simple and wholesome Asian-style comfort foods" are "inspired by the flavors of Thailand, China, Burma, India, Japan, and of course our home here in California." Now that's modern fusion.

We lingered over excellent espresso ($3) and a warm chocolate cake topped with spicy ginger ice cream and surprisingly ripe and tasty strawberries ($7.50). On a warmer day, the back patio would have been a delightful setting.

We'd had such a satisfying meal, even more savory and interesting than we'd expected, that it seemed inevitable that the three of us would reconvene for dinner. B Star's evening menu was even more difficult to choose from. I regret not trying such appetizers as the triple mushrooms (tempura-fried oyster, shiitake, and portobello, $7.50), the walnut shrimp (crusted with panko and sesame, $8.50), and the devilled tea eggs stuffed with sriracha aioli and topped with tobiko ($9). But we were delighted with the panko-crusted soft-shell crab, sweet under its crispy shell ($8); the raw-hearted, pepper-crusted seared tuna tataki, spiced with jalapeños ($8.50); and the fried chicken wings, stacked like Lincoln logs ($6) and served with a bright vinegary lemon pepper dip.

The pan-roasted sea bass ($20) was so carefully cooked that its white flesh had barely jelled, although it had picked up plenty of flavor from its glaze of black beans puréed with ginger and soy. It sat atop a colorful mixture of zucchini, carrots, and mushrooms. A superb grilled ribeye with a spicy dry rub ($21) came with irresistible mashed sweet potatoes. I had expected a more Anglo-Indian and saucier lamb curry ($14.50) than the version I got, which reminded me of B Star's biryani with its subtle spicing, served with coconut rice and crunchy cabbage slaw enlivened with pickled mango. A customer at a neighboring table was enjoying the lion's head meatball casserole ($14) I'd almost ordered; I also wanted to try the braised pork belly with white beans ($13.50).

For dessert, we shared the simple but exquisite coconut affogato ($6), espresso poured over coconut ice cream (full of sizable strips of coconut), topped with more of those good strawberries and toasted almonds. I was so replete and relaxed that I almost found myself ordering another round of B Star's refreshing Meyer lemon mojitos ($7.75), but I saved my money. There would be other chances to enjoy the food and drink at B Star.

About The Author

Meredith Brody

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