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Yoma Burmese Restaurant

After a long lapse, Boston gets another fine taste of a rare cuisine
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  June 24, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

A REAL JEWEL: The tea-leaf salad at Yoma — with peanuts, crisp fried shallots, garlic, and tomato — looks great as served, and tastes even better mixed up.

Yoma Burmese Restaurant | North Beacon Street, Allston | 617.783.1372 | | Open Daily, noon–10 pm (Closed Wednesdays starting July 2009) | MC, VI | No liquor | Sidewalk-level access | No valet parking
Burmese food bears some resemblances to that of its neighboring countries, which has been emphasized during Boston's surprisingly long, if gapped, history with the cuisine. In the late 1970s, for instance, the Golden Horde in Inman Square served quite a bit of Chinese food. Yoma has chosen to focus on the distinct qualities.

I was pleased to find a number of dishes that I first sampled at Yadanapon, which held court in the Combat Zone circa 1995. But compared with that predecessor, Yoma's kitchen dials up the spice (though a non-Asian ordering "mild" gets a legitimately mild dish), and eases up on the shrimp paste — at least on the dishes I ordered. Another Yoma novelty is that many of its Asian-American customers resemble the servers, and know what they want. There were never a lot of Burma-savvy customers in this city's previous restaurants — including at the lamented Mandalay Restaurant near Symphony Hall, which closed in the late 1980s and had a second branch for a while.

Yoma lists three appetizers, but we got the combination plate, AaJawSone ($9.95), to sample them all. Samusar ($5.95/four, à la carte), the first, are fried pyramids like samosa, with a simpler cabbage, potato, and onion filling in a very temperate curry. The fire is in the dips, especially a cruet of dried toasted chilies and seeds, and another of the same deadly combination in paste form. TofuJaw ($5.95/12) are fried triangles of melts-in-your-mouth chick-pea tofu — much more delicate than the soy stuff. And the last, spring rolls ($5.95/four), are also vegan, with a filling similar to the Samusar.

This is a cuisine that incorporates many salads, so I tried several. The first, with roast-beef ($7.65), I ordered "spicy." (That would equal about three silhouettes in a Thai restaurant.) You can't see the hot stuff in this dish — it might be those little slivers of green, or those unobtrusive black toasted crumbs — but the heat builds up nicely. The beef is cut into little strips, along with cucumber, cabbage, and fresh tomato. Cilantro, chile, and the citronella smell of lemongrass round out the flavors, along with crunchy fried shallots and a lime-tamarind dressing.

Tea-leaf salad ($8.25) is the real jewel here, and comes to the table as distinct piles of fermented green tea leaves (salty and complex), roast peanuts, shallots fried crisp with sesame seeds, minced garlic, and more tomato. You could do all kinds of fun experiments with this, but I just mixed it all up and ate it with a spoon. (My Israeli guests, who had just been to Myanmar, claim that tomatoes are not common to the region, but otherwise pronounced Yoma's food to be pretty authentic.) Green-mango salad ($6.95) is like a Cambodian or Vietnamese salad, except more sour, less sweet, and loaded with crushed peanuts.

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