A Burmese Kitchen That Combines Fidelity and Freedom

Rangoon, a Burmese restaurant that opened in Brooklyn this year just in time for the pandemic, is not precisely the place that its owners, Myo Moe and Daniel Bendjy, envisioned. Still, you should go.

Ms. Moe, the chef, would build her plates with more contrast and complexity if the world weren’t upside down. The rice noodles she serves in a spicy, salty, dark sauce of fermented black beans should be fatter, she says, but supply disruptions have forced her to settle for a narrower gauge. Try them anyway, along with the tea-leaf salad, even though the lotus root it should contain isn’t always available.

Takeout and delivery have kept Rangoon afloat since March, when the restaurant had to close its dining room while it was still in soft-opening mode. A number of dishes have been stripped down, made simpler and sturdier so they can be packed in disposable containers. Order them nevertheless.

For those whose mind wanders during Zoom meetings to thoughts of getting lost in the scent of lemongrass rising from the steam on a bowl of mohinga, the city can be a frustrating place, seemingly incapable of sustaining more than one or two Burmese restaurants at a time. The scarcity of the cuisine alone should make Rangoon a compelling destination, but it would be an exciting one even if tea-leaf salad were as common here as Jamaican beef patties.

Ms. Moe, who grew up in Myanmar, interprets the country’s cuisine with a blend of fidelity and freedom that seems new to the city. She doesn’t turn the knobs all the way up on fermented flavors, chile heat, pork fat and other intensifiers in an effort to to be heard over New York’s background noise, the way some chefs do. Instead she emphasizes the subtlety and freshness that Burmese cooks prize. Her ingredients demand attention — the rich, marbled pork shoulder she stews with tamarind pulp is one of the nicest pieces of meat I’ve had in a restaurant this year — and her seasonings repay it.

Ms. Moe and Mr. Bendjy, working with a Brooklyn architecture firm called Outpost, spent months transforming the dark shell of a defunct bodega into a minimalist white dining room. Early in the evening, pink light sifts in through a facade of hinged white metal panels perforated with a design taken from Victorian wallpaper. On the walls are old tinted photographs of Ms. Moe’s family in Myanmar, taken long before she and her parents emigrated from Yangon in 1992. Tables and counters are notched into corners and nooks of the compact space.

You won’t sit there. Even after Sept. 30, when they will be allowed to open their dining room again, Ms. Moe and Mr. Bendjy are going to keep seating everybody who comes to Rangoon in the back garden or out front, where a small street-dining platform built under the arching canopy of trees on a wide, stately block of Prospect Heights tries gamely to mirror the design of the interior: It’s

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