The restaurant business is booming in Oakland, which makes sense given the relatively cheaper rents than San Francisco and how many chefs in the business often can only find affordable living accommodations on this side of the bay.
But much of the activity seems to be concentrated in the city’s Uptown neighborhood, and few going west of San Pablo Avenue. One exception is the new Drip Line Cafe, which opened earlier this year in a block of warehouses in West Oakland.
The tiny cafe is a modern, bright spot that’s drawing a lot of attention. The striking interior isn’t a surprise since the cafe was open by two architects, Carrie Shores and Josh Larson of Larson Shores Architecture and Interiors, who also have their offices upstairs above the cafe. They enlisted Chef Nora Dunning, who previously managed the food program for Blue Bottle and Farley’s East, to head the kitchen for Drip Line.
I finally got to check out Drip Line for weekend brunch recently with my friends Wella and Vera. At the casual eatery, you order at the counter and food is brought to your table. There are baked goods and Four Barrel coffee available, along with a refrigerated section of juices.
For the menu, there are limited options with about eight items, but they’re all unique and interesting, with Chef Dunning adding unique twists that comes from her Singaporean background. The burger ($14), for example, is a blended burger of 60 percent grass-fed beef and 40 percent shiitake mushrooms. And where else would you find black rice porridge ($8)? This traditional breakfast dish in Asia is made here with coconut cream and topped with grilled black mission figs and bananas.
Vera actually ordered the burger, which came on a koji brioche bun, and she enjoyed the flavor but also liked the accompanying sweet potato fries with sambal aioli. Wella ordered the breakfast sandwich ($8), which is a house brioche with herbed aioli and a soft fried egg with arugula. She topped it with the koji fried chicken for an additional $4 (the fried chicken is also the star of the chicken and waffle dish).
I ordered the signature Singapore Chicken Rice ($14), which is a popular everyday dish in Singapore (it’s also known in other parts of Asia as Hainan chicken). The dish is poached chicken that’s served with fragrant rice, chicken broth and dipping sauces. Chef Dunning makes her poached chicken different by flash frying the chicken thighs for some added color.
The chicken was tender and flavorful, and I loved all the other elements on the plate, from the ginger-pandan-infused jasmine rice to the jar of chicken broth with green onion. The bright red Thai chili kicap manis sauce was like a sweet spicy sauce. California influences comes in with the side of fennel and mint salad.
The last bite
Drip Line positions itself as a neighborhood gathering spot, and it seems to be well on its way of establishing itself that way from the crowds I’ve seen dropping in when we were there. The modern space may be a bit too stylish for West Oakland’s heritage, but the warmth of the food will surely connect with everyone.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Drip Line, 1940 Union St., Oakland. PH: 510.922.8270. Open Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and weekends, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Monday. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. driplineoakland.com
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