The story: Chef William Lue has a long history of dishing up Burmese food in the Bay Area, starting out in San Francisco’s Richmond district in the same spot that was eventually taken over by the insanely popular Burma Superstar, and lately doing some cooking from a food truck. But last month he landed in an unusual corner spot in a quiet area of East Oakland and named the restaurant oddly the Grocery Cafe because there are plans to make it a part-time grocery store selling Burmese goods.
Why I went: This was my first time joining a dinner put on by a new Meetup group called East Bay Dishing that’s organized by my friend Christina of the aptly named East Bay Dish food blog. About a dozen of us gathered for dinner in a back table, and was treated to a banquet of dishes pulled together by Chef Lue. It’s one of those meals that after awhile you just stop counting dishes and just keep thinking how much leftovers you’ll have for lunch the next day.
The vibe: A cozy neighborhood spot with a bit of retro 70 vibe with vinyl covers on the wall. For an authentic Burmese restaurant, there were a mix crowd of diners from families to buddies out for drinks and food.
The menu: Like I said earlier, the night’s meal was already planned by Chef Lue and we basically just tried whatever he dished up in front of us. He started off with an enticing coconut chicken noodle soup (ono kaw swe) that got everyone talking because of the fried chickpeas. This was followed with some samusa and pickled vegetables, and then the traditional (and ceremonial) tea leaf salad and ginger salad. Both were refreshing and crunchy (with the tea salad having a bit more peanuts than I’ve had elsewhere). The entrees included several meat dishes (from lamb masala and mango chutney pork and special dish of oxtails and catfish). The flavors gave a hint of Thai, Lao and India, but they all had a sense of home, like eating dishes from a grandmother’s kitchen. Not all were success (the mango pork was too salty and mealy) but others were satisfying and enlightening (like the coconut chicken noodle soup and refreshing ginger salad).
The booze: The restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license yet, so it’s BYOB for now. No corkage fee from what I can tell.
My favorite dish: I had several favorites, starting with the ono kaw swe soup with the balance of flavors from the coconut milk and heat in the soup, and the ginger salad that was refreshing with a definite ginger flavor. But the lamb masala was also comforting with tender lamb, and the catfish (which wasn’t necessarily the most popular dish on the table), which had a definite Southeast Asian flavor that reminded me of that part of the world (it’s a flavor that may be an acquired taste for American diners).
The last bite: Grocery Cafe may confuse you with its name, but once you dine there you’ll know that you’re getting a reflection of Chef Lue’s Burmese homeland. And while the dishes aren’t cutting edge (and some can border on being too salty), they are comforting and perfect for a corner neighborhood spot, expanding the tastebuds of Oakland residents.
The rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Grocery Cafe, 2248 10th Ave., Oakland. PH: 925.566.4877. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and dinner, 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations for large parties. Major credit cards accepted. Facebook page.
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