If you're not sure what kind of food Grocery Cafe serves, the sign outside says it all.

If you’re not sure what kind of food Grocery Cafe serves, the sign outside says it all.

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.

Dinner started with a coconut chicken noodle soup called ono kaw swe.

Dinner started with a coconut chicken noodle soup called ono kaw swe.

Flowers decorate the only large table in the restaurant where our MeetUp group dined.

Flowers decorate the only large table in the restaurant where our MeetUp group dined.

Samusa appetizers. I didn't try this because of my aversion to deep-fried foods (I could smell the oil as the plate passed me.)

Samusa appetizers. I didn’t try this because of my aversion to deep-fried foods (I could smell the oil as the plate passed me.)

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).

A snack of spicy dried anchovies. (Not my favorite, a bit like eating jerky)

A snack of spicy dried anchovies. (Not my favorite, a bit like eating jerky)

Vinyl covers decorate the wall.

Vinyl covers decorate the wall.

A spicy condiment

A spicy condiment

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).

Chef Lue adding lime to the ginger salad before serving.

Chef Lue adding lime to the ginger salad before serving.

Traditional tea salad before getting tossed

Traditional tea salad before getting tossed

My plate of both the ginger and tea leaves salads. I liked the ginger salad better, but the tea salad definitely had an authentic Burmese flavor.

My plate of both the ginger and tea leaves salads. I liked the ginger salad better, but the tea salad definitely had an authentic Burmese flavor (although a bit too much peanuts).

Nan gyi thoke, or fried noodles with chicken.

Nan gyi thoke, or fried noodles with chicken.

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.

Special catfish dish

Special catfish dish

Mango chutney pork

Mango chutney pork

Special oxtail dish

Special oxtail dish

The rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps

2-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.

My bowl of tamarind seafood combo (or Burmese style cioppino). All the seafood was fresh and the broth was nice and light.

My bowl of tamarind seafood combo (or Burmese style cioppino). All the seafood was fresh and the broth was nice and light.

Chef Lue dishing up dessert

Chef Lue dishing up dessert

Typical Asian dessert of tapioca in sweet soup but the other ingredients were unusual (I tasted a lot of sweet potato bits).

Typical Asian dessert of tapioca in sweet soup but the other ingredients were unusual (I tasted a lot of sweet potato bits).

One Response to Dishing on Burmese Food at Grocery Cafe in Oakland — a Review

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    What a charming little place. And I have a weakness for any oxtail dish!