The story: It’s funny how many of the Burmese restaurants in the Bay Area have some direct or indirect ties to the popular Burma Superstar in San Francisco. Teni East Kitchen is no different. This new spot in Oakland was opened by Tiyo Shibabaw, who previously managed Burma Superstar’s Alameda and Temescal locations. Now she’s stepping into the kitchen in her own place that opened in June next door to Clove and Hoof along the growing 40th Street corridor near Broadway.
Why I went: I live nearby and I’d seen the restaurant popup on my bus rides home. I hadn’t heard much about it when it was taking shape, but since it’s so close to me it’s an easy spot for an impromptu meal. I visited about three times in the last couple of months for early dinners.
The vibe: The large, almost cavernous space with sparse decor gives the restaurant almost a banquet hall feel. But the music and contemporary plating on the tables give a hint of the personality to come on the plates. It still feels like the neighborhood is slowly discovering this place because the large space was hardly filled the times I’ve dined there, and each time there was always someone coming in for the first time (the tables are so close you can hear everyone’s conversations).
The booze: There is a large bar on the left as you walk into the restaurant, but to be honest I didn’t really pay much attention to what they offered. I was more focused on non-alcoholic options like the Thai iced tea or the coconut water a lot of people seemed to like ordering.
The menu: Shibabaw isn’t Burmese but Ethiopian, but she takes what she learned working at Burma Superstar to give a decent Burmese feel to the menu, starting of course with a Burmese tea leaf salad, which she gives her own spin by interpreting it into a tea leaf kale salad ($9). The small menu offers a variety of dishes (including curries) that have influences from all over Southeast Asia, with flavors like cumin, lemongrass, and tamarind sprinkled throughout.
I found the salads, notably the tea leaf and a large pea shoot salad ($8), to have a fresh, California feel. The tea leaf salad had that funky fermented tea leaves that are blended with the kale and a mix of crunchy nuts and seeds that gave it a bit of authenticity in flavor but still modern with the baby kale (my only gripe would be I wished there were more of the crunchy nuts and seeds). The pea shoot salad was a revelation with its garlic lime dressing brightening the hearty pea shoot flavors.
In all my visits, the meat offerings seem to be flavorful and comforting, but they sometimes suffer from a lack of cooking time (i.e., they weren’t as tender as I would have liked). For example, the duck curry (a whole duck thigh with bone, $14), was a nice yellow curry, but the duck didn’t fall off the bone making it a bit messy to cut in the curry. And a cumin pork belly ($13) was thin slices of pork belly that were wok-tossed with basil and shallots (and a lot of onions) that left the pork belly still a bit chewy.
The only exception in my experiences, however, was the hearty beef cheek curry ($13) that was braised perfectly tender and earthy in the red curry base along with tender potatoes. The side of roti ($5), nicely made with crispy edges, is great for sopping up the curry sauce.
For dessert, Teni East Kitchen offers ice cream from Mitchell’s served in cones. You can get various number of scoops, but oddly you can’t mix flavors.
My favorite dish: I’d definitely go back for the beef cheek curry, but I really enjoyed the pea shoot salad, which makes for a great lunch and isn’t something you’ll find often at other restaurants (few places make fresh pea shoots the star of the plate like here).
The last bite: While the meat could benefit with a bit more time in the cooker, I found Teni East Kitchen to be a little gem in the hood with refreshing dishes and friendly, welcoming service. Little buzz seems to be happening here, which I find odd because the flavors are on par with what you get at Burma Superstar but without the long wait.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Teni East Kitchen, 4015 Broadway (at 40th Street), Oakland. PH: 510.597.1860. Open daily lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner, 5 to 9:30 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.tenieastkitchen.com
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