Last month I was invited to check out an exciting new coffeeshop that can be found deep in the vast industrial section of West Oakland. It’s a little off the beaten track, but you should definitely make an effort to find it, because it is a hidden gem that has more than just coffee, good company and a beautiful serene environment to hang out in. The food alone is worth the trip, it’s so much more than the average fare found in a coffeeshop.
It was an evening event so I enjoyed a cup of herbal tea that was infused with intriguing herbs and spices, and I managed to snag the last Chinese Five Spice morning bun. The five spices are a mixture of star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel, cassia (a relative of cinnamon) and clove. This bun is fantastic, it is made of flaky pastry dough that is liberally coated with spiced sugar and I found bliss in each crunchy bite of the buttery bun that was coated with caramelized spiced sugar.
The dog treats aren’t the usual bone shape but cute alligators or are they crocodiles?
The executive chef Nora Dunning introduced herself and provided narrative throughout the meal. She was very warm and engaging and we were all drawn into her story. Her passion for cooking began while helping her mom prepare meals while growing up in Singapore and while traveling through Italy. She attended the San Francisco Baking Institute and was formerly in the kitchen at Blue Bottle Coffee, Farley’s, and then Executive Chef at Monkey Forest Road and Crema in Berkeley. At Dripline, they offer small-batch drip coffee, espresso, and a seasonal breakfast, lunch and grab-n-go menu, influenced by her diverse heritage. She focuses on seasonal ingredients and sustainable sourcing, with a deeply rooted sense of place in Oakland.
We began with Kaya Toast ($9), which is a staple breakfast in Singapore. Her version is very elegant, toasted brioche soldiers served with a scoop of pandan infused coconut butter (kaya), a coddled egg sprinkled with chives and soy sauce is contained in an adorable glass jar to dunk the lovely sweet and savory kaya slathered toast into.
I’m still thinking about that toast…
Then we were served the most amazing Gado Gado ($9) made from seasonal vegetables like sugar snap peas, neon green romanesco cauliflower, arugula, organic red quinoa, on top of a rich pool of peanut sambal along with a poached egg, topped with fried lotus root chips, fried tofu puffs from Hodo Soy, lime, and some pickles.
I’ve had versions before that were gloopy and full of boring veggies, but I really loved this! Everything was so fresh and full of vibrant flavors and crisp, crunchy textures. We broke open the egg and mixed it in with the aromatic peanut sambal and tossed it so everything was coated with the gorgeous rich flavors. Get this for sure.
Then came Shrimp and Grits ($13), stoneground grits simmered in coconut milk, topped with coconut sambal shrimp, a fried egg and a handful of micro herbs. ($13). The grits were inspired by Singapore’s nasi lemak (aromatic rice infused with coconut milk and pandan leaves) and provided a rich base for the sambal, which is a spicy chili paste made with shallots, galangal, lemongrass and other aromatics. This dish is a delightful mingling of flavors and techniques used in southeast Asia and the American south. The fresh herbs added brilliant color and vibrancy to the dish
Chicken rice is a legendary dish with origins in Hainan (read more here) that symbolizes comfort in a bowl, typically it is sliced chicken that has been poached or steamed with the skin on, and fragrant chicken-fat-slicked rice and cool dipping sauce. At my table, we collectively huffed in consternation at the sight of brown rice (sacrilege!) and the dark mahogany hue of the skinless thigh meat. It was served with a cup of bone broth that you could either sip or pour over the rice, thin slices of cucumbers, asian pear herb and fennel salad, it seemed very California-esque. Not the comforting flavors and textures that we were expecting, but fresh and reviving.
I was excited to try Laksa, the iconic noodle soup of Malaysian origin. We were served a vegan version made with rice noodles, tofu puffs, tempeh, asparagus, pea sprouts, rau ram, mint and cilantro, sambal, lime, curried broth made with lemon grass, ginger, garlic, shallots and coriander. Full of dark mystery, the broth was spicy and thick, the noodles were supple and tender. The tempeh is from Alive and Healing in Santa Rosa and the whole-food, plant-based protein was cut into thin strips and panfried to a crisp, which were reminiscent of bacon.
Dessert was called Ondeh Ondeh, tiny sweet rice balls made with coconut palm sugar, coated with coconut flakes and filled with sweet bean paste. We each had one and that was perfect.
At the end of the meal, Chef Dunning introduced some of her kitchen staff that she has worked with for years. We all really enjoyed the personal tour of her delicious menu and I can’t wait for them opening on the weekends as they are only open for breakfast and lunch on weekdays….
Hours: Monday – Friday: 7am-5pm
1940 Union Street Suite #21
Oakland, CA 94607
510-922-8270 | website