6 April, 2017
Drip Line – West OaklandPosted in : Coffee Shops, Coffee Shops in Oakland - CA on by : The Gourmez
1940 Union St., Suite #21
Obligatory Disclaimer: This review of Drip Line is based off a media dinner that was entirely free to me.
Hidden in the warehouses of West Oakland, you’ll find a new coffee shop full of bright light, much like Trouble Coffee three-quarters of a mile closer in to the freeways. But what you won’t find at Trouble is a full menu of delicious Singaporean–Californian fusion cuisine available all day. I’m not knocking Trouble’s amazing cinnamon toast, but I am declaring that sometimes, proper brain stimulation comes from more substantial fare.
Chicken and rice for breakfast? You can get it at Drip Line. Or for lunch, too, if you’re the more conventional type. All the amazing cuisine at Drip Line comes from Chef Nora Dunning’s imagination in a way that reaches into Singaporean comfort cuisine and infuses it with a Californian insistence on the freshest and brightest of seasonal ingredients. Everything that can be made from scratch is, resulting in epic Sunday prep days for Chef Dunning.
At a recent dinner for food media, the chef shared her inspirations for Drip Line’s menu and how co-owners and architects Josh Larson and Carrie Shores pulled her in after previously working together on the defunct Monkey Forest Road restaurant. Larson and Shores’ firm is located right above the café.
I really liked the café’s wraparound bar seating, as I thought it made excellent use of the space to fit more seating in without making any aspect of it feel crowded. I see myself spending afternoons here filling my belly and my creativity quotient at the same time. That chicken and rice pictured above comes with the current trendiest health food — bone broth — in a jar to pour over the rest of the dish, which includes brown rice cooked in coconut milk and turmeric, cucumbers, and a salad of asian pear, herb, and fennel. Maybe try to avoid dousing the salad in broth, too, but once you smell its wonderful aroma, you might not be able to help yourself.
Perhaps a macchiato would make for quicker reflexes?
Drip Line uses Four Barrel coffee, and the baristas take obvious pride in turning out a good cuppa. The pastries are created with the help of a pastry chef, but Dunning’s influence is obvious there as well, from Chinese five-spice buns to sourdough pain au chocolat to homemade pop-tarts.
Even dog treats! These crocs are made with oats, peanut butter, banana, and bacon glaze for your pooch.
But the human food is where it’s at.
Gado gado is Californian-ized with the addition of quinoa, creating an excellent vegetarian dish full of peanut sambal flair. The crunchy lotus root chips and air-dried puffs of firm tofu provide great texture contrasts. One of many dishes at Drip Line that uses egg to great effect, vegans can always ask for the gado gado without it. But wow, Dunning knows the benefit of egg in unexpected places like…shrimp and grits?
This recipe came from her Southern husband’s craving, so it’s a fusion of their marriage, too. Shrimp are coated in sambal spices and served over grits made with coconut milk. The microherbs, which might be scallions in a more traditional preparation, add a lot of texture and flavor to the dish. The egg, of course, adds richness — not that shrimp and grits typically need more of that. The addition of egg is also a tribute to the Malaysian nasi lemak dish…unless I got my notes wrong and that was the egg in the gado gado; Chef Dunning loves egg! It is a sign of fertility in Singapore.
Although all the food we shared was great, the laksa was a highlight for me, garnished with crisply fried tempeh acquired from Santa Rosa’s Alive and Healing. Their tempeh reminds Chef Dunning of how her family makes it in Singapore, though the producer learned the preparation in Indonesia.
I was surprised by how light in flavor the accompanying traditional sambal sauce was. It tasted like a fresh ketchup, though the heat creeps up on you after a few bites. The pea shoots contributed a wonderfully grassy burst that I dug.
In the preceding dishes, you can see the care taken even in the selection of ceramics, as Chef Dunning explained they want food carefully made from scratch to be served on pottery made by hand with the same attention to detail. The plates, bowls, and cups are by either Chef & Sommelier or Berkeley’s Jered Pottery. Boy does the matcha latté show off the artistry to be found in the combination of great ceramic and barista techniques!
I asked for almond milk and enjoyed how the drink’s extra gritty texture survived the expert blending of the powdery tea and milk — I suck at matcha whisking, y’all, so I defer to those who’ve mastered it. The matcha paired surprisingly well with the laksa, as it cooled the building sambal heat. It also matched great, even in color, with the little ondeh ondeh balls we received as a sweet bite on the way out:
Those are rice flour balls sweetened with coconut palm sugar and rolled in coconut — perfect for those with small sweet teeth.
Yes, I just covered dessert, but I want to end this post at the beginning, bringing us full circle. Drip Line also offers a fancy take on toast, as far as one can get from that cinnamon & butter orgy at Trouble yet every bit as delicious. It’s called Kaya toast, which is a breakfast staple in Singapore and Malaysia but was brand-new to me.
That’s some beautiful bread, y’all. Sourdough brioche, for the fusion element, is toasted and served with pandan-infused coconut butter for spreading and coddled egg for dipping — egg poached sous-vide and then simmered in hot water, that is. Add a little soy sauce and chives and you have reached foodie heaven.
The pandan sweetness in the butter is key to making all those elements come together. As I finish this post, I find myself wondering why, on God’s green Earth, I didn’t schedule my next writing session for Drip Line because I need more of EVERYTHING right about now. Rest assured, I won’t make that same mistake next time. If all this is not enough to convince you a great meal at Drip Line is worth having any time of day, I don’t know what is. It’s a shame they’re only open until 5 pm for now, because evening hunger yearns ever stronger for satiation.
Reviewed 16 March 2017.