EDIT: Dripline is now closed, catch chef Nora Haron here.
It’s my personal breakfast philosophy that a good barometer of a breakfast joint is the most basic thing on the menu, eggs and toast. If an egg isn’t cooked properly and if the bread sucks (practically a crime in the Bay Area), I probably won’t be back to try anything else. But if the eggs and toast is like something I’ve never had before, well, I might just make it my regular joint.
At Dripline, a new café in west Oakland, that basic dish was the Kaya Toast. Kaya means rich in Malay, an accurate word for a coconut jam made from coconut milk, eggs and sugar. The dish required that I spread pandan infused coconut butter on house brioche, and dip it into coddled egg with soy sauce and chives. It’s the kind of meal straight out of the comfort food memories of a chef, that has the power to recall the eater’s own food memories. In this case, Chef Nora Dunning’s toast and kaya in Singapore, and mine at grandma’s house: matzo leftover from Passover, smoothed over with a pat of margarine, covered in cinnamon-sugar mix.
The rest of the food here is a similar expression of Chef Nora’s Singaporean roots and California sensibilities. Classic East Asian staples are made with vegetables from City Slicker farms and the farmers market, tofu from Hodo Soy, and the serious chops of a woman once the Head Kitchen Manager and Culinary Operations Manager for Blue Bottle. Pottery comes from Jered’s Pottery in Richmond, and the black handleless mugs immediately made me want to order something warm to drink.
The other night I was invited to try several dishes on the menu and a few in line to be added. They are open for breakfast and lunch, with pastries, Four Barrel coffee and a few grab-and-god.
My favorite was something yet to make it on the menu: Laksa, a wide-noodle dish in a curry fragrant with ginger, lemongrass, shallots, cumin and coriander, nicely textured with herbs, microgreens, and Santa Rosa-made tempeh.
The peanut sambal, a peanut chile paste which varies from country to country usually depending on the level of coriander, appears in many forms, as a base for the dramatically California-ized Gado Gado and again for the sambal shrimp with hearty coconut grits— a reflection of Nora’s husband’s southern roots. The baked goods here—chocolate chip cookies, pop tarts, cakes and breads— also shouldn’t be missed. Everything is done in house.
Dripline is a concept from Josh Larson and Carrie Shores, architects with a firm upstairs. The couple met Nora when working on Monkey Forest Road together, and she completed the team by bringing her stellar kitchen team of immigrant women with her to Dripline. I’m sure the cafe’s architecture references concepts over my head— to me it’s a light, minimalist space, with clean tile lines, pale wood and pops of yellow furniture. It doesn’t feel like a place that begs you to lounge, but it’s a place that will bring me back for much more than eggs and toast.
Update: looks like you can now find kaya on the menu with the Kaya Waffle. Sounds better than toast.