In a surprising twist that almost never happens in the restaurant industry, FOB Kitchen opened last night more than a week ahead of schedule. That’s exciting news for Oakland’s food-obsessed Temescal neighborhood, which has not only gained a taste of the Philippines but also one of the Bay Area’s most hotly anticipated restaurants of the season.
FOB Kitchen started as a pop-up about three years ago, eventually settling into a residency at Gashead Tavern in the Mission. When it ended, Brandi and Janice Dulce knew it was time to find a permanent home for FOB Kitchen — but they started looking in Sacramento and Nevada City. “We thought we’d have to leave the Bay Area,” Brandi says.
But then, Preeti Mistry closed Juhu Beach Club, and the space turned out to be perfect for FOB Kitchen’s needs.
Brandi and Janice peeled off the pink floral-print wallpaper and threw up a white-and-black design with palm fronds, evoking the tropics in a bold but clean way. They added pops of turquoise, including a wave of tiles inspired by the colors in the water they saw in the Philippines. They designed the wooden slatted food pass with Filipino huts in mind, and brought over various trinkets and decor from their travels to complete the look. Most impressively, they did everything themselves — with the help of friends — from the painting to the woodworking.
The vision is for diners to feel like they’re entering the Dulces’ home, with hip-hop, soul, and funk always on blast. While the pop-ups always had a community feel to them, the brick-and-mortar sees FOB Kitchen in its fully realized form.
“It really feels like us,” Brandi says. “It’s the full experience for what we want FOB Kitchen to look like, feel like, and sound like.”
Much of the menu will look familiar to pop-up regulars — the pork adobo, tocino, lumpia, and house-made Spam are all there. The biggest difference is that the restaurant will serve dishes family style in the evenings, while brunch will continue the pop-up’s rice plate format. Brandi says operating a restaurant also opens up FOB Kitchen to more specialty ingredients sourced through distributors — as a pop-up, the pair just shopped at grocery stores — so guests will see more fresh pandan, calamansi, tropical fruit, and whole fish instead of filets. The bistek — flavored with soy sauce, lemon, and onions — has been revamped with grass-fed ribeye instead of New York strip.
Janice also focused on offering more vegetarian and vegan options with the restaurant. She worked on a tofu-mushroom adobo recipe for a year before landing on a version she’s happy with (the secret is lots of coconut oil). She played around with some salads, including an eggplant version with jicama, tomato, sea beans, and rice cracker, and a mix of shredded mango, jicama, and cabbage spiked with vinegar. Brandi will continue to handle desserts, including a new pandan-coconut panna cotta. And they’re excited to introduce rotating specials in the future.
“There is so much Filipino food — there are all these cookbooks and regions — so it’s exciting to play with more,” Janice says.
Meanwhile, the pair brought in Cali Gold of Beretta to design a tropical-inspired cocktail menu incorporating ingredients commonly found in the Philippines, such as calamansi, lemongrass, and tamarind. The signature is the Fresh Off the Boat, featuring rum, pandan, coconut milk, and a dehydrated red bean-dusted rim. “It’s meant to be an homage to halo halo,” explains Brandi. She also pointed to the Juhu Beach Club, a tribute to the space’s past life, with Indian dark rum, cardamom, and chai spices. FOB Kitchen also offers beer and wine on tap.
“It’s crazy how everything just fell into place. With Gashead, I remember thinking I would have stayed there forever. It was a great location,” Janice says, now happy how the move forced her to fully realize FOB Kitchen’s potential. “It’s one of those ‘dreams come true’ stories.”
FOB Kitchen Dinner and Drinks by Janelle Bitker on Scribd
FOB Kitchen is now open at 5179 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. It’s serving dinner Wednesday and Thursday 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday 5 to 11 p.m. Brunch is served weekends from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. After a few weeks, FOB Kitchen will add Saturday dinner service from 5 to 11 p.m. and eventually expand into late-night hours.