Over the past decade, Oakland has built up a craft cocktail scene that can toe to toe with any other city in the Bay — an entire galaxy of bars and restaurants where you can find delicious, meticulously prepared craft cocktails and fancy food. Going out for a nice dinner and cocktails is, of course, a time-honored tradition at this point. But what about going out for cocktails and dessert — Asian-inspired, dim sum-adjacent desserts, to be more specific?
The team behind Viridian, an ambitious new cocktail spot coming to the former Plum Bar space at 2216 Broadway in Uptown Oakland, is betting that that precise combination — craft cocktails and Asian desserts — might be the next big thing.
Expected to open in the next couple of weeks, the bar started out as a pop-up collaboration between bar director William Tsui (previously the bar director at Michelin-starred Lazy Bear) and operations manager Raymond Gee (Noodle Theory Provisions), childhood friends who grew up together in Oakland. About four years ago, the two started toying with the idea of opening a place that served cocktails and dim sum, nearly landing a spot in Oakland Chinatown at that time. This past fall, as Tsui recalls, when their real estate broker told them that the Plum Bar spot was available, right in the heart of Uptown Oakland, their response was pretty straightforward: “Fuck yeah.”
Now, along with fellow co-owner Jeremy Chiu (Shinmai), they’ve assembled a fairly star-studded team that includes GM Alison Kwan (of 1885 Britomart in Auckland, New Zealand) and executive chef Amanda Hoang, who was most recently the pastry chef at Palo Alto’s Bird Dog. Alice Kim, who was the pastry sous chef at Lazy Bear, also consulted on the food menu.
The bar promises to be stylish, with a design aesthetic that Tsui says is inspired by the highly atmospheric films of Wong Kar-wai and the cover art of 90s R&B albums. It will mostly be a standing bar, like a cocktail party, with a smaller section of stools and tables in the back. “The main idea that we want to convey is that it’s fun, unpretentious, and comfortable,” Gee says.
Here in the Bay Area, Viridian’s closest analogue is probably Moongate Lounge, Brandon Jew’s upstairs cocktail lounge, which opened in San Francisco Chinatown last year with a menu of gorgeous cocktails and California-inflected interpretations of classic dim sum. It appears that Viridian — which has done a pop-up at Moongate, and also hired Jew and his wife Anna Lee to design their space — will be likeminded in its distinctly Asian-American aesthetic and dim sum inspiration. But the bar’s outsize focus on sweets is fairly unique in the Bay Area cocktail bar scene.
Tsui explains that the inspiration for the concept came, in part, out of a desire to eliminate food waste. “Working in fine dining, there’s a lot of waste,” Tsui says. “You use the most perfect part of the fruit, and then you throw the rest away. The goal here is to use all of the byproducts.” Since the bar would be using a lot of fruit to make cocktails, there was a lot more overlap of ingredients for desserts than there were for savory dishes.
As a result, Hoang’s menu will only have three savory items: a take on chicken nuggets with the flavor profile of Chinese salt-and-pepper fried chicken wings; a version of the steamed barbecue pork buns that are ubiquitous at dim sum parlors; and, essentially, Parker House rolls slathered in housemade chili-crisp garlic butter.
The sweet side of the menu, on the other hand, will be much longer and more wide-ranging, including both dim sum–type snacks as well as more elaborate plated desserts. There will be a take on Portuguese egg tarts, with an extra-flaky crust Hoang says is similar to what you’d find on a kouign amann. There are “leaky sand buns,” like the dim sum-style egg lava buns, but the custard inside is made with salted duck egg yolks to give it a sandy texture. Plated desserts range from a banana cream pie that incorporates pandan in the custard and a toasted coconut whipped cream, to a cake that alternates between layers of chocolate blackout cake and black sesame pudding, served with a quenelle of frozen yogurt for good measure.
At its heart, though, Viridian will be a cocktail bar first and foremost, more than it is a restaurant or even a dessert spot. One of its challenges, Tsui explains, is that the most common complaint that people have about cocktails to begin with is that they’re too sweet. With a bar that serves mostly desserts on the food side, that becomes even a more prominent issue, so Tsui says the biggest thing he’s aiming for is balance — that, and bold, heavy-handed flavors that will actually be able to compete with the sweets.
And because the food menu is so dessert-heavy, Tsui says he thought it would be “really hilarious” to have a cocktail menu that reads savory. Many of the drinks are named after classic Chinese dishes: There’s the Honey Walnut Ron, a rum cocktail made with walnuts, white sesame, honey, and blood orange. The Tomato Beef is made with tomato water, mezcal, and pink peppercorns. And the ESL is actually a play on a Brandy Alexander, which is a dessert cocktail to begin with.
Tsui says he plans to incorporate some Southeast Asian flavors into some of the cocktails as well. Gee and Hoang both come from families who are ethnic Chinese but hail from Vietnam, and they’d love to highlight that specific cultural niche as well.
“We wanted to create culture in Oakland that is still from Oakland,” Tsui says.
Viridian is currently on schedule to open in early February. It will be open Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m.–midnight, and Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m.–2 a.m. See the opening food and beverage menus below: