Kitchen 388 Ready for Reboot

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Good news for fans of seemingly short-lived Adams Point newcomer Kitchen 388: After an abrupt four-month hiatus, the popular breakfast-and-lunch spot is set to reopen, with dinner-only service starting next Wednesday, May 2.

Joseph Dunbar, a veteran of the Bay Area’s private-chef circuit, opened the cafe last June with little fanfare, but it quickly emerged as a neighborhood favorite. Dunbar’s menu featured straightforward comfort fare: egg dishes, sandwiches, and baked goods — everything from-scratch, seasonal, you know the drill.

The food was good. After an initially lukewarm experience last fall, Express critic Jesse Hirsch was won over by a pulled pork sandwich and silky carrot-orange soup. Meanwhile, I consider myself a fan of pastry chef Alicia Toyooka’s flaky-crusted homemade pop tarts — I almost certainly would have featured them in my list of best budget-conscious desserts, had the restaurant not closed suddenly.

So about that: At the end of December, just as the cafe was starting to hit its stride, Dunbar and his staff closed up shop and disappeared. The first of a series of notes posted on the door informed customers that Kitchen 388 was closed for the holidays and would reopen on January 2. But January 2 turned into the end of January, which turned into maybe sometime in March.

When a final message went up alluding to an illness in the family, I figured, well, that was that. More than three months had passed, and we've all heard about the razor-thin margins for first-time restaurateurs. Still, I’d regularly see other would-be pop tart buyers peering into the restaurant, looking forlorn, their faces pressed up against the glass.

As it turns out, Dunbar himself was the one who was sick and wound up spending an entire month in the hospital. But when I bumped into the chef in front of his restaurant last week, he was looking chipper.

“We’re back,” he said, declining to discuss the details of his illness except to assure me that he was “on the up and up.”

Joseph Dunbar, chef-owner of Kitchen 388
  • Joseph Dunbar, chef-owner of Kitchen 388

Dunbar briefly outlined his plans for Kitchen 388’s soft relaunch, starting next Wednesday: Rather than go back to slinging breakfast and lunch right away, he’ll take this opportunity to roll out dinner service, which, back in the fall, had been held up by various permit application processes. The cafe will be open in the evenings, Wednesday through Sunday, offering a short menu — four appetizers, four entrees, three desserts — with various theme nights (Italian, Moroccan, etc.) and a big focus on seasonal vegetables. Beer and wine will be available, and the cafe will even offer table service for the first time.

As Dunbar put it, "We just want to keep it really simple, and hopefully whatever we have, people will enjoy it."

Of course one of the challenges when a restaurant closes for an extended period is the fear that even your loyal customers will have forgotten about you. To address this, Dunbar says he’ll be hosting a series of invitation-only pop-up dinners for his regular customers, mostly people from the neighborhood. The first of those is slated for this Saturday.

Dunbar expects to restart his full breakfast and lunch program by the summertime, but it’s a bit of a risky move to reopen with something completely new — he admits many of his regulars are going to be especially upset when they find out there won’t be any weekend brunch to start out.

The good news, Dunbar says, is that in spite of the long hiatus, he expects he’ll be able to hire back most of his staff. Most importantly: Toyooka, the pastry chef and crackerjack pop tart maker, will be rejoining the team on a part-time basis.

Kitchen 388, 388 Grand Avenue, Oakland, 510-893-3005.

Got tips or suggestions? Email me at Luke (dot) Tsai (at) EastBayExpress (dot) com. Otherwise, keep in touch by following me on my (brand spankin’ new) Twitter account, @theluketsai or simply by posting a comment. I'll read ‘em all.

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