Chutney lovers of the Bay Area, rejoice! Preeti Mistry’s mastery of that sweet and savory condiment is the highlight of her new menu at Navi Kitchen. Just a five minute drive from Juhu Beach Club, her Indian street-food joint in Oakland’s Temescal, Navi is more of a cousin than a sister to her first East Bay restaurant. The spice profile is similar but not as pronounced. It’s setting too, in an urban oasis, also sets it apart from Juhu.
Juhu Beach Club shares a cramped parking lot with a taqueria and several other small businesses. It sits on a busy street corner that’s a through-way to Piedmont and Temescal avenues and the 580 freeway. Sitting on the patio there isn’t unlike watching a game of criss-cross racing unfold, with the added benefit of car exhaust. In comparison, Navi Kitchen is located in a Zen garden of peace and delight.
Ninety percent of the seating there is outdoors. There’s a mix of long community tables, comfortable wooden benches and chairs, along with metal tables set aside for more intimate conversations. All the tables face out to a modern condominium complex that’s immaculately landscaped and flowing over with grasses, succulents and a water feature. The space is an idyllic retreat from all the hubbub happening just around the corner from the MacArthur BART station and the nearby Emeryville strip malls.
Inside, the walls are painted peacock blue and there’s a tall counter that’s ideally set up for solo dining. The vibe is casual and calming, music to chill by played on the hi-fi. Parents brought their kids. Parents-to-be brought their dogs. During its first week, Navi’s slow open only served “brekkie” from 8 a.m. until noon. (They’re aiming to open for lunch service late this week, and then turning into an all-day café serving pizza for dinner.)
Alongside pastries from Starter Bakery, the four items on the breakfast menu were all prepared in a melting pot of American standards entirely informed by Indian taste buds. Mild avocados and peeled cucumbers starred on the vegan Toasty Toast ($7). The chaat masala dust and pickled red onions added flavor enough to make this variation on avocado toast filling if not distinctive. The bread itself was just an okay slice of white sourdough. If it had been paired with a walnut or whole grain bread, or even on a fresh-baked naan, the dish might have easily upset the race for best gourmet toast.
Additionally, two breakfast sandwiches compete for your attention: the Mumbai Morning Burger ($8.45) and a Croque Gadame ($8.45). Visually, there’s no discernible difference. They both arrive on golden brown brioche buns loaded with fresh greens. But combined with the dark, crunchy pork ginger sausage, a fried egg, and pepper cress, the ghost pepper chutney was a revelation on the burger. The tamarind ketchup on the croque simply wasn’t a match for it, despite a perfectly cooked brown sugar chai spiced bacon and a sunny side up egg.
The second chutney showed up in the form of a PB+C ($6.90) also served on white toast. Made from rhubarb — the fruit is noted as seasonal on the menu — and dotted with black sesame seeds, its deep rose color happily dominated the curried peanut butter underneath. As a glutton for jam, I’d order it a second time without the peanut butter, but my fellow diner disagreed. She liked this novel take on a routine PB&J.
Will Mistry soon be bottling up those chutneys? Imagine a jar of it enlivening your weekday breakfasts. All that morning toast veering away, at last, from blandness.
Navi Kitchen, 5000 Adeline St., Emeryville, 510-285-6923 or navikitchen.com