The last time I ran into Marco Senghor was on the dance floor of his Senegalese restaurant and club, Bissap Baobab in the Mission. My glass of sedem (a hibisus, tamarind, ginger and rum cocktail) was almost gone and I had to raise my voice over the music to tell him jokingly that I was tired of coming to the city on Saturday and that he should bring the party to Oakland. He said he'd been thinking about it.
Last week, Bissap Baobab Oakland opened on 15th and Franklin streets in downtown Oakland. "I've felt like a lot of people who represent the soul of Bissap Baobab are moving into Oakland, so I'm just following the flow," says Senghor. For now, dinner and dance parties are still only in San Francisco while the restaurant waits on its liquor license. In the meantime, lunch offers the same West African soundtrack, tropical colors on the walls, and new menu offerings.
Specials catering to downtown workers include "express" wraps and crepes with sides and homemade juices. Wraps are made with a choice between three sauces and come with chicken, beef, tilapia, or a homemade tofu. The tofu is misleadingly not like tofu, but is Senghor's own recipe of stewed black-eyed peas with garlic, tomatoes and spices. It's good, like a mix between refried beans and a curry with a subtle hint of paprika. The tofu wrap comes with avocado, greens, and Mafe (peanut sauce). Between that and the chicken wrap, I'd have the tofu again. Sides include plantains, yucca fries or a green salad.
Also new on the menu are fresh juices, like a kale, carrot, apple and ginger combo for $4. Other veggie and fruit juices will rotate and the staple hibiscus, tamarind and ginger juices are also available. Traditional Senegalese entrées served with rice or couscous have remained on the menu. For Baobab newbies, that means a seafood coconut curry or a tangy Yassa (lemon, garlic and mustard sauce) chicken. "Senegalese food has French influences, and therefore Vietnamese influences, it has Arabic influences, plus it has so many people arriving from all over Africa," says Senghor. "It's a very musical country too, and I think the food carries the music."
While the express options encourage a quick lunch, you'd be wise to stick around and enjoy the music (Senghor is a DJ and music producer) and observe the wall art by African and local artists. Hints of Senghor's lineage can be found on one of the main pieces mounted on the wall: a boat depicting President Obama and his grandfather (Léopold Sédar Senghor, poet, one of the founders of the Negritude movement, and the first president of Senegal).
Bissap Baobab Oakland is open 11 a.m to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.