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Desert Companion

First look: Proving Grounds

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Gabi Coffee & Bakery
Photography by Brent Holmes

With the opening of Gäbi Coffee & Bakery, the cafés and tearooms of Chinatown continue to percolate

If you’re driving along Spring Mountain Road, on the western edge of Chinatown, it’s hard to miss a certain large, ancient-looking wooden door on the front of an industrial building. With its lacquered brown tone and iron detailing, it looks like the entrance to a faraway temple. This remarkable portal is the entrance to Gäbi Coffee & Bakery.

There’s a bit of hyperbole going around that Gäbi is a hidden spot — some kind of caffeinated speakeasy. In reality, at some 12 feet in height, the door is an undeniable head-turner. No secret there. But it does indeed open into one of the most engaging new coffee shops in the valley. Gäbi is notable for its unfinished concrete walls, dangling Edison bulbs, Etsy-worthy woven chandeliers, stacks of books, indoor trees, and lofty skylights. Its airy, well-lit design unites a contemporary West Coast industrial aesthetic with historical flourishes from Korea in the early 1900s — including framed replica photos of period aristocrats. The nostalgia factor is enhanced by floral-patterned armchairs and couches for a comfortable “grandma’s house” feel.

Gäbi features two interior architectural novelties. First, in the center of the large room, a glass-and-metal greenhouse contains the food production area. It’s not quite a demonstration kitchen, but it does lend a sense of culinary quirkiness to the room. Then there’s the popular, multi-tiered stadium seating, with four levels for kicking back with friends. It also features a slide, so kids gravitate to it. This is not a subdued coffee house, nor a turn-and-burn chain operation. Remember when cafés were about the nebulous art of hanging out? Gäbi invites you to hang out, drink up, and take it all in.

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For the main draw — coffee service — espresso drinks are highlighted, from the austere ristretto to more lavish, sugared cups like the “Caramella,” with sweetened condensed milk. The signature drink is a dry cappuccino with its foam decorated with coffee ground and sugar crystals, making for a lovely craquelure texture. Numerous hot teas with infusions like peaches, mangoes, marigold petals, and cloves are brewed. Cold tea concoctions feature essences including yuzu, berries, and jujubes (dried red dates). The savory food menu centers on substantial croissant sandwiches like turkey and smoked Gouda. For more green, brioche toast is topped with a schmear of ricotta cheese and avocado, then finished with a meadow of alfalfa sprouts. One of the more visually unique items is a soft charcoal bun, which is black-toned with the powdered burnt ingredient (which doesn’t add any discernible flavor — it’s more for show).

Rainbow Roulade

In the sweets department, Gäbi brings on the color, too, including the prismatic “Rainbow Roulade,” iced lychee-rose cakes, and the intricate “DanMee” chiffon cake with orange blossom-mascarpone mousse and berry-wine gelée. Burnished “cruffins” conceal espresso crème at their whorled pastry bases, making for a gooey finish.

Gäbi follows a handful of other Chinatown coffee spots that are bringing the area some buzz for more than great food. For a pop culture-oriented vibe, stop by Kung Fu Tea (kungfutea.com) for a mind-boggling array of cold drinks topped with chewy boba bubbles (or not, if you’re like me). For serious tea traditions, visit Niu-Gu (702-570-6363) for brewed rare leaves served on a fascinating log table from China that’s carved to depict a mountain scene and reclining Buddha figure. And at minimalist Flavyours (flavyours.com), sip on an icy cup of butterfly pea flower tea — it changes color from blue to purple like a mood ring.

5808 Spring Mountain Road #104, 702-331-1144, gabicafe.com

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