My apartment would fit six times inside Nespresso’s boutique cafe on Grant and Geary. But despite some revealingly huge plate-glass windows, it isn’t easy to tell what they’re doing with all that space.
You can’t find a menu or description of the cafe online, the phone number on Yelp leads you straight to Nespresso corporate headquarters, and it doesn’t look like any cafe I’ve seen.
Inside, the strange, modular decor and the softly bleating electro-beats seem like a “Clockwork Orange” vision of the future. You can sit at tall, sleek counters; a scattering of high-backed, “Jetsons”-style chairs; or on clusters of shiny couches and coffee tables.
I felt very far from home. Luckily, Nespresso threw me a lifeline; the food was simple California cuisine: rustic, homey and approachable. And here’s the kicker: It was done quite well.
On first read, the menu overwhelmed. Some items come with their own espresso shots, others have suggested pairings but you order the espresso separately, and there are lots of mix-and-match combos of desserts and coffee drinks.
And of course, there’s ample exposition on intensity, bean origins and the like: “enhanced with a note of delicately toasted grain.”
But after a good 15 minutes with the menu, I felt more in control, like a guy who knows how to order his own lunch. This is empowering.
For starters, a large tureen of roasted sunchoke soup came alive with a dose of pistachio cream and crisped quinoa.
A Lyonnaise salad got the San Francisco treatment: Artichoke shavings were mixed up in the frisee and lardon, and a slow-cooked Sonoma hen egg — not to be confused with a rooster egg — crowned the tangle.
Main courses treaded similar ground. Espresso-braised short-rib sliders had rich, earthy flavor, enhanced by celery root slaw, fresh-baked rolls and a bright little side of pickled veggies. The chicken sandwich was nicely tenderized with a buttermilk poach, then topped with crispy fried onions, arugula and roasted tomato aioli.
Even Nespresso’s grilled cheese, a weary old lunch staple if I’ve ever seen one, managed to raise eyebrows and earn some “mmms.”
The bread was hearty and flavorful (dare I say, artisanal?), and the three-cheese blend hit all the right notes. Served with a tiny splash of creamy tomato soup and some microgreens, the whole thing would make more sense at Outerlands than this “Blade Runner” future-scape cafe.
The elaborately constructed desserts were more in keeping with the backdrop. It was fun to play with pairings, like the cake filled with a blood orange creme paired with a bracing shot of India-sourced espresso.
Which returns us to the point of this whole cafe: Nespresso, for all your home and office espresso needs.
Upstairs, espresso pod machines clutter the walls, while flat-screens show Nespresso ads on a perma-loop.
Downstairs, finding the bathroom involves weaving through a floor-model maze, perky clerks over-greeting you as you go. It’s all sales.
But let’s take a break from cynicism for a moment. Whatever the motive for luring you in, Nespresso is doing a bang-up job in the kitchen.
Prices are a little steep, and the backdrop may not suit the farm-to-table crowd. Yet I found it refreshing to take a breather from Edison bulbs and reclaimed wood, get jacked up on caffeine and eat a well-made grilled cheese. Is that so wrong?
Nespresso Boutique Cafe
- Location: 90 Grant Ave. (at Geary Street), S.F.
- Contact: (800) 562-1465
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays
- Price range: $12 to $17
- Recommended dishes: Sunchoke soup ($12), ristrettoespresso-braised short-rib sliders ($17), buttermilk-poached chicken sandwich ($16), grilled cheese ($16), moro blood orange dessert ($8)
- Credit cards: All major
- Reservations: Not accepted