Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Mini Dish: Armani Café

Laboring for Food on a Holiday Weekend
1 Grant Ave. at Market, San Francisco
Union Square
PH: 415.677.9010
Open Mon.–Sat, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.; Sun., noon–4 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted

I never knew the Labor Day holiday weekend in San Francisco would be such a challenge to find a nice place to eat. I was in Union Square on Sunday (which wasn’t even the official holiday) meeting my friend Jessie for brunch and we went on wild goose chases looking for places to eat.

Our first stop was the tiny Canteen on Sutter Street, which was closed for two weeks for the end of summer (reopening on Sept. 11). We headed south to Farmer Brown, which was also gated and closed for the day. Not wanting to head to a third place and strike out, we went to the closest place we knew that would also have air-conditioning—the Armani Café inside the Emporio Armani store on Grant Avenue.

Even the Armani Café was running on holiday time. It didn’t have its usual outdoor seating and it was offering a limited menu of only salads and panini sandwiches. But it had air-conditioning, and after walking around the border of the Tenderloin for the last half hour, Jessie and I were ready to be pampered.

The café consists of a beautiful oval bar in the center of the store and a few tables on the mezzanine level. Jessie and I sat at the bar and started off by ordering some drinks. (I got a Limonata, which was made with lemonade and vodka.) For our brunch-now-turned-to-lunch, we shared a fig salad and the Kobe beef panini with brie.

The salad was nothing more than a huge plate of mesclun greens that were overly dressed with the vinaigrette. The food preparer, who made the salads right in front of us, spooned out what looked like dried figs that had been reconstituted with red wine. The figs were nice but I had hoped for fresh figs. (My track record recently with ordering figs on the menu has been 0-for-3 on the satisfaction monitor.)

While the salad was unspectacular, the panini was a darling bun of beef nicely pressed and equally tender. The thinly sliced Kobe beef, cooked like roast beef, matched perfectly with the warm, soft brie. I liked how Armani Café used a hollowed-out bun instead of the traditional slices of bread and that there was virtually no trace of grease from the grill press.

It takes some getting used to eating while you’re just a few feet away from the fine designer clothes. In the back of my mind I kept hearing my mom’s voice cautioning me not to drip on my clothes—or the $1,000 suit a few yards away.

Armani Café was a nice surprise on a day when few restaurants felt the call to labor. On other days, the Armani Café is a chic respite from the Union Square crowds. It’s outdoor seating is definitely a welcome spot for a light lunch of panini or pizza. But just a warning: This isn’t the place for you if you can’t resist the temptation of shopping after lunching. You’ll pay more for a scarf than 10 Kobe beef paninis.

NOTE: Because Armani Café served a limited menu on this impromptu visit, I won’t be giving it a rating like my other reviews since this is just a mini review.


Mrs. L said...

Having to find air conditioning in San Francisco? How often does THAT happen?
It was plenty hot here in San Jose...

foodhoe said...

mmm I love kobe beef and I love panini! sounds delicious! Might have to try it out if they let me in the door... do they have fashion bouncers?

Chef Ben said...

Ha ha, that's funny foodhoe. You know, everyone tries to dress intimidating-ly since it's Armani. You do feel sometimes like you're at some snobby fashion show. But also it's Union Square with lots of tourists, so you get the occasional casual dress person. They definitely didn't have a sign about refusing service based on what you're wearing! LOL.

Mrs. L, we also just hungered for air-conditioning because we had just walked around Union Square/Tenderloin on wild goose chases for non-open restaurants. So that probably played into it, although it was a nice sunny day in San Francisco. Bring on Indian Summer!