Arlequin Café: An Urban Oasis
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By Dawn Maxey
At times, walking in San Francisco can feel like one’s been doomed to an oppressive eter- nity of wandering a concrete-laden strip mall, with not a green patch or leafy respite in sight. Walking down Hayes Street in Hayes Valley however, the popular Arlequin Café offers a veritable urban oasis. Owned by the Absinthe Group (the same people who own the restaurants Boxing Room, Absinthe Brasserie & Bar and Comstock Saloon), Arlequin Café serves up high quality breakfast, lunch, dinner and a variety of snacky items to fit in-between.
The hidden secret though, is the expansive leafy garden out back where patrons can linger as long as they’d like. Iron wrought tables and chairs and the occasional wooden bench are set amongst a green paradise — a great setting for relaxing or getting work done (especially with the free WiFi available).
Arlequin offers a variety of breakfast entrees and pastries, including the popular brioche donut ($2.50). When I visited, they had two flavors available: mint chocolate chip and peach. Because the former struck me as a little odd (shouldn’t mint chocolate chip be reserved for ice cream?), I opted for the peach. The pastry was a nice and doughy little pillow with a dol- lop of fresh tasting peach compote in the middle. It could have been improved by spending a little time in a toaster, but was otherwise deli- cious. Other pastries available included carda- mom spiked morning buns ($2.50), croissants ($2.75-$3), seasonal scones ($2.75) and mon- key bread ($2.5).
Breakfast is available until 11:30 a.m. ev- ery day, after which sandwiches and salads are served. At noon, you can order off the “From the Kitchen” menu, which includes plates like the Indian-Spiced Lamb Burger ($11.50) or the popular Baked Mac ’n’ Cheese ($8). I opted for the Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($9),
The Grilled Cheese Sandwich has aged provolone, gruyere cheese and basil pesto nestled between two toasted slices of levain bread
which came as a gooey layer of aged provolone, gruyere cheese and basil pesto nestled between two toasted slices of levain bread. I hadn’t had a grilled cheese with pesto in it before and the combination was fantastic. The plate also came with a side salad which was a good contrast to the savory sandwich.
If you weren’t feeling the hot dishes and instead wanted to set up your own picnic in their backyard, there is a variety of cold sandwiches, salads, charcuterie and cheese for sale in the cold case near the register. To top it all off, there’s also wine available by the glass and by the bottle. The café’s sister shop, Arlequin Wine, is located right next door in case none of the se- lections fit your mood.
Although a touch pricey, Arlequin Café is what a café should be — a place to eat good food, linger with friends, and even work in a peaceful environment. On my visit there, I saw business lunches taking place, people chatting over large mugs of coffee, and a table with what looked like an architect’s work spread out everywhere. No one seemed to be in a rush, and the roar of city-life had been replaced by the hum of conversation. Especially in the often-sunny Hayes Valley neighborhood, time spent in Arlequin Café’s backyard can make you forget you’re even in San Francisco.
Dawn Maxey is a third-year medical student.