“Pleasant” feels like a backhanded compliment in these hypercharged times. We want our food lusty or inventive, our spaces challenging. But Vivienne Kitchen & Pantry, the breakfast-and-lunch spot that opened next to the Hollywood Theatre in April, is indeed thoroughly pleasant, no more, no less: a low-key, light-filled café where you can play book hermit with a mug of Extracto coffee and a bowl of nutty porridge, surrounded by unironic china and the wavering croon of Lou Reed. Pleasant, it turns out, can be refreshing.
Owner Robin Wheelright, a San Francisco environmental policy geek-turned-caterer and cook, has filled this formerly fusty coffee shop with her favorite things: house
ferments and Mama Lil’s peppers, fresh flowers, local fruits, and simmering broths. She and her all-female crew take center stage in the small eatery’s open kitchen, layering baked eggs, prosciutto, and oozy brie on seeded rolls for tarragon-aioli-slathered breakfast sandwiches, or snugging silky polenta wedges into bowls of chipotle and grapefruit juice–braised pork and black beans. A neighborhood crowd colonizes the small dining area’s farm table to nibble bread pudding, full of chewy-crisp croissant and sourdough edges, tart with macerated Hood strawberries and clouds of rosemary whipped cream.
That breakfast porridge—which really deserves a less lumpy, soggy name—reveals the kitchen’s knack for nailing details that turn a humdrum dish delicious. Each bowl, a toothsome mingle of salted oats and toasted quinoa, creamy with half-and-half and barely sweetened with brown sugar, is cooked to order. It comes with good yogurt, shards of toasted coconut, pistachios, and ever-changing fruit variants, from raspberry compote to pickled strawberries. I want to eat it every morning, and twice on the weekend.
Vivienne’s weak spot so far: a lack of acid in some dishes. The dullsville smashed chickpea sandwich, chalky and bland despite specks of pickled peppers, could do with a major squeeze of lemon, as could that citrus-braised pork.
Come fall, Vivienne plans to add early-evening hours, making it a place to grab a charcuterie plate or a composed dessert with a glass of wine before catching an art flick at the Hollywood. What a truly pleasant thought.