Bigger dishes are available, of course, from various sorts of panini and open-faced sandwiches — including an entrant of grilled chicken breast ($9.50) with marinated peppers and pesto quite as potent as anything you'd get at Chow — to noodlier choices. Here we have a pasta ($8), fusilli sauced with arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli, and chickpeas, with a layer of olive slivers and gratings of parmesan cheese on top, a concoction surprisingly hearty despite the absence of animal flesh. There is also a plate of brightly acidic soba noodles ($7) — warm or cold, your call — tossed with julienne zucchini, carrot, and red bell pepper and a lime-sesame vinaigrette dotted with sesame seeds.
But in the main, the happiest course is probably to nosh. Most of the food lends itself to splitting and sharing, in particular the spring rolls ($6), rice-paper wraps stuffed with rice noodles, carrots, and lettuce, sliced into bite-size cylinders, and presented with dipping sauces of spicy peanut and sweet chili. Only slightly more cumbersome to divvy up is a salad of avocado and grapefruit ($7.50) nested in a carpet of peppery-nutty arugula and dressed with a grapefruit-juice vinaigrette; this is about as simple as it gets, and about as good, with butteriness, fruit, bite, and nose brought into a powerful harmony.
Given the confident eclecticism of the savory dishes, the desserts are surprisingly flat-footed. A pair of hazelnut shortbreads ($1) dipped in dark chocolate were not dipped in dark chocolate but presented to us naked. They were fine, crisp yet tender of crumb, but I felt obliged to ask after the missing chocolate. "We don't have those today," our hapless server reported. Coffee cake ($4), meanwhile, was on the dry side despite an interspersion of blackberries and a streusel topping. Only the chocolate mousse cake ($5), served on a plate piped with raspberry sauce, was "dense" and "rich" as promised by the menu card — moist, too, they could honorably have added.
A word on the table service, which is of the semi variety: You order at the counter, are issued a placard with a number, seat yourself (displaying numbered placard), and wait for the food to start arriving. The system is fairly efficient, though cafeteria-esque, and the placards aren't the usual cheap plastic numbers but cast steel, with numbers handsomely embossed in gold. Nancy Reagan might not buy them if she saw them in a window on Rodeo Drive, but she would at least look. SFBG
Lettüs Café Organic
Mon.–Fri., 7:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 8 a.m.–10:30 p.m.
3352 Steiner, SF
Beer and wine