This dive with barely a service opening sits at the end of an old brick building — still labelled as “Uncle Vito’s Pizzeria” in signage and its black awning. Opening just last month, “Cento” stands for “100″ in Italian — which looks like about the monthly rent that owner John Quintos must be paying for this location.
Cento unfortunately perpetuates the annoying trend requiring espresso lovers to participate in mock heroin deals — i.e., sipping espresso from classic brown Nuova Point cups passed out a back door, standing in an alley of some noxious armpit of town where a body was found the night before. (A.k.a., those conceptual-art-wannabe cafés that keep cropping up.) It may save money and attract the prerequisite hipsters, but it also shows little respect for themselves and their customers.
So yes, it’s the stereotype alleyway — with music playing out into the street and no seating save for a single outdoor bench that straddles a towaway parking zone. However, there is “seating” on a loading dock platform across the street.
The folks here club you over the head with the Blue Bottle Coffee branding — so much so, Cento’s branding takes a back seat to it. It’s also staffed by the prerequisite failed art student doppelgängers (ok, yes, so that one was below the belt), but you can’t knock their good barista skills — and here they have them. While they have paper cups for the odd drink like the New Orleans iced tea, the staff claim they serve “for here”-only espresso (they get it).
Using a three-group La Marzocco Linea, they pull shots with a darker brown crema that is rather thick and rich in consistency — it’s one of the finer examples in the city in this regard. The cup is smooth and has a complex flavor of herbal notes and pungent spices. It has a bit of an odd flavor edge/aftertaste in the middle of the cup, but it runs sweet at the bottom.
So despite our gripes about cookie-cutter squatter camps masquerading as “third wave” hipster coffeehouses, here they make some of the finest espresso in the city. And unlike other recent examples of James Freeman’s expansionist plans, such as the recently reviewed Jackson Place Cafe, they do the Blue Bottle beans justice here: the coffee tastes fresh and the baristas approach their drinks skillfully.
Read the review of Cento.
(More on the sinking state of where good coffee is now being served in SF can be found in the comments below.)
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