A while back, Starbucks announced plans to quietly unveil a test program—dubbed Starbucks Evenings—in a number of their cafes (including spots Calabasas and Rancho Santa Margarita), expanding the usual coffee and tea menu to include beer and wine alongside some upscale food offerings. While they’re keeping mute on what areas they’re looking in and whether or not more such locations will be added in SoCal, I don’t doubt that more will be coming to L.A.*, and I wanted to check it out for myself to see what was—ahem—brewing.
My dining companion for the evening (I’m sure “Care to be my fancy Starbucks date?” were the words she’s longed to hear her entire life) came armed with her own curiosity. Looking over the food selection, she asked a couple rhetorical questions I hadn’t even really given any thought to: “Do we get wine glasses, or do they serve it in the paper cups? Do they come to our table or do we still go up to the counter?”
Turns out you still go to the counter to order, and the vino is indeed served up in glasses. (Made by Riedel, no less! Classy.) The wine selection was small, but nicely varied, and all were available by the bottle or by the glass. I, taking full advantage of the LAmag expense account, opted for the most expensive glass, JUSTIN Vineyards’ Justification ($15) and my lucky date went for beer, getting a Ballast Point Big Eye IPA ($5). Oh, how nice… they each came with a surprise little side of spiced pumpkin seeds to snack on.
On the food side, we wanted to see what their little convection ovens could crank out, and decided to sample from all over the menu.
- Truffle mac & cheese ($5.95): Thumbs up. Could’ve eaten two.
- Crudités and smoky chipotle hummus dip ($4.95): Very handsome presentation, and the veggies—carrots, haricots verts, zucchini, celery, and asparagus—were nice, though the hummus was sadly bland and completely lackluster.
- Artichoke and goat cheese flatbread ($5.95): My favorite of the evening. A soft, almost naan-like dough gets a nice topping of chèvre, artichoke hearts, and pesto.
- Warmed rosemary and brown sugar cashews ($3.45): A tasty snack that I enjoyed, though my friend was not a fan of the texture, thinking they could’ve been toasted a little longer or that perhaps something got lost in the process of cooking, cooling, reheating, etc.
- Blue brie cheese with toasted walnut cranberry bread and fig preserves ($6.95): Damn, that is a big wedge of cheese. Kudos for the generous portion, Starbucks. Good flavor combination here, with a nice creamy cheese, though I’ll be snobby and say it was a touch overripe. I got a bit of ammonia when trying the cheese by itself—which reminded me of Cambozola, a favorite creamy blue from Germany—but it was largely unnoticeable when eaten with the bread and fig jam.
- Chocolate fondue with strawberries, marshmallows, and madeleine cookies ($6.95): Alright, this was really damn good. The dark chocolate used was really rich, and had a ganache-like texture to it, and my friend was slightly obsessed with the upscale marshmallows, which she aptly described as “cushiony pillows of loveliness.” We devoured it all while sippin’ on Mionetto prosecco, a nice little bargain at $8 for the 375mL bottle, plenty of bubbly for both of us.
I’ve given it a lot of thought since visiting last week. Probably too much thought in fact. Make no mistake: I’m no Marilyn Haggerty getting excited about the new Olive Garden coming to town, but I really did enjoy myself, even if part of the novelty was knowing that all of this was taking place inside of a Starbucks of all places. But—I have to say—I really enjoyed the visit. Was it an unforgettable dining adventure? Certainly not. Would I be so enthralled with the meal had it been at any local wine bar or the like? Probably not. But was it neat to find all of this at a Starbucks and would I go back if it was close to my house? Absolutely.
* A member of the Starbucks media relations team initially told me that the 7101 Yorktown Ave. location in Huntington Beach was also a location offering the beer and wine program, though a call to the store said they hadn’t “started it yet.” Follow-up with the media team yielded: “To amend our previous statement, at this time, our Huntington Beach store is not a Starbucks Evenings location.” Let the speculation begin.