I’ll admit, I’m someone who can appreciate the finer things in life. So when my editors approached me with the idea of visiting a luxury dog cafe, I couldn’t say no.
The canine cafe in question? Dogue (pronounced like “Vogue” with a “D”), a San Francisco luxury dog food business with a recently opened canine restaurant on Valencia Street and a $75 tasting menu. Dogue is the brainchild of professional chef Rahmi Massarweh, who dreamed up the concept in 2015 when he decided his mastiff, Grizzly, deserved seasonal, human-grade food.
Dogue has been scrutinized by countless think pieces and internet critics since local news highlighted the cafe earlier this month. Some say that the cafe is emblematic of everything wrong with San Francisco, a city that bathes in Silicon Valley’s riches as a worsening housing and homelessness crisis festers beneath the tech veneer. Others think that this is precisely par for the course for SF, a city that—according to The Standard’s recent voter poll—boasts more dog owners than it does parents.
Say what you want about Dogue, but its furry patrons seem to enjoy it.
Enter Nessie: a 7-year-old chihuahua mutt who specializes in wearing hot pink and asking for belly rubs. She’s a Leo, and she also happens to be this reporter’s spunky little pet.
The Standard brought Nessie to Dogue on a recent Sunday, hoping to sniff out the hottest dog spot in town. Here’s how her experience went.
Though the “Pawtisserie” is open for takeaway treats, bespoke meal plans and pet accoutrements (cat supplements included) most days of the week, the store turns into the “Bone Appetit Cafe” on Sundays: a canine brunch spot offering a prix-fixe tasting menu that features everything from mushroom soup to filet mignon tartare.
We got to the shop right as it opened—a good idea, since Dogue takes no reservations and the Sunday tasting menu waiting list fills up quickly. Less than an hour after opening, the shop was filled with half a dozen dogs and their owners, most of whom had brought camera equipment to document their experience.
The shop itself is quite small but boasts an open, European cafe-style space with Tiffany-blue accents and crystal chandeliers—a nod to the owner’s French culinary roots. There are no special seats or beds for the dogs, who can instead sit on their owners’ laps, on the cafe’s wicker chairs or on the floor.
Nessie’s meal included the three-course tasting, as well as a pork treat from Dogue’s pastry selection. The human menu consisted of complimentary mimosas (with fresh-squeezed orange juice!) and water. The dog water bowls came with sliced cucumbers; the human carafe did not.
Nessie started her tasting experience with a chicken and chaga mushroom soup, featuring organic ingredients, pasture-raised chicken and a broth simmered for eight hours. She devoured it in three bites.
Her paws-up rating? Doglicious for the chicken, but not much love for the mushroom soup left untouched.
The rest of the tasting experience went about the same. The coconut charcoal flan was a special favorite for Nessie, and she came around to the chicken skin waffle after a few dubious sniffs.
No luck for the grass-fed steak tartare, though, which included pasture-raised filet mignon dressed with quail egg. Nessie and another canine patron, a shiba inu named Olive, both spat out the raw meat, by far the priciest and fanciest dish on the menu.
Nessie also tried a spherical, spongy green spirulina and pulled pork pastry, topped with real gold leaf from Dogue’s Pawtisserie. It would have been eaten in one bite, had the pastry not been twice the size of her chihuahua-sized head.
Her rating for the spirulina? 10/10.
The atmosphere in the cafe was upbeat and humorous, almost as if all the patrons and puppies were in on the same joke—both bashful knowing that the luxury was in excess, but happily participating in it to treat their canine companions.
“We could all splurge once in a while. I buy myself good beer sometimes, and that’s a bit extra, you know? [Dogue] is local, I’m helping a local business,” said Nathan Lachance, a Russian Hill resident and owner of a basenji named Cyrus.
Some passersby said they felt more mixed about the expensive prices and the optics of such a space opening up in a city like San Francisco.
“I would expect this in San Francisco, too. We treat our dogs better than we treat some people,” said Addy Gravatte, a Mission resident and parent of Teddy, a 6-year-old goldendoodle.
Nonetheless, visitors saw Dogue as an extension of San Francisco’s stereotype as a city obsessed with dogs. With over 30 dog parks sprinkled across the city and a pet shop located around almost every corner, Dogue might just satisfy the niche market of dog dads and moms looking for a canine-friendly, luxury-grade dining experience.
So would I bring my dog back to the cafe for a special treat? Probably. Would I shell out another $75 for the tasting experience? Don’t tell Nessie, but I don’t think that’ll be on the menu again.
Christina Campodonico contributed additional reporting for this story.
Liz Lindqwister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org