Thursday, September 17, 2009
Mocca - San Francisco, CA
San Francisco's alleys house splendid treasures; restaurants, boutiques and pedestrians taking detours from the busy main drags. Another beautiful day and another mission to find a charming cafe, outdoor seating preferred, led us to Union Square where the action is. We strolled past the Square where many people were taking their lunch breaks. It was very busy and why not, this large block is situated such that people can sit on the stairs, benches and chairs that are
often set out for an even from the evening before or an upcoming soiree. They may have brought their lunch, grabbed something nearby or be starting, completing or taking a break from a potentially endless shopping spree. Excitedly, we poked our heads around corners and into potential eateries and then we saw a bass player and a trump player in front of an alley cafe. We knew that was us!
There were two open tables outside and while one of us stood guard, the other two ventured in to preview the selections. Inside, the cafe was small with a few tables and a large display case. A chalkboard displayed the menu. There was a beef tip sandwich, a grilled vegetable sandwich, various salads, vegetable sides and a plethora of desserts. I had to focus on the food and not the desserts. I get distracted by beauty easily! The day before I had the grilled eggplant sandwich, so I decided I needed to have something different this day. The fresh tortellini salad caught my eye. A bed of greens topped with ricotta-filled spinach tortellini and chilled shrimp. This dish was beautiful. The pasta was marinated in vinaigrette and the chef topped the entire dish with a little extra. Laine had already ordered, but hailed me and suggested we split the Caprese salad, which looked tasty from our side of the line. I agreed and moved down the line. Amazingly, I passed up dessert because I knew I would have something divine later and did not want to have the sugar crash when we had the entire day in front of us. It was hard, I will admit. I paid (almost $30 for my salad and the salad Caprese) and trotted out to meet Laine and Maryland at our table.
Sitting outside was a treat and the live music made it even more so. My tortellini salad was delicious, decently-sized shrimp and very fresh pasta. Laine and I concurred that the salad Caprese was not to be celebrated. The mozzarella was fresh, but the tomatoes were terrible. They were the large, pinkish variety and had absolutely no flavor and this snack was $12, so it certainly should have been better. We did not let this ruin our lunch and finished up to get on with our day. I do like Cafe Mocca but would be leery of the salad Caprese.
Maryland ordered the beef tip sandwich with a side of greens. It was plentiful and she said scrumptious. Cafe Mocca offers a lot of choice and was very busy at lunch, which is a good sign. I believe sitting outside is more enjoyable as you have people standing in line right next to the inside tables. Prices are a little higher for lunch,
but the choices are unique and overall, the quality was very good, aside from the 'mators'. My salad was $14 but it was worth it. Gourmet lunches always are. The folks at Mocca move you right along in line, so I recommend you take in the selections before getting in line. They don't play during the bustling lunch hour.
After wandering aimlessly the previous day, Alex and I decided we wanted a plan for our Saturday lunch. After lightening our wallets in some of our favorite stores in Union Square that fine morning, we spied Mocca down an alley. Jackpot! They had a beautiful Caprese salad in the window that I knew I had to try and an “authentic” Nicoise salad. When we arrived back at lunch time they were swamped. One table was open outside so we grabbed it and took turns placing our orders. I have read a lot of reviews that talk about this place like it is run by the “Soup Nazi”. That may be so, but was not my experience. I did ask a few questions and they were politely answered. I had forgotten to order the Caprese and reminded Alex to add it to her order for us to split.
The good news: Mocca has one of the best Nicoise salads in the history of the world. I loved it! It comes with a couple of pieces of crusty bread which were excellent. Very hard and buttery flavored. Everything about that salad was fresh and flavorful. Bravo!
The bad news: the Caprese salad stunk. The one on display looked so lovely. Two large tomatoes, sliced and restacked in a ball, with fresh mozzarella and basil slices slipped in-between. A very unique presentation. The one Alex brought to the table looked equally appetizing. The first bite was a gigantic disappointment. I swear they bought those tomatoes at a grocery store. They had a mealy texture like those tomatoes that come in a three pack covered in plastic. You know the ones I mean! I was hoping for some fresh summer tomatoes. What a let down.
Oh well, it was going to take a lot more than a couple of bad tomatoes to ruin my mood and my day. Mocca is on the pricey side for lunch, but I don’t mind paying a little extra for location, ambiance and good food. Steer clear of the Caprese and enjoy their other offerings. There is enough variety to offer something for everyone. They also serve beer, wine, and mixed drinks for those enjoying a day off and seeking such libations with their meal.
Mocca is open 8am-6pm Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4pm Saturday and closed on Sunday. I assume they have some very interesting breakfast/brunch treats.
175 Maiden Lane
San Francisco, CA 94108