Mesa’s restaurant scene — or, more accurately, the lack thereof — has been the object of ridicule for decades. And I, admittedly, have been a frequent voice in that chorus.
So it’s taking some time for this to sink in: With last week’s opening of Caffe Boa Bistro at McDowell and Powers roads, Mesa now not only has a very good restaurant, but potentially one of the Valley’s best.
Boa Bistro, as it’s being called, is a spin-off of longtime favorite Caffe Boa on Tempe’s Mill Avenue. It’s smaller, more casual and offers a different, shorter menu than its sibling.
On Saturday night, the curly-haired Minnesota native is working behind the gleaming white bar, pulling wild-caught trout from a wood-fired oven and slicing house-cured proscuitto and sopressata.
Every so often, he makes a dash back to the kitchen, where plates of handmade pastas — gnocchi, ravioli and fettucini — and produce from boutique Valley farms — Seacat, McClendon, Maya’s and Singh — emerge.
The abbreviated Mesa menu, which showcases Curry’s farm-to-table philosophy, features seven starters, six pasta dishes and six entrees.
A few are taken straight from the Tempe menu, such as daily pulled mozzarella ($12), fall panzanilla salad ($10, pictured below), Cajun chicken penne ($15). mushroom-stuffed ravioli ($14) and Curry’s “Payt-N-Bake” fried chicken ($14).
Others are slight alterations. Fettuccine comes with house sausage and pecorinio romano instead of sweetbreads and alfredo sauce; the gnocchi is a carbonara version with crispy pork instead of free-range chicken.
But at least half of the dinner menu is compromised of tantalizing newcomers like meatball brushetta ($12, pictured above), braised osso bucco ($26), veal parmesan ($28).
A plate of charcuterie — pancetta, proscuitto, sopressata and bresaola — pecorino and MJ bread ($20) is big enough to share with a party of three I’m sitting next to at the bar.
The wine list boasts 26 whites and 27 reds by the glass ($6.50-$27.50) and more by the bottle ($26-$875), as well as a dozen bottled beers. But I choose the house sangria ($6 per glass), a nice complement to the salty meats and cheese.
The mushroom ravioli, made with small squares of paper-thin pasta known as agnolotti, is dressed with a tomato cream sauce whose flavorful kick enlivens my taste buds.
For dessert, I order bread pudding ($9), then watch in disbelief as a line cook behind the bar pulls out small bins of croissants and brioche. Is he really going to make the bread pudding from scratch to order?
A couple minutes later, my dessert (pictured below) is pulled from the 600-degree wood oven and topped with a honey/vanilla sauce and ice cream. It’s delicious.
Also, it should be pointed out the service at Boa Bistro isn’t speedy. Part of this is staff’s inexperience since Boa Bistro has been open just four days. But part of it is simply Curry’s Slow Food mantra.
So when a couple seated next to me walks out in a huff when their crème brulee doesn’t arrive in less than five minutes, I can only shake my head.
Mesa diners obviously don’t have much experience with a restaurant of Caffe Boa’s caliber.
Caffe Boa Bistro
Where: 2837 N. Power Road, Mesa (northeast corner of McDowell and Power roads)
Open: 11 a.m. daily. Dinner served until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Prices: Starters/salads $9-$15, pastas $14-$18, entrees $12-$28, desserts $9
Info: (480) 981-2000 or www.boabistro.com.
First Taste reviews are based on initial visits to new East Valley restaurants. Full reviews only are written after a restaurant has been open at least a couple of months.