If one were to wander off the main path in North Beach-the main “path” being the long stretch of Columbus Street-he or she would find him or herself faced with dauntingly steep hills, quirky boutiques and a few delicious restaurants that might otherwise go unnoticed by tourists or unadventurous locals. Among these restaurants is Bocce Café, an Italian eatery that seems small and modest from the outside. Once through its entrance, however, one realizes that there is more to Bocce than there appears to be.
Last Friday evening I dined at Bocce Café with a group of friends and acquaintances for the 21st birthday celebration of a friend and his roommate. Though our large party of about 16 people was almost 45 minutes late for our 7:30 p.m. reservation, the cafe held our table, albeit with slight irritation, judging by the face of our waiter. We were promptly given steaming baskets of bread that tasted savory and absolutely delicious. Everyone in my party was freezing and famished, so we quickly gobbled down the fluffy and satisfying appetizer, complemented with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
As we filled up on bread and waited for our drinks, I looked around for the “live jazz band” that was promised on the sign in front of the café. Hidden in a corner was a group of four or five musicians. Soon after they began to play some jazz and Frank Sinatra tunes. Later in the night, after catching on to the birthday festivities of our party, the musicians broke out in a resounding rendition of “Happy Birthday,” much to the delight of our party and the other restaurant patrons.
The live music aspect and the setup of the restaurant seemed to make it a good place for special occasions and birthday dinners. The main floor was spacious yet cozy and dimly lit. It felt classy and romantic, but it wasn’t so dark that you couldn’t read your menu. There was a beautiful outdoor patio, decorated with white twinkle lights. It was empty through the entirety of our dinner.
Besides the group I was with, there were two other large parties of people celebrating birthdays, both consisting of 30-somethings who mingled by the bar before being seated. These people were dressed up as if Bocce Café was just a stop on the way to an evening of bar and club hopping. The way that bottles of wine were being ordered-I counted five at a table of 12-led me to believe that Bocce’s clientele is definitely of a certain income bracket, which in turn left me dreading our table’s bill.
However, poor college students that we are, everyone seemed to order carefully and simply. I shared a Margherita pizza with a friend of mine, which came to a very reasonable price of $9, for eight small but filling slices. As basic as pizza is, sometimes a restaurant can mess it up-not enough sauce, too much sauce, etc. However, this pie was delicious, very cheesy and somewhat greasy. In my opinion, that’s how pizza should be. My friend, the birthday boy, ordered a three-pasta platter, which came with small portions of fettuccine alfredo, gnocchi (small potatoes) covered in a creamy tomato sauce and cheese ravioli. He said that all three pastas were equally appetizing, and the price-$14.95-was just right for what he ordered. The evening ended with complementary tiramisu and a giant piece of chocolate cake, which all members of our party passed around and nibbled on as we waited for our bill.
Unfortunately, our waiter refused to split our bill into separate checks. As a former waitress, I know that the restaurant’s computer system is probably perfectly capable of doing this, but also as a former waitress, I definitely don’t blame the waiter for not wanting to deal with 16 different credit cards. We all paid with cash and our bill was paid quickly and easily.
Overall the experience was wonderful, and worth the long trek by bus. The next time I’m in North Beach and actually have some money to spend, I will definitely be taking my friends to Bocce Café.
478 Green St. (At Grant Ave.)
San Francisco, CA 94133
Sun.-Thu. 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Take Out: Yes
Full Bar: Yes