Art Burn: Food sizzles, art fizzles at Caffe Boa

Categories: Art Burn

When it comes to restaurant decor, good art is definitely the key to success. Sure, exotic hardwood tables and funky exposed brick walls go a long way, but if a cool place is decked in dime-a-dozen IKEA prints or fuzzy amateurish photos it can ruin the ambiance. And let's be honest, unless you're going for the Pure Sushi look, bare walls won't cut it.

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Detail of mural by M. Brandon Vela
Thank God Tempe's Caffe Boa on downtown Mill doesn't suffer that fate. We could barely contain ourselves when the quirky, eclectic original was razed in to make way for the gravel pit of despair at Mill and Sixth. We'd hang ourselves with a limp noodle if the Caffe redux was a sanitized, totally commercial eatery.

One look at the historic facade and exposed brick arches, and our fears were assuaged. But does it measure up in the art department? 

 

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Oh, boy. Floral photos! We just can't. contain. our. excitement. While we do appreciate a perky spring daffodil or a dusky jonquil, they're more enticing in the garden where they can be cultivated. Here they're lovely, but lacking in dimension and interest. Caffe Boa, you can do much better! 

We're completely baffled by this one.
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Is that a plain black cloth triptych, or do our eyes deceive us?? Neutral walls, high ceilings, pretty brick -- we get that. What's not so clear is why this alcove's walls are dominated by a giant black sound baffle and nothing else

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Admittedly, when our lunch arrived, the surroundings became an afterthought. For about $12, we paired "Cape Cod" ravioli (think cranberries, chicken and cheese) with a Greek-style salad of cucumber, olive, cherry tomato and mixed greens. The portions are small, but the richness of the pasta makes up for it. 

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At $9, the French chocolate brownie (our server's recommendation) is a worthy splurge. It literally melts in your mouth like seafoam, as does the soft dulce de leche ice cream served on the side.   

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Now back to the art. It wasn't all bad. A jazz-themed mural by M. Brandon Vela adds color and life to the space above that apparently noisy alcove. We assumed the room is for live music (thus the speakers/baffles/whatever), but either way, Vela's cartoony caricatures bring the lofty space back to earth with a touch of humor that says "we take ourselves seriously, but we can still have fun.  

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A second mural of vino, pesche (fish), bread and other Italian food staples was cute, but this quirky display of bottles and the accompanying shoe painting stood out. We figured the random elements were so out of place that there must be a story there, and there was. The painting was brought in by local artist Aleksandra Buha only a few days earlier, and the bottles are part of a contest Caffe Boa is currently running where patrons can "recycle" used liquor bottles as art for a chance at $100 in gift certificates and prizes.

Us left-wing liberal hippie writers are suckers for earth-friendly art projects, you know, so --despite the flowers -- we were totally won over in the end.

 
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