Mocha trying hard to become jazz club with delicious food

Mocha trying hard to become jazz club with delicious food

October 17th, 2013 by Ellis Smith in Chattnow Dining

IF YOU GO

* Where: Mocha, 511 Broad St.

* Phone: 423-531-4154.

* Website: www.mochajazz.net.

* Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday-Friday (lunch); 5-11 p.m. Thursday, 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday-Saturday (dinner).

* Price range: $6 (fried green beans)-$25 (125th Street Steak).

* Alcohol: Midrange bar.

* Entertainment: Blues Monday, Talent Teen Tuesday, Wine Down Wednesday, Feel It Thursday, Smooth Jazz Friday, Soulful Saturday, Sunday Brunch.

It's not every day you pay $40 for a meal and get an unexpected side order of sex.

Not in the literal sense, which would probably be illegal, but rather in the form of soulful spoken verse accompanied by West African bongo drums and a jazz keyboard.

Such is the scene at Mocha, the new Scenic City restaurant and music lounge that boasts live jazz, great food and a generous helping of sensuous poetry and amorous melodies to aid your digestion.

Billed as a place where jazz meets soul, Mocha is a bit of a study in contradictions. It's a place where class meets crass.

The white tablecloths are lit both by the soft glow of candlelight and a wall-mounted television streaming TruTV. Impressionistic paintings of jazz icons hang across the room from giant advertisements for Southern Comfort liqueur. Diners have the option of using either cloth or paper napkins, or both.

The food arrived both on beautiful china and in plastic red baskets reminiscent of a fast-food restaurant.

Yet despite the uneven experience, Mocha is a place you desperately want to like. It's the only full-on jazz bar in the Chattanooga area, an experience that had been mostly lacking until Mocha opened last week. The food is satisfactory, if overpriced, and the atmosphere alone makes for a fascinating dining adventure.

The city needs a good jazz club, but Mocha will have to work to earn its spot among the many excellent soul-food options available in the city of Bessie Smith.

THE MENU

The menu is clever, but you're overpaying by a wide margin.

The main courses are named after famous jazz icons and include everything you'd expect in a soul/jazz establishment. Try the Miles Davis Chicken and Waffle ($13) or the Duke Ellington Tilapia ($14). The Ella Fitzgerald Chicken Stir Fry ($14) and the Etta James Shrimp and Grits ($14) both seemed tantalizing. The chef offers a nightly special, which on a recent Wednesday included a handful of fresh crab cakes. Even the 16-ounce 125th Street Steak ($25), named after the home of the Harlem Renaissance, caused our mouths to water.

But while the entrees command a healthy piece of menu real estate and stir longing feelings in the bosom, the appetizers are a disappointment, especially at a jazz club where many patrons want to be able to drink and graze.

Only the fried green beans ($6) and the buffalo wings ($7 for 7) seemed authentic, while the all-too-common spinach dip ($7) and mozzarella sticks ($6), both of which are available at most lower-tier restaurants, felt out of place.

THE ORDER

Eager to taste the food fusion of jazz and soul, we ordered fried green beans and buffalo wings to start.

The buffalo wings, available in mild, hot, sweet and tangy, teriyaki, lemon pepper and barbecue sauces, were as delicious as any wings I've tasted, if not more so.

The prospect of fried green beans generated a fair amount of excitement at our table, but the kitchen was unable to complete our order due to a lack of beans.

The entrees promised a better experience. As I considered the Louie Armstrong Loaded Potato ($14), I wondered how a simple baked potato accompanied by a smattering of toppings could cost the same as three whole cooked chickens at Costco.

Though the menu promised a baked potato loaded with grilled chicken breast, squash, zucchini, cheese, sour cream and bacon, I was disappointed with the dearth of actual toppings, especially the barely there flakes of chicken and inconsequential dollop of sour cream. What looked promising upon arrival ended badly, with the toppings gone and the majority of the undercooked potato lying nude on my plate at night's end. You're better off making your own potato at home and firing up the jazz station on Pandora.

The Harlem Night Whiting Fish ($11) was similarly underwhelming. The business-card-size chunks of fish were bone dry and accompanied by bland frozen french fries and a spoonful of coleslaw.

THE SPACE

The space is admittedly a work in progress, but the restaurant is well on the way to getting it right.

Mocha suffers in some ways from the dance-club-style lighting inherited from its predecessor, the shuttered Southern Comfort bar/club that once occupied the building. Disco balls and floodlights struggle against the soft lighting installed by the new owners.

The beautiful jazz-flavored art installed by Mocha's managers seems out of place next to the bold, wall-mounted installations left over from Southern Comfort.

Yet the stylish dining area laid out around the stage seems just right, and the restaurant's two bars and lounge area make the space feel larger than it really is.

Mocha's owners have scored some good style points, but they desperately need to decide what they want to be.

THE SERVICE

The service was spectacular. Our servers were polite and attentive without being overbearing. The restaurant was new, and our primary server didn't have the menu memorized, but she was more than willing to check on each request and help us every step of the way.

The front service was similarly friendly and inviting, willing to cater to diners' needs. Even the wine servers overcame their lack of protocol with plenty of enthusiasm.

THE VERDICT

Every new restaurant goes through a start-up cycle of perfecting its menu offerings, training its servers and adjusting its entertainment. The most exciting part of Mocha for many Chattanoogans will be its jazz-club atmosphere and soul-inspired dishes.

And despite some early teething troubles, this restaurant has unlimited potential to gain a foothold in Chattanooga's music community and earn a reputation among the city's music lovers.

Contact Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315.