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Downhill Cafe

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On Saturday, February 27, I met with good friends for lunch at Cafe Poca Cosa. This will make the fifth time I have eaten at Café Poca Cosa, and the third time at the new(er) Pennington Street location. I am not alone in wishing the new location had the warmth and coziness in looks as the older location, but what lacked in aesthetics was generally made up for in outstanding service and the magical nature of the food.

I have ever been a big fan of the restaurant's hospitality and cuisine, directing all my friends and family there, but yesterday marked the second time I had both a subpar eating and service experience at Café Poca Cosa. I could not help compare these to the first time I ate at the cafe, when I was given a hug upon leaving to top off a perfect Mexico City home cooking style gastronomical experience.

There were eight of us for lunch. Our server was male, average height, jet black hair, tan, quite good looking in a vulpine way, but he had a scornful attitude from the start and acted like he could not be bothered with us the entire time we ate and seemed to resent being asked for extras, such as drinks and silverware. (I almost forgot I was in Tucson because snotty doesn't play here very well.) He set up the menu board and rushed through plate descriptions and then was aggravated when asked to repeat something. He seemed to want us out of there as soon as possible and rushed us through lunch. The plates came very fast which made me think they were premade and/or reheated. Many of us ordered the plato (chef's plate). I was entirely disappointed with the chicken, which tasted boiled, and the sauce unsavory, and smothered under a blanket of cheese as if to cover up the absence of erstwhile wizardry. The carne, usually fork tender and boasting a brilliant sauce of smoke, chocolate and spices, was tough and hard to cut and the sauce was sadly uninspired. The plates were carelessly overloaded with undressed greens and fruit. The corn tamale was overly sweet, almost cloying, and also greasy, when I recall there used to be layers of flavor, the savory, the sweet, the salted, the bitter, even citrus, packed into perfect consistency.

My friend and host, A, who graciously paid for lunch, is a multi-generation Arizonan. She and I savor good food and we love to discuss and cook Southwest specialties and we had shared a mutual love of this restaurant and had been talking about eating there together for several years. She spent a lot of money yesterday on our disappointing lunch and I was indignant for her. Over dessert, when she and her daughter were trying to decide what to order, our crosspatch server snapped, “Okay, you’re confusing me,” as if to really say, hurry up, you’re wasting my time, causing our entire table to exchange bewildered looks. We all, without exception, behaved ourselves throughout. With half of the table, including myself, claiming restaurant work experience, we comprehend and empathize on how difficult it is to be a server, but our snippy, dismissive treatment was entirely unprecedented and undeserved, and the food was only remarkable for the fact that it was expensive -- all adding up to an unusually unpleasant experience.

I am not alone in my disappointment and I am saddened. Cafe Poca Cosa was beloved by many a Tucsonan, by me, and many outstanding food memories happened there once upon a time. But I must now wonder after the bad experiences, plus hearing similar experiences from friends and relatives: What has happened to Café Poca Cosa?

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Cafe Poca Cosa
110 E Pennington St, Tucson, AZ 85701

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