First Impressions: Caffe Trieste

Caffe Trieste has had a long and storied history in northern California. After opening in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood in 1956, Caffe Trieste was the first to bring espresso coffee to the limelight here on the West Coast. They’ve expanded their small chain of coffee shops into the East Bay, and now they’re looking to expand south with a new shop in Monterey. Caffe Trieste officially opened for business on September 14, taking over the space left vacant after a fire brought an untimely demise to Jugem Japanese Restaurant.

Caffe Trieste, a staple of the Bay Area's coffee scene, has made its way south to Monterey.

Strolling down Alvarado after farmers market a couple weeks ago, I got a sneak peek of Caffe Trieste before the shop’s grand opening. Even though construction workers were still putting the finishing touches on the space, I thought it showed a lot of promise—a charming space with lots of tables and chairs.

Last-minute details were still being attended to, but the shop was ready for business.

The owner offered me some of the pastries, leftovers from the Italian festival a couple days earlier. They were pretty tasty considering they were a couple days old. He also whipped me up a cappuccino to try out. A nice gesture that I accepted . . . without realizing the consequences of drinking full-strength coffee at 7:30 at night. Yeah, I got no sleep that night.

The cappuccino was strong and quite bold. I personally like my coffee to taste like coffee, but I know some people might find the espresso borders on being too strong. The foam was thick, but simple and rustic. (No latte art here.)

The scoop was that food—like breakfast sandwiches, panini, pasta and pizzas—would be on the menu in a couple weeks. The soft opening would focus on coffee and pastries for now. I knew I’d have to be back to check out the full menu.

I found myself back at Caffe Trieste this past weekend to meet up with a friend—she had some studying to do, and I had some writing to catch up on.

Nothing like a bottle of bittersweet San Pellegrino chinotto soda to start off dinner, no?

I started with a San Pellegrino Chinotto—a bittersweet twist on Coca-Cola—to start. It’s such a rare soda to find in these parts, and one that’s actually pretty tasty.

I was hungry, but Caffe Trieste still hadn’t started offering pastas or pizzas yet. Bummer. But panini sandwiches were on the menu now, so I broke one of my cardinal rules and chose a sandwich for dinner. The horror! The horror!

The panini sandwiches ($6) are build-your-own—you choose the meat, cheese and bread. I opted for a vegetarian panino—a mix of mushrooms, tomatoes and red peppers with pesto—on focaccia with Provolone cheese ($5.50).

The bread was a little too light and fluffy for my tastes—next time I’ll choose something a little heartier, like ciabetta, that won’t get soggy sitting there.

The pressed veggie panino wasn't bad, but next time I'd order it on ciabatta bread instead of focaccia.

The fillings were nice and generously portioned, but I wish they’d been more flavorful. Even the pesto needed a little more oomph, maybe some more garlic. I appreciated the large chunk of Portobello mushroom and red pepper though.

The cappuccino made for a very strong evening pick-me-up.

I also ordered a cappuccino ($2.75) to perk me up. The coffee was a little bolder and bitterer than the first cup I’d tried. It needed some sugar, which I very rarely add to my coffee drinks. But the foam was light, yet thick, which I always appreciate in a cappuccino.

I have to admit, I wasn’t wowed by the food or drink, but I did appreciate the plethora of available tables. Finding a table to sit down and get some work done can be quite the challenge at some local coffee shops *cough* Café Lumiere *cough* but tables were certainly easy to come by at Caffe Trieste. It’s probably since it’s the new kid on the block, so we’ll see how the table scene develops over time. I have to agree with my friend that of all our local coffee shops, the tables at Caffe Trieste are the most comfortable for sitting and working—they’ve got the perfect ergonomic proportion of chair and table height.

Plenty of tables will make Caffe Trieste a good spot to catch up on work.

With free WiFi—remember to ask for the password—and plenty of tables, Caffe Trieste is a great spot to get some work done while sipping on a cup of coffee. The food wasn’t anything special—yet—and I’m certainly curious to see how the food offerings evolve over time once pasta and pizzas are on the menu.

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