Even the best intentions don’t always guarantee something works out. That sweater handknit by ranchers at an eco-friendly alpaca collective your grandmother gave you for Christmas. The painstakingly-decorated sign your mom made to congratulate you getting into college the day before you got the rejection letter. The no-waste, no-tipping Japanese restaurant from the people behind Bar Tartine. That last one is a real restaurant called Motze, and while the idea is great, both the food and vibes end up being a letdown.
Motze is a kind of extended pop-up, only planning to run for about a year and a half until their lease runs out. And the same way an apartment you rent will never be as nice as a condo you own, the place lacks the obvious care that goes into a permanent home. The decorations seem random, the furniture is Ikea-generic, and the open kitchen feels disorganized.
Having said that, we’re really into the concept and ideals of Motze. There’s a constantly-updated $58 set menu (tip included) of Japanese small plates, there are unique beers and wines, and there's a strong no-waste policy (that means no receipts, individual menus, or paper napkins). The staff are extremely friendly, and genuinely seem to care about the philosophy behind the place.
Unfortunately, most of the food doesn’t live up to the lofty aspirations of the restaurant. Vegetable-focused small plates like greens with tahini and mung bean noodles are highlights, while the larger plates of meat and fish tend to be either bland or over-salted. You'll get some dishes to yourself, and others come for the table to share. We liked being able to try a few bites of each dish, but portions weren't always right for the group. Two meatballs for three people is just hurtful.
It would be great if more places took a page from the eco-friendly book, or attempted actually-unique menus. But just like you're probably not going to wear that itchy sweater from Grandma, Motze's going to need more than good intentions to keep people coming back.
The set menu changes frequently, so here's a rundown of what we've experienced here. To start are a variation on soup and small bites, which could be something like mushroom dumplings. Next up are vegetables dishes, which tend to be the highlights of any meal at Motze. The kale and tahini is excellent if it happens to be on your menu. From there you’ll get some protein courses like pork meatballs and a simple fish with some miso-soy-rice-vinegar sauces and probably some kind of fermentation element going on. The smaller plates tend to be better, so try and get more than your fair share of those. We can also tell you that the desserts are not very good, since they somehow all tasted like sugar free protein bars.