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Celebrity chef combines unpretentious food and comfort dishes for new Italian eatery

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Coppa Enoteca

Coppa Enoteca appears like an oasis in the desert on its quiet street corner in the South End. The small, unassuming storefront would be easy to walk right past, if the promise of dinner there weren’t tantalizing enough to keep your senses alert. I went with my mother on the Friday night of Parents’ Weekend, desperate for food outside the dining hall and following a friend’s recommendation. The night air had grown frigid and we shivered as we walked for what seemed a small eternity down streets of elegant brownstones and shuttered gift shops. Be warned: Coppa is accessible, not convenient, by public transportation.

Coppa is the brainchild of Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette. Oringer, who is the executive chef of the famed Clio at Back Bay, is sort of the chef whom you’re supposed to know (he was a contestant on Iron Chef America). So it’s quite a surprise that Coppa doesn’t take reservations. Arriving on an empty stomach, then, means taking a gamble. The tiny restaurant holds only a few tables and a bar, and barely holds its diners comfortably, let alone the waitstaff. Those forced to wait for a table must either stand outside or huddle compactly near the door. We were seated after less than fifteen minutes, though, and hungrily took our place at the end of the bar. The space is so small that the bar doubles as part of the kitchen, where line cooks serenely assemble appetizers and slice cheese. To our left, petite woman operated a mechanical behemoth that she used to slice charcuterie meats with razor-thin precision.

The menu features an assortment of small plates, including “stuzzichini” (“Italian small bar snacks”), salumi (cured meats), verdura (vegetables), cheeses, antipasti, wood-fired pizzas, and pastas. At $15, the pizzas are the most expensive item on the menu. All the pastas and the hot antipasti cost $13, the cold antipasti and salumi $9, verdura $6, and stuzzichini and cheeses $5. The dishes are small enough that it will take two or three to make a filling meal, but even then, the price of dinner is startlingly reasonable.

The food at Coppa is meat-heavy (though vegetarians should not despair), savory, and daring, all without coming off as too pretentious. Pretention would be hard to pull off in such a cramped space. A scan of the list of stuzzichini offerings reveals such intriguing concoctions as a grass-fed beef heart crostini with anchovies and capers, which despite its intimidating description tasted like nothing so much as a tiny roast beef sandwich, perfected, with the rich, slightly sweet meat playing off the salt and tang of its topping. A sea urchin panini with mostarda and butter, while not strictly Italian in its ingredients, melts in your mouth with a luscious combination of sweet and savory. Arancini—fried risotto balls filled with cheese—or white bean bruschetta offer more straightforward options, as do Coppa’s small but quality selection of salumi and cheeses. A few wedges of raw cow’s milk cheese from Piermont, New Hampshire, came draped across each other on a small plate, sprinkled with pepper, drizzled with honey, and tasting of joy.

The antipasti at Coppa are larger than the stuzzichini but smaller than regular dinner entrees. They come in varieties both hot and cold, from tuna crudo to an arugula salad to skirt steak with agro dolce to oven-roasted pig’s tail. Roasted cod with spaghetti squash and hazelnuts was herby and tender, surprisingly subtle in flavor compared to the boldness of the rest of the menu but no less well-prepared.

The star of the evening was my gnocchi, which consisted of tender pillows of pasta topped with a roasted lamb ragu with fava beans and scented with mint. This gnocchi was so delicious, so savory, and so good that I dreamed about it, and words cannot do its taste justice. Other pasta offerings include homemade squid ink manatelle with clams and olives, handmade trophie with pesto, asiago cheese. Even the spaghetti carbonara comes with the twist of sea urchin and smoked pancetta.

While Coppa’s savory menu is almost as large as the restaurant, they only offer one dessert: housemade gelato or sorbet. On my visit, they had either a pear or a lime sorbet, and we chose the pear, a creamy, cinnamon-spiced concoction that ended our meal on a refreshing note.

The service was quick and the staff friendly and admirably patient. The crowded restaurant leaves barely enough room for waiters to maneuver while holding plates of food, and yet they did with efficiency apparent good cheer. Coppa also has an impressive bar and wine list, and a broad selection of specialty cocktails that sound as creative as their dinner offerings.

I would recommend Coppa without hesitation to anyone looking for a memorable meal. The space and wait and distance from a T stop, all of which promised to irk me at the onset of my journey there, completely ceased to matter once we started eating. Best of all, the reasonable prices mean that it’s not such a far-fetched idea that I might be able to go back before too long.

GRADE: A

253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA

617-391-0902

Mon-Fri 12 pm – 12:30 am

Sun 10:30 am – 12:30 am

Review & Photos: Devyn Powell

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