Dining Out: Coppa
This buzzy Italian newcomer aims high — and mostly hits the bull’s-eye.
CHEFS KEN ORINGER AND JAMIE Bissonnette are a potent team: The former brings culinary meticulousness, entrepreneurial ambition, front-of-house schmoozing, and wide-ranging tastes (as in, Barcelona to Japan); the latter boasts knockout cooking skills, particularly with meat. Together, they can do just about anything. The trouble is, they try to.
[sidebar]The amazing thing is how much they do well — really well — as the crowd at their South End tapas bar, Toro, proves every night. I’m often among the throng of diners there, and while I’ve got my own favorites memorized (virtually any dish grilled a la plancha), I also know that just about anything on Toro’s very long menu will be good. Consistency is the mark of a pro team.
And that’s what they’re working toward at Coppa, their white-hot South End enoteca that opened this past winter and immediately became the place everybody wanted to shoehorn into. The extensive menu has so many superb small plates (here Italian, not Spanish) that one wishes Coppa were as big as Toro — and perhaps had the same kind of breathing room to straighten out its opening kinks, since there’s plenty to work on here, including consistency problems as large as the menu itself. Still, Coppa is sorting things out, even under the glare of the spotlight.
Start with the meat. Coppa is Boston’s first truly snout-to-tail place (though Craigie on Main’s Tony Maws and even Bissonnette himself have been dabbling in the trend for a while), and pork fat, cartilage, gelatin, and offal are celebrated here. Bissonnette is no slouch at beef, either. The meatballs, part of the stuzzi menu (appetizers, all $5), are a fantastic dish: Made of short ribs, fat-filled pork belly, and trimmings from house-cured lardo, they’re pillowy and wonderfully spongy. And Bissonnette had the genius idea of veiling the meatballs with lardo just before they go into the wood-fired oven (Coppa’s magical, make-everything-better equivalent of Toro’s plancha). The result is a dish capable of muscling into the territory of reigning Italian pro Dante de Magistris, of Dante and Il Casale fame.
I was also impressed with the home-cured salumi (all $7). The lonza, or loin, is fabulously delicate and sweet, and the beef tongue is among the most expert I’ve ever had — very lightly smoked and salted, so you taste only the surprisingly lean meat. The duck “prosciutto” successfully avoids what Bissonnette calls the usual “plastic-y” quality of that small, hard-to-cure cut, resulting in fat that is almost as satisfactory, and as generous, as on a piece of jamón (though for pure, more highly spiced fat, have the lardo). Among the meaty highlights are the homemade sausages, which are vividly flavored — even, unusually, the chicken sausage, served with cavatelli ($12).