Dining Out: Coppa

This buzzy Italian newcomer aims high — and mostly hits the bull’s-eye.

By Corby Kummer | Boston Magazine |

Be sure to order one of Coppa’s sensational pizzas (all $15), which come seasoned with plenty of experience: Oringer started at Al Forno in Providence, one of the spiritual homes of American pizza, while Bissonnette tossed pies in Hartford, where he trained at some of the many Italian restaurants in the area (and I know they’re good, because I grew up eating at them). Bissonnette has come up with a no-knead dough that’s just sturdy enough to support the huge, heavy pieces of meat and seafood — yes, that’s fried calamari! — heaped on top. It makes for hefty, knife-and-fork slices, even though the crust is pretty thin. I loved the one with roasted cauliflower, home-cured anchovies, béchamel, and Bra Duro cheese; the spicy pork sausage version (because Bissonnette is so good at sausage); and the Pepe’s-style white clam pizza with bacon and Vidalia onion, a tribute to the New Haven pizza shrine.

If you have the meatballs, a few plates of home-cured meats, and one of those wonderful pizzas, you’ll want to go through Coppa’s entire menu. Just be warned that, among the many other highs, there are a couple of heartbreaks, too. In sampling the salumi, I was not as taken with the bolognalike meats, particularly the namesake coppa di testa: Unappetizingly brown, it came off like salty, congealed hash. And I had wanted to like the homemade pastas (all $12), made with the fine Italian flour known as type 00, but they were gummy and dull, and overwhelmed by Bissonnette’s exuberant sauces. The lasagna was notably leaden, done in by perhaps the richest béchamel I’ve ever tasted; I’d rather have the meaty sauce on store-bought dried pasta.

In fact, I did enjoy the one dish made with dried pasta: rigatoni di capra, with a tasty wood-roasted goat ragu with mushrooms and green olives. And though both the orecchiette and the cavatelli were rubbery where they should have been merely resilient, they were redeemed by Bissonnette’s sausage (fennel in the orecchiette, chicken with the cavatelli). There was no saving grace, alas, for the spaghetti carbonara: a strange, slimy sea urchin–egg concoction, with practically no smoke from the smoked pancetta.

The thing is, I’m reaching. Yes, the use of garlic seemed a little hit and miss (as in, it was oddly absent from the pesto in a nice dish of trofie). Yes, the chicken Milanese was marvelously golden and crunchy-looking, and it all seemed fabulous…until the first, nearly flavorless bite. But it’s just crazy to get hung up on Coppa’s weaknesses. These are two dazzlingly skilled chef-restaurateurs having a great time trying out whatever they feel like. It may be a dish of tripe alla Romana, baked with squash, mozzarella, and tomato “gravy,” that turns out to be one of the best and most truly Roman dishes you’ll taste in this country, with exactly the right thin, peppery tomato sauce and lovingly cooked offal. Or it may be the pig’s tail — order it and you’ll get Coppa’s version of Momofuku’s-umami-fest pork belly, the nearly pure fat sweetened with mostarda.

All told, there’s not much that Oringer and Bissonnette can’t do (except maybe dessert — there isn’t any here, aside from gelato). I’d like Coppa to have a menu about one-third smaller and be in a space three times bigger, so I could get in more easily. But whatever it does, I want it to be around for a long time.

Coppa, 253 Shawmut Ave., Boston 617-391-0902, coppaboston.com