Photo by Alex
In the weeks leading up to my move, I had a list of places that I wanted to visit before I left. I ended up barely making a dent in the list, but I did cross off one restaurant that was very high on the list. Three good friends and I headed to Coppa one evening and had an outstanding meal. Coppa, headed up by chefs Jamie Bissonette and Ken Oringer, is known for its nose-to-tail offerings, and more than one person raised an eyebrow when I told them that Coppa was at the top of my list. What you don’t hear as much about are Coppa’s vegetarian dishes. I hadn’t heard much about them myself, but I’d seen photos online of various dishes and had read many an enticing description on the menu.
The restaurant is on the smaller side but has a unique triangle shape that makes the space feel quite open. The restaurant is located on a quiet corner in the South End and during the day, natural light comes in through the front windows and illuminates the bar and exposed brick interior.
The menu is broken out into several categories: stuzzichini (bar snacks), antipasti, pizza, pasta, plates, as well as salumi and cheese. We ordered dishes from all the categories and I do feel that is the best way to experience Coppa.
Bruschetta con Ricotta – crostini with whipped ricotta, peas and favas (also pictured, Tonno Conserve – cured tuna belly with anchovy parmesan vinaigrette and egg yolk). If I were to taste this blindly, I would not have guessed that it was ricotta. It was smoother and lighter than the best fresh ricotta I’ve tried, almost like mascarpone. It was studded with slightly crunchy bits of bright green peas and favas, a gorgeous contrast in both texture and color.
Olive con Finocchio – mixed olives with fennel and roasted garlic. The seasonings were subtle, allowing the fruitiness of the olives to really shine.
Meatballs al Forno – wood roasted meatballs with lardo and tomato gravy
Baccala – warm salt cod crostini
Carote Arrosto – wood-oven roasted thumbellina carrots with anchovy and parmesan and parsley. This dish was actually brought to our table compliments of Jamie. I was not considering ordering it, and after trying it I had that feeling of, oh my gosh, I can’t believe I almost didn’t try this! It was delightful, and a perfect example of the skill and creativity that go into the dishes at Coppa. The base was these adorable thumbellina carrots. I like to think I’m well-versed in fun and unusual vegetable varieties but I’d never heard of these. It’s difficult to tell from the photo but they are shaped somewhat like tiny beets. The carrots were coated and tossed in a mixture of anchovy, parmesan and parsley, creating a salty finish to the sweet, caramelized carrots. Some of the mixture clumped together in pieces by itself, and baked into these chunks of salty, crunchy goodness. It was similar to parmesan cheese when it bakes to a crisp, golden brown–but so much better. The dish was finished with fresh parmesan, olive oil and parsley. After the carrots were consumed, there remained on the plate a pool of olive oil mixed with bits of the seasonings. I sopped up every last bit of this with bread.
Tuna Crudo – radish, sriracha and sweet sicily
Margarita Caldo – 1800 Coconut, chili simple, grapefruit, prosecco, sugared espelette rim
Fagioli con Verdura – heirloom bean salad with cucumber, snap peas, radishes and carrots. As my dining companion Anita said, “Who orders a bean salad?!” Well, like the roasted carrots, this was not a ho-hum bean salad. The dish contained multiple varieties of heirloom beans, plump and with a lovely creamy-starchy texture, and some firmer, bright green favas. Contrasting the creaminess of the beans was a mix of bright, crunchy vegetables. The dish was dressed in a vinaigrette and flavored with sliced fennel, fennel fronds and celery leaves.
Orecchiette con Trippa – house made pasta with tripe, beef tongue, pork belly, chick peas and parmesan
Spaghetti alla Carbonara – house made pasta with smoked pancetta, sea urchin and egg. Heavenly might be an apt word to describe this dish. The pasta itself is excellent, rich and nicely chewy. Bound together in a creamy egg mixture, studded with pancetta and bright green peas, and finished with a sprinkling of fresh parmesan. This is comfort food refined.
Bistecca Arrosto – Archer Farm flank steak with charred romaine, tomato vinaigrette and mint
Salsiccia – pork sausage, fennel, ricotta, tomato and mozzarella. I’d heard rave reviews of Coppa’s pizzas and I’ve seen many a tempting photo on their Facebook page. We ordered the above, half without sausage though I insisted I would have been content to eat around it. The crust was thicker than I usually prefer, but it worked. It was chewy, not at all doughy, and nicely charred around the edges. I loved that the ricotta was applied in thick dollops, ensuring that each slice had a substantial helping of it. Underneath the cheese was a layer of finely chopped fennel, which developed a mellower, sweeter flavor after being baked. A sprinkling of red pepper flakes gave the pizza a nice bit of heat to contrast the sweetness of the ricotta and fennel.
Nectarine sorbet. Coppa offers one dessert each night. On this night, it was nectarine sorbet. Not quite something I would ordinarily rush to try, but if there was one thing I learned about Coppa, it’s that you can expect so much more from an item here than you would elsewhere. This was sorbet that I could get excited about, creamy enough that you suspect there might actually be cream in there, but there’s not. And the flavor-pure, unadulterated nectarine. Sorbets tend to taste like fruit that’s sweetened. This tasted like ultra creamy, frozen pureed nectarine. It was delightful.
This was hands down one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in Boston. The service was on par with the food. Our server was pleasantly attentive and provided helpful suggestions. Not a single dish disappointed, and quite the opposite, each one delighted and exceeded expectations. I’ve said this before, but inventive vegetarian dishes like those at Coppa really speak to a chef’s skill and creativity (as do the meat and fish dishes, of course). Coppa is one of the most talked about restaurants in Boston and I was quite happy to find that all the hype is well deserved.
253 Shawmut Ave
A shout out to my friends Donne, Anita and Alex, fitting dining companions for such a stellar meal.