The wait is over. Ken Oringer and Jaimie Bissonette’s newest venture, Coppa, has finally opened. The restaurant had a lot to live up to, not the least of which was the hype built up over the past six months, as every week brought tidbits of news about its opening/ projected menu etc… So, it seems a bit unfair to say that it didn’t quite meet expectations. But it didn’t. And given that restaurant experiences are by nature subjective, the influence of your expectations on your satisfaction are no less legitimate than the quality of the food itself. So, let me do you a favor that will surely enhance your experience should you choose to go: Coppa is not as good as you think it will be.

That said, Coppa is a damn fine concept, with damn fine food, in a, if I may say so my damn self, a damn fine little corner of Shawmut St. Is it as good as Toro? I don’t think so.  My standards for Italian fare are higher than for any other food so I might be a bit biased, but the dishes here (save for the ravioli) didn’t pack the flavorful punch that Toro more often than not delivers. Maybe this will change in time as the chefs tweak the menu based on customer feedback, but right now it’s not as good as it could be. Here’s what we had:

pig's ear terrine

This was tasty enough. The texture of pig’s ear is usually a bit gummier and tough, but this melts in your mouth.

Arancini

This wasn’t tasty enough. Arancini are easy to make. If you need confirmation of this get thee to Galleria Umberto where they sling them out by the hundreds on a daily basis. If I order them at a nice restaurant I want something a bit more interesting going on. Get playful with your balls, chef. Show me something I’ve never seen before. Or drop the price on it.

sea urchin panini w/mostarda and butter

This wasn’t that tasty at all. But to be fair, there’s only so much sea urchin flavor I can handle. I ordered poorly here.

margherita pizza

This was nice. It’s no Gran Gusto. But it’s a Picco caliber pizza.

grilled octopus, salsa verde, preserved lemon

Loved the taste, but good lord there was a lot of sauce. An unwieldy amount of sauce. Like the amount of mayonnaise McDonald’s puts on its McChicken sandwich. That amount of sauce.

calves brains ravioli, radicchio, brown butter, calcagno

This is the dish that will make me go back. Wow. A great entry level dish for the brains rookie. If you don’t like these ravioli I will eat my hat. If you don’t love these ravioli, I won’t eat my hat but I will do something. You can count on that.

I think Coppa will get better with time, and given Oringer’s success with his other restaurants I will be returning frequently to double-check.

Coppa on Urbanspoon

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If David Byrne were to eat at St. John I’m pretty sure he would change the lyrics of his song to “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens, except you eat unbelievable meat dishes at a Fergus Henderson restaurant”. There is no place I would rather eat, period. I have a serious interest in what goes into my stomach but too often that interest puts me in stuffy places with pretentious people. I resent the snobbery that surrounds food culture but recognize that I occasionally must be a part of it if I want to eat some of the best food in the world.Which I do. So I grit my teeth and throw on a suit.  I give my wine long, penetrating stares and I say things like “structured” and “layered”.  As a result, many great meals come with a side of shame and pride swallowing. Not at St John. This is world class food in an environment where licking the insides of a marrow bone for the last drips of oil would be welcomed  not pooh-poohed.

Though the meal was flawless, I do have two regrets. First, this is the second time I’ve been and I still have not managed to gather enough people to get a roast pig. I can’t endure this much longer. I will go with strangers, I don’t care. If you’re out there wondering who in this crazy world will take you to St John so you can gnaw the fat off a whole pig’s belly, it’s me. I won’t pay for your airfare, but room and board is negotiable. Second, they did not have the roast bone marrow with parsley salad on the menu the night we went. So many variations of this dish can be found across the states, several in Boston as well, but there’s nothing like the original. I had it on my first visit to St John but was seriously bummed as I scanned the menu and saw nary a bone. I managed to pull myself together once the first dish arrived, but a part of me will never forget.

potted pork
potted pork

Though we had this earlier at Bread and Wine we had to have some more.

cauliflower, leeks, and butterbeans
cauliflower, leeks, and butterbeans

One does want a hint of vegetable. There’s a recipe for this in the St John cookbook and it’s very easy to make. It goes great as a light compliment to a fatty piece of meat.

globe artichoke, vinaigrette
globe artichoke, vinaigrette

How do you make this taste good? With a kick ass vinaigrette

welsh rarebit
welsh rarebit

Melted cheese mixed with an assortment of other flavors (e.. mustard, worcestershire sauce, paprika) over toast. This is why you need the cauliflower and artichoke – it makes you feel relatively better about inhaling this mound of melted cheese. Then came the meat: lamb, snail and sausage, pigeon, and ox heart. The dishes have no more than 3 or 4 ingredients on the plate, but each one is intense and the combination is perfect. But “simple” is the wrong way to describe the dish since so much goes into the preparation. Cooking a dish from the St John cookbook requires days if not weeks forethought.

roast lamb, green bean, anchovy
roast lamb, green bean, anchovy
snail, sausage, chickpeas
snail, sausage, chickpeas

pigeon, peas and little gem

pigeon, peas and little gem

ox heart and chips

ox heart and chips

The ox heart was the best dish of the night. Heart is so tender and flavorful. It’s what you wish steak tasted like.

side of potatoes and greens
side of potatoes and greens
peach cobbler
peach cobbler

Though known for the meat, the desserts are out of this world good. It’s as if a team of grandmothers have been indentured in the kitchen to  churn out the fruits of their accrued pastry wisdom.

A 2 hour train ride from Brussels and we were in London. We hopped in a taxi, suitcases and all, to make sure we warmed our bellies up for a dinner at St John with a lunch at Bread and Wine, Fergus Henderson’s more casual spot. This menu actually looked better to me than the one at St John so I will include it in its entirety:

what doesn't look awesome?

what doesn't look awesome?

We ordered several dishes and the waitress began to bring them out one by one. We cleaned every plate. They might actually have been reusable, it was that good.

potted pork

potted pork

Similar to pork rillette, this creamy and chunky blend of pork went great with toast.

ham, leek and potato broth

ham, leek and potato broth

The flavor was of pure pork drippings from a roast but incredibly without any of the grease or fattiness. Imagine licking the bottom of the pan you cooked a ham in and then feeling totally fine about it.

pig's head

pig's head

Lunch special. Tender pieces of face swimming in a thick broth. No drop was left un-sopped.

pig's cheek, chicory, and mustard

pig's cheek, chicory, and mustard

We ordered seconds of this one. The salty crispiness of the cheek was perfect with the tart mustard.

lentils and girolles

lentils and girolles

I’ve been making these lentils from the St John cookbook for some time now, but I didn’t know what the dish could be until this. It’s difficult e to get both the texture of the lentil and the creaminess of the stock. Mine would either be well-cooked in a slightly runny stock, or overcooked in a creamy stock. It takes a lot of skill to do something this simple.

sweetbreads, bacon, peas

sweetbreads, bacon, peas

Reminds me of the Incanto dish, brains and peas. Pretty sure the influence came from this end, though.

madelines

madelines

They might not look like much but they were crispy on the outside, warm buttery and fluffy on the inside.

Much like St John, Bread and Wine is all about flavor, no frills. If I lived in London I’m not sure I would go anywhere else for lunch. This would be my Winchester. Shame on you if you visist London and don’t go.

Maison Carrier is the other restaurant in the Hameau Albert – more casual and a whole lot cheaper. They had a whole pig menu so ordering was a no-brainer, but we were mildly surprised by the first offering: a chicken liver pate. Chamonix is either the home of some very creative experimental breeders, or something got lost in translation. Liz and I were still reeling from all the wine from the night before and had resolved not to order any, but we buckled a bit under the suggestion of an aperitif from our waitress and got two glasses from the house. We ended up ordering a carafe after that, but at least the thought was there. Here’s what we ate (actually, thats deceiving since Liz did not finish nary a one of these dishes, leaving me to clean up the plates on principle. SO. Here’s what I ate and what Liz nibbled on):

The blood pudding rocked my world. Velvety smooth and so savory. The belly was no slouch either, served with a crispy tomato polenta. I was happy to finish off both of Liz’s plates. The trotter, on the other hand, proved to be a bit difficult to swallow. It had been deep fried and it seemed like the high temperature turned the usually firmer texture of foot-fat into a runny mess; kind of like bone marrow, but for some reason the flavor of foot with the texture of marrow didn’t agree with me. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to have to chew my foot. I did my best but could not get the job done. Dessert buffet was totally unnecessary but oh so good, with homemade pies and cakes and cookies and tarts. A delicious send-off to Piemonte, which is where we were headed the next morning.

Final verdict on Chamonix: beautiful location with great hiking, too touristy for this tourist’s taste, hard to get a good meal except for the two places in our delightful hotel. Probably would not go back again, but glad to have gone there once.