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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I’ve sung Gran Gusto’s praises before. It’s our go to place any time we’re in the mood for great pizza.  But this particular occasion merits its own mention because of the incredible quality of the meal from top to bottom. From the grilled squid, to the speck and stracciatella, to the pizza, and the dessert, this may have been the best Italian meal I’ve had in the Boston area. Nothing fancy, just fresh, perfectly cooked and delicious.

grilled octopus

A lot of restaurants get too creative with grilled octopus. There’s nothing better than a nice char, lemon and parsley.

stracciatella and speck

On this particular night the kitchen had several specials revolving around what is now my favorite cheese: stracciatella. It’s the cheese that is used to stuff Burrata – a mixture of mozzarella and cream that will blow your mind. It was served with speck, dressed with a little black pepper, oregano and olive oil, and set over some bitter greens. We inhaled it and quickly ordered another.

rigatoni, stracciatella, tomato, chanterelles

Here the stracciatella was laid over rigatoni in a sauce of cherry tomatoes and chanterelles. Unbelievably good.

margarita

Followed it up with the best pizza around.

ricotta pie

And then topped it off with a nice piece of ricotta pie.

Though the pasta dishes are hit or miss at Gran Gusto, when they get it right, they knock it out of the park. It’s the closest thing we have to the kind of trattoria you might find anywhere across Italy. The service used to be spotty but it seems as if they’ve weeded out the problems as the restaurant has picked up business. Go there.

Gran Gusto on Urbanspoon

If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. Gran Gusto is hands down the best pizza in the Boston area. While the 7 pizzas account for a small fraction of the menu, you would be a fool to go and not order at least three pies. They impress across the board. The beautifully thin crust, which manages to pack two distinct textures within an eighth of an inch of substance- the charred crispy flavor of olive oil layered over a fleshy and giving underside of dough- defines the pizza, with the toppings serving as garnish for this triumph of the brick-oven. The pastas hold their own, though my search for a decent tomato sauce continues on. The gnochetti al forno were drowned in a thick swamp of red, a stark contrast to the fresh ingredients which characterized the other dishes. The simpler dishes like the pappardelle with mushrooms and sausage afford a more central role to the homemade pasta, much to this eater’s delight.

The decor is simple, which is fine, and the waistaff friendly. Extremely friendly. Verging on the weird. Our waiter sprinkled his description of the menu with suggestions of Liz’s beauty (Liz also dwarfed me in the proportion of eye-contact received), and found it appropriate to vigorously swirl our glasses of wine after pouring, assuring us that it would “make it taste better”. Perhaps. But perhaps this kind of paternalism might exceed the customer’s threshold for kitschy eccentricity. Perhaps the customer will be sitting in his seat anxiously clenching the bottom of his chair struggling to understand why someone found it necessary to swirl his wine. I bit my lip and suffered through it, but hear this Gran Gusto: next time I won’t be so well-tempered. From this point forward you will operate under the assumption that should I want my wine swirled, I will swirl it my self.

Despite these minor service foibles, you should make a date to go to Gran Gusto as soon as possible. I fear that its somewhat remote location will translate into a short stint for the restaurant, or worse, lead to a compromise in the quality of the ingredients. So do yourself and the greater Boston area a favor and go. Excellent pizza places are hard to come by.