I never thought I would associate the word “hotspot” with a restaurant in Rice Village (Benjy’s being the one possible exception). With the rise, quite literally, of some very high-priced real estate, the area is undergoing a transformation. While at one time Rice Village’s patronage comprised primarily students and young West University families, now a significant number of moneyed transplants and European expat entrepreneurs reside in the Village proper. They like good coffee (hence the success of Fellini Caffè), haute shopping (see Kate Spade Saturday), and demand good restaurants with vibrant bar scenes. [Enter COPPA OSTERIA.]
An osteria by Italian tradition is a venue serving wine and simple food. Well, COPPA Osteria certainly serves wine but the food, a lot of it, ain’t simple. At least it doesn’t taste that way.
I suggest starting your visit to COPPA with a glass of wine (I adore the icy, dry Caldora Chardonnay) or one of the signature cocktails, like the brooding “Gatsy’s Envy” (bourbon, maraschino liquor, house-made mole bitters) or the more optimistic “Garden Party” (red grapefruit vodka, white vermouth, cucumber, tarragon). For better or for worse, the bartenders at COPPA are quick to offer you a second round, so if you are more interested in getting sauced rather than eating pasta you may want to stay barside.
Regardless whether you stand or sit, at some point order something off the (non-drink) menu. As an osteria, COPPA focuses on appetizers and small plates. The crispy, slightly spicy fried chick peas are perfect for nibbling with your beverage as are the arancini filled with burrata. (You’ve met burrata, right? She’s mozzarella’s hotter sister.) Also excellent for sharing with a group are COPPA’s pizzas. The humbly titled “mushroom” combines two different types of mushrooms, leeks, fontina cheese, black truffle cream, and oil for a pie that is as rich and earthy as its ingredients would suggest. A lighter but equally well-constructed pizza is the more traditional Neopolitan with tomato sauce, olives, garlic, anchovies, Calabria chili, and oregano.
Now, here’s where things get deliciously un-simple. COPPA has made a name for itself for making intricate, elaborate pastas (including some gluten-free varieties) on location. These dishes, rather than the comparatively prosaic chicken and steak entrees, are what you should have for your main course. The selection tends to vary by season, though staples such as the elegant carbonara (in which the sunny egg is mixed with spaghetti and parmesan cream tableside) and the linguine alla vongole (absolutely swimming with juicy littleneck clams) seem to be here to stay.
Even the humble sandwich at COPPA takes a deliciously sophisticated turn. My favorite is roasted vegetable panini, which layers sautéed eggplant, zucchini, peperonata, arugula, chickpea puree, tomato, and basil pesto on fluffy ciabatta. This sandwich could convert me to vegetarianism, though that would mean I would miss out on the equally hearty, carnivorous panini involving prosciutto, coppa, soppressata, mortadella, provolone, tomato, arugula, and Italian vinaigrette.
FYI, I have never seen COPPA Osteria not packed. If you’re wary of crowded dining rooms and boisterous diners, you may want to go there for brunch (a bit calmer) rather than dinner. But be forewarned if you avoid COPPA during prime time, you’re missing a fun party.
5210 Morningside Dr.
Houston, TX 77005