I stayed for the appetizers. And the desserts. And the wine.
As you'll read in this week's review of the newest restaurant in the Clark Cooper Concepts family (that is, until Punk's Simple Southern Food opens in the next few months), Coppa Osteria is a chic spot that's still experiencing some growing pains. Most of main dishes that are borrowed from the well-established Coppa Ristorante menu are tried and true, but some of the new additions could use some tweaking. And that's fine, because you really don't even need to order the main dishes, like the grilled hanger steak or the linguine alla vongole. It's the smaller, less fussy items on the osteria's menu that make the biggest impression.
For only $4, you can munch on a good-sized bowl of crispy spiced chickpeas that have been roasted until the tiny beans take on a golden hue and become light and crunchy, almost like popcorn. Try eating just a single handful. I'm convinced it's not possible.
Meatballs al forno are listed as a "small plate" on the menu, but the bowl of hot meatballs nearly the size of tennis balls could easily be an appetizer for three. And though the meatballs are hefty, one of my friends described them as "fluffy": they are more porous and spongy -- in a wonderful way -- than dense.
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A side dishe like broccolini drizzled with chili oil and topped with thin slices of crispy garlic elevate broccoli from a green thing that your parents forced you to eat you to a meal in its own right. Fettuccini al formaggio, a take on fettuccini Alfredo, is simple and flawless in its execution and, I learned after I enjoyed eating it, made with gluten-free pasta. I tried going gluten-free for two weeks once and wanted to strangle someone. If all gluten-free food tasted this good I don't think I'd ever miss it.
The desserts are worth taking home a doggie bag half full of your dinner, because they, too, are simple, flavorful and satisfying. Tiramisu is subtle -- rather than overwhelmingly bitter from the espresso or too sweet from the sugar. It's not a traditional tiramisu in any sense, but it's so creamy and oddly refreshing after a heavy meal that I found myself continually going back for spoonful after spoonful. Same with the panna cotta, or, as it's called on the menu, "berries and cream." Panna cotta literally means "cooked cream," and this version of buttermilk cream is velvety soft and smooth and, like the tiramisu, sweet in just the right manner.
And then there's the wine. Though I had several issues with servers misunderstanding my order (even when I pointed at what I wanted on the menu) and bringing me the wrong wine, the list itself is an ideal complement to the food. It's a mixture of bottles from all over the world (as opposed to just Italian) in a broad range of prices. I had a bottle of Primitivo for $38, and it was fantastic. So, too, were my $12 glasses of rosé and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
A visit to Coppa Osteria should be in your future.