Wild arugula with Fiddlehead Tomme, lemon, and fennel ($9) sounds like it has more vegetables than it does, because Fiddlehead is a brand of cheese made in New Hampshire. It’s aged longer and therefore more intense than a French tomme. Thin shavings of it set off even thinner shavings of fennel — that makes for a lot of flavors in every bite.
Asparagus al forno ($6) are giant wood-roasted pieces of asparagus, elegantly peeled, but wildly flavored with horseradish and pecorino. It’s hard to do something new with asparagus, but horseradish may just catch on. Broccoli rabe ($6) is a big bowl of chopped sprouting broccoli with lots of garlic, a few golden raisins, and a hint of hot pepper. Hot pepper is not a problem here, but salt can be, and this was one of the dishes where it started piling up.
Pollo alla Milanese ($12) is listed as a hot appetizer, but could be an entrée piece of fried chicken for me. It was boned like a real cutlet, but thicker, crisp (I’m guessing the chefs used panko), and had plenty of spinach and artichoke hearts.
The salt turned bothersome again on linguine con vongole (flat spaghetti with white clam sauce, $13), made with small littlenecks in the shell, lots of garlic, a bit of grated salt roe, and such tiny bits of cardoon you don’t get a sense of that artichoke-flavored vegetable. The really good part is the fantastic house-made pasta, which was closer to fettuccini in flatness. A special order of crabmeat ravioli in squid-ink pasta ($16) was beautifully made and flavored. Again, though, there was too much salt in the cherry-tomato-and-onion sauce.
The pizza menu lets you know we’re not in Kansas anymore with the notation “Add anchovies or blood-sausage pepperoni/$4.” We didn’t. Instead, we went with the classic Margherita: tomato, cheese, and basil for the flag of Italy. One guest had recently been to Al Forno in Providence, the font of grilled pizza, and said this wasn’t as good. Still, it was perhaps the best thin-crust pizza I’ve had in Boston, with a real hint of the wood smoke.
Given the crowds, which surely finish plenty of wine bottles each night, Coppa is about the safest restaurant I know to ensure that wines by the glass (all Italian) will be poured from newly opened bottles. Unfortunately, the wind momentarily blew away the aromatics of our Aragosta vermentino ($8), a Sardinian white that usually evokes all kinds of wild herbs and flowers. The best glass we had was the least-promising regional, a Capestrano Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8) brimming with sweet berry aromas and a nice fresh flavor on the palate.
Following our meal we had a fine cup of cappuccino ($4.50), but a disgracefully burnt demitasse of decaf espresso ($3). We finished well with chocolate and hazelnut gelato ($6), both gorgeously delicious.
Service is excellent, despite crowded tables and a long, narrow passageway from the kitchen. At 5:30 you may get a table, but by 5:45 the lines are already out the door. Seems like the chefs’ maneuvering worked.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.