Perfectly acceptable pasta and mediocre slices of pizza are easy to find. If you haven’t had a decent interpretation of either in a while, you can easily forget what a great version tastes like.
Let’s just say I’ve now been reminded.
Osteria Coppa in San Mateo is owned by the folks who run Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay; a Peninsula institution. Executive Chef Chanan Kamen takes pride in his handmade pastas and hand-stretched pizzas, and it shows. His resume includes Michelin-starred Quince and Jardinere in San Francisco, and Picholine and Tabla in New York City.
Osteria Coppa is a farm-to-table restaurant, meaning they use organic, locally sourced, artisanal ingredients. They cure their salumi in-house, fire up hand-made pizzas in their stone ovens, and artfully make their own pastas.
I paid two visits to the restaurant and each time focused solely on the pizzas and pastas, the latter of which has been getting some positive mentions in both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News and The San Francisco Examiner, lately.
I tried both the house-made sausage, speck and crimini mushroom pizza, as well as the pancetta, braised radicchio and aged balsamico. Both thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pies were fantastic for this simple reason: the fresh, creative topping combinations worked perfectly on an exceptional crust.
The flavors on both pizzas were well conceived, but I was particularly impressed with the pancetta, braised radicchio and aged balsamico pie. It was one of the best pizzas I have had in a while. I fell in love with the wonderfully tangy sweetness of the balsamico. It made me wonder why I hadn’t tasted balsamic vinegar on a pizza before! It was the perfect match for the meaty, fatty goodness of the of pancetta bits. And the radicchio was an edgier stand-in for the typical red onions.
My dining companion at one point declared, “Even the crust is great on this pizza!” The crust was perfectly crisp and charred on the bottom, pillowy soft and sweet on the inside. If you order just one pie while you’re there, this is the one.
As far as Osteria Coppa’s pastas go, the San Jose Mercury News has called them “exquisite”, and even named the Tagliatelle Bolognese one of the Top Ten Dishes of 2010.
There are plenty of places that make their own pastas, but they either make the mistake of overcooking it so that it becomes mushy (fresh pasta should take no longer than a few minutes to cook), or the flavor is way too doughy and floury, without enough focus on fresh, quality ingredients.
There’s no risk of either here. Preparation, ingredients and technique all have equal importance. The Fettuccine Marinara with cauliflower and broccoli rabe was perfectly al dente, and the noodles were delicious with a wonderful eggy, almost buttery flavor. The freshness of the vegetables was obvious and actually made the dish seem light.
But I can confirm that the recent attention on the Tagliatelle Bolognese is well warranted. The dish was nothing short of fabulous with its smooth, rich pork and deliciously creamy sauce. And once again, the noodles themselves were the star in both texture and taste. But for all the richness of this dish, it never seemed overly heavy.
Aside from the pizzas and pastas, the house-made blood orange lemonade is more proof of the inventive items on the menu. It’s a fun twist on the typical lemonade and it shows how the restaurant takes full advantage of their access to great fruits and vegetables. They use unconventional ingredients and combine them in a way that makes you feel like every item is fully realized.
Service is casual but expert. There’s no pretentiousness from the staff, and families are welcome. In the Bay Area, that’s a welcome change for a restaurant of this caliber. They’ve done a successful job of creating a warm, sophisticated yet easy vibe here. Chef Kaman was an expert pasta maker while at Quince, and the peninsula is lucky he’s decided to bring his four-star talents to suburbia.
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