Attention to detail and easy warmth also seasoned my meals at the following trio of noteworthy destinations:
Before charcuterie plates became staples on every restaurant menu, Jamie Bissonnette was the guy in the kitchen — first in Hartford, Conn., later in Boston — whose job it was to pluck the wings from chickens and trim the scraps from pork loin and figure out how to turn these lesser parts into something delicious for staff meals. He was also the butcher to ask his bosses, “How come we’re not using the pig feet?”
Such resourcefulness proved good training for the celebration of snout-to-tail cooking at Coppa, which Bissonnette opened two years ago with one of Boston’s best-known chefs, Ken Oringer. Their spare, pie-shaped venture in the South End is not your Olive Garden-variety Italian restaurant. Although two of Coppa’s most popular dishes are the margherita pizza and the cavatelli with chicken sausage and broccoli, some of the most intriguing grazing is found among the offal.
Get your tongue around the lardo (cured pork fat), whipped to the texture of Marshmallow Fluff and streaked with chestnut honey. Make room for pig tails, roasted in Coppa’s wood-fired oven and sweetened with mustard fruits. You can have your pizza dressed with slices of smoked beef heart and bone marrow. Spaghetti carbonara is tossed anew with smoked pancetta and sea urchin that, together with an egg, create a marvelous, slightly briny sauce for the pasta.
None of the offal goodness might have happened had Bissonnette, 34, not decided in 1998 to give up the sometimes vegan/sometimes vegetarian diet he had followed for seven years. (He says that he got by in culinary school by tasting and spitting and that he started eating meat again only after mentors told him he would never be widely received if all he cooked was meatless food.) Stuffed as the menu is with fleshy parts, Coppa attracts vegetarians who know they can find plenty to eat among the roasted vegetable dishes, eggless pastas and pizzas.
To widen the sliver, the owners painted the brick walls white, hung a mirror and kept the space mostly free of clutter. Indeed, the most prominent prop in the restaurant is the bright red Berkel meat slicer behind the bar. Following the Italian custom, the chef shuttles between Coppa and the older establishment he and Oringer own, the tapas restaurant Toro, on a baby blue Vespa.