We’ve been remiss in not writing about this new restaurant that we’ve now visited twice. When we heard that the owners (the guys from Ibiza and Brasserie 19) were converting the former Catalan location to an Italian restaurant, we had to wonder what they were thinking in that Houston has more than enough Italian dining opportunities, with the now ubiquitous brick oven turning out various versions of “authentic” Italian-style pizza. But, judging by the crowds, we have yet another Italian success story.
Reservations are a must, particularly on a Saturday evening. Despite the crowds, our reservations were honored on time, as was as our requested preferred seating. We’ve had excellent service on both visits. We started with nicely done cocktails, both times the same — a ginger spiced manhattan and a blackberry martini — since we enjoyed them so much the first time. And, true to the owners’ reputation, we found a bottle of Chappellet Mountain Cuvee priced about the same as retail. (It was available on both our visits, so we hope we haven’t sparked a run on it or a price increase.)
We’ve tried three appetizers — whipped mortadella crostini, pate, and burrata. Not sure we’d have the mortadella (Italian bologna) again, but we’re glad we tried it. The housemade pate was good but a little on the sweet side; both choices that evening had a dried fruit spin. The housemade pickles were very nicely done. The burrata was a standout. Generously served and very creamy, the cheese was delicious. Sided by a coppa-topped salad and Campari cherry tomatoes, it was an all around winner.
On our second visit we tried the much ballyhooed pizza (imported flour, special water, etc.). We couldn’t help but be intrigued by a pizza called “coppa ‘ham & eggs,'” billed as featuring spicy air-dried pork shoulder and quail eggs. It just didn’t work for us. We dare to suggest that there wasn’t much flavor to the pizza. We assume the tomato sauce (slightly sweet, simple) and minimalist cheese are intentional to the style, but the pork topping also lacked flavor, not to mention spice. The quail eggs were a fun novelty but didn’t add much to the taste. We’ll head to Dolce Vita, maybe Alto or Piola, for pizza and stick to the other items at Coppa.
We’d heard the chef earned her job by making spaghetti carbonara, so we had to try it. We found the dish very enjoyable, perhaps a little peppery, but richly sauced by the egg and cheese mixture, loaded with lots of salami (not the typical pancetta, but it worked). There are a large variety of other pastas, many homemade, that have looked very good when they’ve passed our table.
The restaurant does not feature many entrees, only four or so each night, emphasizing appetizers, pizza, and pasta. But one of the entrees — the chicken “under a brick” — was so good that we had it both nights. The pizza oven is turning out something for which we’ll be back. Served on top of parmesan polenta, the lemon and herb infused baby chicken was plump and juicy on the inside, with the crispy skin that’s a required component of brick chicken. Probably the best version of this dish we’ve ever tried. (Sorry, but this one puts Carrabba’s and Grotto’s versions to shame.)
Catalan was one of our favorite Houston restaurants (we’re greatly looking forward to Underbelly), but we’re impressed the Ibiza guys could do it yet again. And with Italian, nonetheless.