If food has personality, then classic Italian cooking is the food with a friendly smile and a warm embrace. Everyone has their favorite comfort food: mac & cheese, ramen, grilled cheese. For me, it's Italian.
Unfortunately, 2014 was a rough year for good Italian in my neck of the woods. Early in the year, Dino decamped to Shaw to become Dino's Grotto, and then in the spring, Palena closed its doors, a shocking development for what was one of the city's best restaurants. Sure, the Vace Italian Deli remains a wonderful place for Italian goods (and pizza), but the departure of these fine restaurants left a noticeable gap in Cleveland Park.
Perhaps its fitting that the restaurant bringing good Italian cooking back to Cleveland Park is one that's faced its own share of hurdles.
Coppi's Organic was an institution on U Street years before that neighborhood became as red-hot as it is today. A friend of mine who worked in the area in the early 2000s remembers it fondly. Of course, the U and 14th area we know today is vastly different than it was a decade ago, and Coppi's became of a victim of that redevelopment when it had to close in 2012 due to its building being renovated.
Flash-forward 2 years and Coppi's has found a new home in Cleveland Park, taking the former spot of Lavandou, a French bistro that hung around the neighborhood a long time but never made much of an impression on me. Coppi's is a massive improvement.
|Cima Coppi cocktail|
Our favorite way to start a good dinner is with cocktails, and Coppi's doesn't disappoint. Bar Manager Nikolai Konick has designed a fantastic cocktail menu of craft cocktails made with interesting ingredients and house-made syrups, as well as Italian-style Negroni (or inspired) drinks. I had the Cima Coppi made with Acqua di Cedro, a citrus liqueur our server explained is made from citron, a type of citrus fruit prized more for its rind than its flesh. With a gin base and a spicy rosemary-serrano syrup, it's a refreshing tipple with a nice kick. We also enjoyed the Fig Limonata made with Mahia, a Morrocan-style brandy flavored with fig and aniseed, lemon juice and aged balsamic vinegar. Vinegar has been winding its way through cocktails again in the form of shrubs, so I was intrigued by the use of balsamic in a cocktail, which is a great idea.
|Insalata di Spinaci Novelli|
What came from chef and owner Carlos Amaya's kitchen was no less impressive. We started with a round of salads. Chris sprang for the Insalata di Spinaci Novelli, a classic combination of spinach, Italian bacon, mushrooms and walnuts with a balsamic vinaigrette. While that was good, we liked my Insalata di Mele con Gorgonzola even better, a wonderful arrangement of spiced and oven-roasted red apples upon a bed of mesclun greens with toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries and gorgonzola cheese. I'm a sucker for apples and blue cheese together and the duo really shined in this dish, one of the best restaurant salads I've had this year.
|Insalata di Mele con Gorgonzola|
It's hard to resist good pasta in an Italian restaurant, and we were in the mood for it the night we visited Coppi's. We weren't disappointed by our dishes, both of which can be potentially too "heavy" in the wrong hands but were expertly executed, their richness tempered with a hearty helping of vegetables and a light touch with the sauces.
|Strip steak béchamel lasagna|
I loved my selection, a strip steak béchamel lasagna that was the evening's special. If your vision of lasagna involves too much gloppy tomato sauce and ricotta, then Coppi's lasagna may be just the thing to rekindle your interest in the dish. Thin layers of pastas sandwiched chunks of steak with mushrooms, red peppers and lasagna and creamy béchamel without a tomato in sight.
|Gnocchi con Melanzane|
Ever the gnocchi lover, Chris got the Gnocchi con Melanzane, which consisted of appropriately pillowy gnocchi in a sauce of sausage, sundried tomatoes, onion, pepper flakes, pecorino cheese and plenty of herbs.
Despite being pretty stuffed, I really wanted to try a dessert, so we went with another evening special, a variation on Coppi's regular tiramisu with fresh raspberries. The classic Italian dessert was cool and creamy the way it should be with a nice coffee aftertaste.
Cleveland Park has lately proven itself a difficult place for restaurants, as evidenced by the aforementioned closures (the spaces of former Dino and Palena are still vacant, unfortunately). But Coppi's was doing brisk business the Saturday night we sampled it and for good reason. This is the kind of classic Italian cooking that I love, made with a clear understanding of ingredients, the right balance of excess and restraint and delivered with care and attention by the friendly serving staff. Although I didn't literally get a hug at Coppi's, my appetite enjoyed the familiar embrace of good, satisfying Italian cooking.
Coppis' Organic, 3321 Connecticut Avenue, NW (at Newark Street), Washington, D.C. (Cleveland Park). (202) 966-0770. Reservations: Open Table.