Gentrification is the scourge of bohemians both budding and gone to seed.
The transformation from happening to hot to ho-hum occurs in the blink
of an eye: independent bookstores close, Baby Gaps open, and diets change. Bye-bye bodegas, hello D’Ag bags. As the East Village morphs yet again, I Coppi, located across from a tarot reader and up the street from
a combination Christmas display and street
altar, is the avant-garde of the next wave.
I discovered it while trolling the streets
with a friend who’d left the nabe for
the more proletarian pastures of Brooklyn.
It stood out like a dowager at a rave, with
its Euro-style facade offering glimpses
of a flower-bedecked bar and scrubbed-
wood tables decorated with pots of herbs, and an unpierced clientele who looked as though they might remember the days when there were Grateful Dead concerts in Tompkins Square Park.
The menu boasted vitello tonnato, so
we copped a table in the back across from
the wood-fired ovens and acquiesced to the waiter’s suggestion that we begin with a glass of prosecco, which, the gentry being what they are, added $16 to our bill. I opted for a summer appetizer special of thinly sliced porcini mushrooms drizzled with gloriously fragrant olive oil and topped with snippets of parsley. My friend would have preferred a tighter texture to her Swiss chard and ricotta flan, but fared better with a spiedini of veal and chicken ($19), large chunks of meat threaded on a skewer with red onions and zucchini accompanied by a fennel gratin that was perhaps too heavy for the heat. I blissed out with my first vitello tonnato of the summer ($20). I don’t remember when I first tasted veal in tuna sauce, but I’ve never ignored it on a menu since. This was the dense, mayonnaisey version, with the slight fishiness of the tuna serving as a perfect foil for the wad of roasted veal. Slices of small boiled potatoes were perfect for sopping up any remaining sauce, although a side of sautéed spinach was a watery disappointment—no garlic, no discernible oil. Three globes of homemade apricot sorbet and biscotti ended the meal on a suitably estival note.
I returned thinking that I would try something else, but the seasonal perfection
of the vitello was too seductive. This time,
my friend indulged in the deliciously simple porcini while I sampled a white pizza, a
conjoining of salad and pizza: a round of light dough topped with chunks of summer-
ripe tomato and fresh greens ($9). While I
satisfied my jones, she savored a tender slab
of sea bass crisscrossed with char served
atop a bed of grilled asparagus, sautéed
dandelion greens, and onions grilled until they caramelized ($20). Thinking that it would be an Italian variant of the yogurt dessert I adore at Greek restaurants, I selected the pecorino cheese drizzled with honey
($7), but the aromatic honey seemed to absorb the musky taste of the cheese, leaving the sorbets to once again save the day. A glass of moscato dolce from the Veneto region ($7) could have been designed for biscotti dunking. It was a grand end to a meal that made me feel that if gentrification can taste this good, maybe it’s not all bad.