The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. Chanan Kamen who ran the famous pasta station at the first little Quince, happens to be chef Mike Tusk’s cousin. Now Kamen has opened his own ebullient place, Osteria Coppa, a gift to San Mateo and worth a trip from the City. It inhabits a simply converted double storefront downtown, a few blocks from the Caltrain station.
Kamen’s cooking just plain makes me happy. His pasta dishes, like his mentor’s, are all about the noodle, noodles that have such springy, teasing, yet satiny texture, they enthrall the mouth. Long, skinny, square strands called tajarin get the merest coating of butter and minced black truffle ($17) to make them exquisitely irresistible. The noodle itself creates the magic of ravioli filled with pureed parsnip and topped with an ingenious sweet and sour short rib sauce ($18), an inspired match-up. Round strands, called bigoli, lightly tossed with a juicy sauce of minced lamb, saffron and aromatic peppers ($18), astounds with its cohesion and fullness of flavor. Please, stop me. If there is one reason to journey to Osteria Coppa by bus, train, bike or car, it is Kamen’s exceptional pasta. San Mateo is a lot closer than Emilia-Romagna.
Begin a meal by sharing a mountainous fritto misto, delicately fried calamari, sole, fennel and Meyer lemons ($11), complete by itself though you are given dipping sauces.
Exemplary pizza, $11 for a margherita; $15 topped with pancetta braised radicchio, parmesan fonduta and aged balsamico, have thin, chewy crusts and toppings that are layered on at different stages of baking to keep textures perfect. Sometimes it takes awhile for them to come out of the kitchen. Wait for them.
Secondi, main courses, show as much technique as the heartthrob pasta. As full as you might be after antipasti, pizza and pasta, do not pass up succulent duck breast ($24) with crackly skin. It melds with chewy farro (spelt grains), sweet turnips the size of my little fingernail, braised greens, and cinnamon scented mostarda of quince–the Italian version of chutney. What a pleasure to eat! And so was saltimbocca ($26), thin slices of sauteed veal papered with crisp prosciutto and sage leaves, the meat moist and excitingly salty from the fried ham, skillfully balanced with potato puree and a spoonful of glistening sauce whispering of marsala.
Orange-leaf scented panna cotta served in a glass topped with bracingly aromatic and bitter marmalade ($7), or thin chocolate pecan tart with a melting crust ($7), or a scoop of ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery ($3.50) make dessert mandatory, though you may want to shoot yourself, afterwards.
Osteria Coppa is everything an eater hopes for in a restaurant. No pretense. No attitude. Just knock down great food that is accessible and rewarding for everyone at suburban, not city, prices. Truly professional service from a committed young crew makes everything run smoothly. And Osteria Coppa takes reservations, bless them. A guy next to me told the bartender that he had never tasted a parsnip when she recommended the ravioli. A bossy glutton like me, who prays for parsnips, had to bite my tongue to keep from ordering for him. That Kamen can pull off such interesting food that pleases so many is a testament to how much he learned from his cousin.
Osteria Coppa, 39 South B Street, San Mateo
Contact: 650 579-6021; www.osteriacoppa.com
Hours: dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday 5 to 9 p.m.; lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Price range: $9 to $26
Recommended dishes: any pasta, fritto misto, pizza, crispy duck breast, saltimbocca, orange leaf panna cotta
Credit cards: All major