I'll be damned--Prezza v Copia
I recently had a meal at each, the former for the first time in a while, the latter for the first time period. Prezza, IMO, was wholly unimpressive for the price (though I did not try Rubee's arancini and probably should have). Tried the grilled squid and octopus with white beans--the creatures were overcooked, the beans undercooked; also tried the steak tartare, which was fine, but not memorable, hardly the best I've had in town--at present that honor goes to Brasserie Jo (still) and City Bar, where recently I was shocked by its grayness but also shocked by its serious flavor. An accompanying little brick of baked ricotta was wonderful, however.
Copia--I should say that I'm pretty sure chef Caturano was there that night (though I'm pretty sure he was also at Prezza on the other night)--surprised me. An excellent Caesar, one of my primary yardsticks. Everything was good, actually, but the real kicker was brussel sprouts stewed with tomatoes and gratineed--just one of the nicest (not to mention richest) treatments of that particular veggie I've ever come across.
Server was eager, a little overeager, but well-intentioned. (E.g., he proudly took it upon himself to split the Caesar for us b/c my DC hadn't ordered a first course--only we hadn't said we were splitting it, and I was hungry and hadn't planned to! So my DC, who granted is a friend, probably saw my ugly, primitive, snarling side come out at that moment. Since I know she reads the board--hope you forgive me, DC.) Still, I'll take eagerness over other errors any day.
Maybe this is A Tale of Two Orders, but my recent visit to Copia left us less whelmed. Small plates with a strong Greek influence (token holdovers from the Meze menu) like the zucchini/mint fritters were great. Fried calamari with a lot of thin aioli were really excellent, too.
A pappa al pomodoro-like soup was dull, underseasoned (and also split, unbidden: weird!) A gnocchi with sausage and rabe, and a tagliatelle Bolognese, pastas dishes we adore at Prezza, were disappointments, lacking spark or juice or something. Another Prezza-like dish, a Gruyere-stuffed wood-grilled pork chop, was excellent, though the vinegar peppers were almost too fierce. Prime rib was done on the rotisserie (I've never seen that before), and I wasn't crazy about the result: it seemed to toughen the meat unattractively, though it retained plenty of flavor. Two sides were just bad: scalloped potatoes that confirmed every aspersion Jim Leff has ever cast on them (dominated by too-smoky bacon and a watery cream sauce, no discernible potato flavor), and very weak sauteed greens.
Nice wines, fairly priced, and a terrific dessert that suggested a good baklava but was more like honey-walnut phylo turnovers, were good surprises. The ambience is improved (a carpet dampens the punishing noise level of the old room a bit), and service is certainly ingratiating. The Zakim still looks lovely from those windows.
So, based on one visit: it's very similar to Prezza in concept, shares some but not all of its virtues, is equally expensive but less consistent in execution, and is tougher to get to and less inviting in atmosphere. Maybe Caturano wasn't there that night, and needs to be for this place to shine? Not sure, but I'm guessing we won't be back for a while.
re: MC Slim JB
Could be a matter of ordering, a matter of Caturano's presence, a matter of my high Prezza or low Copia expectations--could also be that either of my meals was a fluke; hard to say at this point. But the fact that Copia could even score 1 point off Prezza came as a surprise to me....
That said, I agree w/ you that the similarities between the two places are striking, and I think Copia is always going to suffer as a result by comparison both to its parent and to its predecessor, which filled a gap in this town that is now once again sadly apparent.
I didn't want to bring that up, because it's really not fair to a new place, but yes: I loved Meze, and was very sorry to see it fail.
There's probably a new thread in there: places that I strongly dislike and are not helped by the fact that I really liked the place that used to be there. Some examples: Joe V's (On the Park), Jae's Cafe (Providence), BarLola/Dartmouth Bar-Cafe/new Geoffrey's (Spasso), West Street Grill (Cornucopia), Blackfin (Ambrosia, which felt worse, as it was the *same* chef/owner), and Biba's successor-that-shall-not-be-named (Biba, another horrible step down with the previous chef/owner still involved). Copia wouldn't make this list, as it was decent, not terrible.
Note that I think I'm fair on this score: I can forgive a new place even if it replaced a beloved goner IF it delivers the goods. Examples: Eastern Standard (Hoodoo Barbecue when it was at The Rat), Rouge (South End Galleria), Petit Robert Bistro II (Rouge), Truc (Azita), new Perdix (Truc), Ten Tables (old Perdix), Via Matta (Pignoli), Xinh Xinh (Nam Vang), Salts (798 Main), Bomboa in its early days (Restaurant Zinc), original Figs (original Olives), etc.
We've really enjoyed our two visits to Copia too, bringing along another couple the second time who liked it as much as we did. In fact, I just made reservations for an upcoming wine dinner there. I'll have to dry those brussel sprouts soon, they sound great!. Some highlights for me (all apps), the Caesar, the braised baby octopus in harissa, the zucchini mint fritters, and the roasted mushrooms with fried duck egg, and E raved about his wood-grilled ribeye the last time we were there.
That grilled squid and octopus at Prezza is one of my favorites, too bad it was so disappointing. I agree about the tartare, I think it's very good, but it has to be outstanding for me to order that dish. E loves it and orders it all the time, I eat the baked ricotta off his plate. Radius used to have a good one. Haven't tried Brasserie Jo or CB yet, though.