I thought that Mezé Estiatorio, the previous restaurant in this space, was so good it was going to start a trend of upscale Greek restaurants. But the dining public apparently did not support me, or got lost trying to get to Charlestown. (If you come over the North Station/North Washington Street Bridge, your second right on to new Rutherford Street puts you right there. But if you try to get there by going to City Square from Cambridge, you have to get to new Rutherford Street and make a scary but legal u-turn.)
Usually, the second owner of a large, modern restaurant space makes sure of the rent with an Italian menu. But chef Anthony Caturano and partner David Petrilli already had a North End Italian restaurant, Prezza, so their security blanket is the steakhouse idea. Mezé had a wood grill and oven and rotisserie in place, and they do a lot of grilling at Prezza, so it was a natural notion. It also helped them keep some continuity with Greek food at the appetizer level. The skordalia and taramasalata are gone, but the buttery grilled pitas ($4) are still there as part of a group of nine other Mediterranean antipasti, including some of the old spreads, but also a tzatziki ($4) that is an especially fresh version of the cucumber-yogurt salad. Artichokes ($4) are handsome quarters of heart and peeled stem with some micro-grated cheese. But the real killer app is “zucchini and mint fritters” ($4), an Italian-style croquette with cheese to meld the flavors, two of the finest fried objects on sale in Greater Boston.
Our old friend the octopus ($14) used to come served as large, mysteriously tender tentacles. Now it’s baby octopus in a tomato sauce with chickpeas, good but no longer amazing. A baby arugula salad ($10) showed some nice attention to detail, like little sections of peeled blood orange, pine nuts, golden raisins, and Greek cheese.
Getting right at that steakhouse concept, I ordered the 16-ounce Angus ribeye ($34). It came rarer than the medium-rare I’d ordered, which is the right direction of error, but the good surprise was that it was 16 ounces boneless, looking more like the round center of a large end prime rib than the usual rib-chop entrecôte. The meat was tender and delicious, with a taste of the fire and a fully cooked red-wine sauce. A side dish of wood-grilled peppers and onions had a wonderfully smoky flavor, but ours was rather greasy. (I took some home and fried eggs with it for breakfast.) A side dish of “tomato stewed Brussels sprouts” ($6) was actually oven-baked under so much salty cheese that the tomato barely came through. A side dish of braised greens was mostly kale, some chard, not greasy but again salty.
Slow-braised lamb shank ($26), another lifeline to fans of Greek food at the old Mezé, was much slower food. Possibly a little too slow, as the meat was dried out and the tomato and chickpea “stew” around it added barely a wisp of sauce to a very large shank. (Taken home, the remainder was superb reheated with a little stock the next day, so this will be easy to fix.) “Brick oven whole roasted bronzini” ($26) was an excellent combination of fish and technique. The bronzino is a farmed Mediterranean sea bass, flavorful but, like many farmed fish, running to a slight mineral or ashy aftertaste. The wood oven masks that flavor with the legitimate bit of smoke and scorch, and makes the flesh easy to take off the bones of the whole fish.
The wine list at Mezé was basically Californian and Italian, with a nice group of modern Greek wines. The new owners, who have a similar list at Prezza, simply substituted Spanish wines for the Greek ones. It’s a good list, although most of the action starts at $30 and up. I was able to snag a fine Barbera D’Asti, Vobis Tua 2004 ($28). Regular readers have noted my problems with Italian reds of the super-hot 2003 season. This 2004 was back to form; it was a dark and fruity wine with plenty of acidity but not so much tannin, fitting a variety of foods and sauces.
Decaf ($3) and tea ($4) are expensive but good, and the latter is correctly served loose-leaf in a pot. Espresso ($4) was initially too short and had a burned flavor — had it been held too long? The replacement was fine.
There’s major improvement over the previous menu’s desserts. Maple-walnut triangles ($8) are a spin on baklava and better than any of the old Greek desserts. Pumpkin crème brûlée ($9) is a very valid twist, more pumpkin than cream, but not spiced silly. Warm chocolate cake ($9) is always welcome; it’s a cliché dessert that gets us at least to the next chocolate bar.
Service at Copia was very good on a quiet weeknight. The atmosphere hasn’t taken shape, but the modern room with limestone and blond-wood accents is a wonderful setting, and two walls of windows have a thrilling view of the Zakim Bridge. Oh, I know, it’s supposed to be the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge. But if this pricy Mediterranean steakhouse is going to fly in Charlestown, that bridge better be a symbol of regional unity for diners from all over metro Boston.
Copia Mediterranean Steakhouse| 100 City Square, Charlestown | Open Mon–Thurs, 11:30 am–2:30 pm and 5–10 pm; on Fri, 11:30 am–2:30 pm and 5–11 pm; on Sat, 5–11 pm; and on Sun, 4–9 pm | AE, DC, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking $13 | Street-level access | 617.242.6742
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Robert Nadeau: RobtNadeau@aol.com