I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published August 3rd 2011
Coppelia, a new 24-hour restaurant/diner in Chelsea, was named after a popular ice cream shop in Havana, and its atmosphere and spirit invoke that same distinctive mood, all at once casual and dramatic, like the experience is about to be stepped up a notch, perhaps a little sexier, perhaps a little saltier. Warm and inviting with wooden and stained glass accents and roomy, upholstered booths that beckon 1950s Americana, Coppelia is definitely a comfortable, spacious spot that scores big with early-risers to late-night revelers looking for comfort food to placate exhaustion.
Not strictly Cuban, owner and chef Julian Medina has instead created a fusion of Latin tastes, stealing the best ideas and flavors from Mexico, Venezuela, and even Peru without venturing too far from classic American bistro favorites. Starters are plentiful and appetizing and include homemade guacamole with a trio of different chips (plantain, boniato, and corn), Cuban "pizzas" made with roasted pork, ham, and swiss, lightly baked empanadas, and Croquetas de Queso, the Latin American equivalent of fried cheese.
Main courses, each around $16, are more complex and layered. We loved the Lomo Saltado, a Peruvian stir-fry of beef short ribs punctuated by red onion, tomato, fried potatoes, ginger, and sambal – a chili-based sauce originating from Southeast Asia. The dark rum-glazed shrimp in the Camarones Diablo also scored high on the palate. And the chicken and ribs dressed in a Mexican chocolate glaze, excellent coleslaw, and a chipotle and Cotija cheese corn on the cob instantly turned us into returning customers.
As if the main dishes are not enough – and there are plenty from which to choose, including a hearty selection of burgers (turkey, roasted pork, and a veggie variety made from lentils and plantains), and traditional overstuffed Cuban sandwiches – the dessert menu elevates the experience to another level, a reminder that the atmosphere at Coppelia is casual, but the food is serious business.
Medina tapped world-renowned pastry chef Pichet Ong for the task of developing the desserts, eleven in all, such as a delicious olive oil cake (Torrejas de Oliva) that is served warm with a crispy, caramelized top like crème brulee. The carrot cake with Manchego cheese is as much of a crowd pleaser as the dense and heavenly chocolate with dulce de leche buttercream. Whether you stop by for something as calorie rich as dessert or just a hearty breakfast, you'll be instantly smitten with Coppelia, an oasis of bright color in New York's gray concrete jungle.