Uptown's Coup d'Etat is love at first bite
Left to right are Tyler Shipton, Nick O'Leary and Tom Roberts
Katie E. Holm for City Pages
Gutsy is coming right out and naming your restaurant after a military term for revolution, a suggestion, perhaps, that the scene you've moved into needs some serious shaking up. Then again, Nick O'Leary and Tyler Shipton, the executive chefs and co-owners of the sprawling, casually grand, loosely Italian eatery in Uptown, are pretty gutsy guys. They met years ago while working at the original Travail and then jumped ship to open their own place, the wildly successful Borough & Parlour in the North Loop. Their latest venture features food that is simpler, less erudite than what they serve at Borough, but the menu is still ambitious and the drinks are consistently top-notch. From the hand-made pastas, portioned-to-share dishes, the big and boisterous feel of the different dining areas, even down to the layout of the menu, Coup feels much closer to an Uptown version of Bar La Grassa than a second outpost of Borough. Does that make this Uptown upstart a true coup? We were willing to eat quite a lot to find out.
It's hard to not be impressed by the sheer scale of the place. Situated on the ground floor of the still-in-progress Walkway building (and right across the street from another fancy development with a restaurant on the street level), Coup will have room to seat 300 people once patio season rolls around. Hosts wisely make a point of giving the brief walking tour, looping guests around the marble-topped central bar, up the stairs overlooking the private dining room festooned with chandeliers, past what's sure to be a highly coveted reservation table fit with high-backed, richly upholstered chairs, and by the mezzanine bar flanked by Revolutionary War-themed murals.
But no amount of stylish interior design, however much it enhances the dining experience, trumps "meh" food, so we settled in and hit the hot and cold appetizer plates hard. Though divided into sections that appear to follow the traditional pattern of starters, salads, entrees, and sides, almost every dish was sized somewhere between an appetizer and a main and designed to share.
We devoured the arancini with duck confit, a dish that has every element you want in an appetizer — crispy and creamy textures, a savory base flavor punctuated by a spicy-sweet marmalade and bitter microgreens — and it's portioned well for sharing, with five to a plate. (It takes discipline, but be sure to let them cool a bit after cracking through their crispy shells or you might miss the full experience of the flavor.) The tuna crudo also makes an excellent first impression, decorated with thinly sliced breakfast radish and segments of blood orange that mimic both the texture and the color of the firm raw fish. Finished with a subtle tomato vinaigrette and the crunch and saltiness of itty bitty rye croutons, it was the runaway winner in its category, and would go well with any of the dry, fruity cocktails here, designed by bartender Jesse Held, who is also behind the much-lauded bar program at Parlour.
The drinks are divided into two categories: "pack-a-punch" (in other words, boozy) and "easy drinkin'" (less boozy, but by no means alcohol-free). From the former bunch, we were seduced completely by the Not As Cool Hand Luke, a tart, elegant riff on the traditional whiskey sour and a convincing argument for the use of egg white in cocktails. From the latter group, the Every Rosé Has Its Thorn came highly recommended and did not disappoint. Despite the name and the band inspiration, the drink is really a genteel mix of creamy, citrusy, and floral qualities, all delivered via pinkish Prosecco bubbles. What's not to love?
After a plate of grilled oysters doused in Pernod butter (you wouldn't immediately think of it, but the salty brine works so well with the anise notes of the liqueur), an especially hungry pair might be tempted to go for one of Coup's thin-crust, blackened pizzas as a starter. They're easy to share and likely to be popular alongside drinks with the neighborhood's late-night crowd, but the ratio of toppings to crust was imbalanced, leaving too many sodden pieces and not enough structure. If you can't be swayed from your pizza craving, try the version with house-made Italian sausage, pungent truffle cream, and pickled onions.
Many of the meat and fish dishes veered toward wintry profiles like the tender pork osso buco, braised with fennel and deeply saturated with an orange flavor that helps to downplay the richness of the dish. The big bone-in hunk of meat is served with pearls of fregola and a few glazed turnips, and gets a little crunch from a scattering of marcona almonds. A lighter dish of branzino with frothy light rouille, chorizo, and knobs of fingerling potatoes was perhaps the most memorable and perfectly executed of all the dishes we sampled. The sausage seeps spicy oil onto the plate, complementing the otherwise mild filets, and the fact that the fish was baked in parchment rather than crusted with something that overpowered it demonstrates good instincts. Sometimes restraint is the most important tool a chef can wield.
Pastas were simple and gorgeous. A dish of wide ribbons of pappardelle with pearl onions, pancetta, and mushrooms was flavorful enough to make a satisfying entree, but subtle enough to be kid-friendly. Sides are served family-style and are mostly familiar recreations of some of the vegetable dishes at Borough, most notably the Brussels sprouts, which were tasty as ever but played it safe with the expected bacon-and-rosemary preparation. A side of butternut squash with saba was under-roasted and lacked flavor, though we did appreciate the rustic presentation; it's served simply scooped-out and skin-on. If you need a side to round out your meal, go for the outrageously creamy polenta, made with mascarpone and chips of crispy garlic.
There's no need to overthrow anyone, because there's not another restaurant exactly like Coup d'Etat in the Uptown territory. The kitchen produces approachable, comforting, harmonious dishes from start to finish. Service is well-paced and well-informed, and the staff seem to be truly engaged with the food they are serving. Double daters, off-duty waiters, and even Uptown haters take heed: Your nearby late-night dining options just got a lot more compelling. The discussion about where to have a post-movie drink need only consist of a question mark and three French syllables.
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