Chef/Owner Srijith “Sri” Gopinathan and restaurateur Ayesha Thapar, creators of Ettan in Palo Alto, bring their talents to Copra, which opened in San Francisco’s Fillmore District on February 18th. Copra pays homage to the coastal cuisines of India’s southern states: Kerala where Gopinathan was born and Tamil Nadu where he grew up, and also looks across the Palk Strait to the island nation of Sri Lanka, a short distance from his hometown of Kanyakumari, mainland India’s southernmost city.
Copra shares its name with the dried flesh of a coconut, an essential ingredient across the southern coast of India, as well as in nearby Sri Lanka. Forming the base of many dishes, the coconut is a fitting symbol for a restaurant that celebrates the similarities and differences between the cuisines.
An assortment of small bites includes highlights such as Shrimp Vennai Roast, cooked in chili chutney, brown butter, curry leaves, and lime and Thattukada Fried Chicken, a classic street food from Trivandrum, served with fennel seeds, red chilies, black pepper, shallots, and masala crumbs.
On the larger plates, diners can anticipate coastal dishes such as Black Cod Pollichathu, in
which the fish is encrusted in a shallot coating before being wrapped in banana leaves and
cooked on cast iron, and a Konkan Crab Curry, simmered in roasted coconut, coriander,
tamarind, and red onion, before being served with egg appam, a thin pancake made from
fermented rice batter. Dishes are individually plated but suitable for sharing.
The preparation of the food has its roots in family tradition. Gopinathan believes that bringing deep personal bonds to the fore is vital to creating a menu that captures the spirit of the food he ate growing up. “This concept is very much driven by human beings, and to make it more real, we need to keep having conversations with people back home,” he explains in a statement. “In particular, our kitchen team wants to honor the women in our families who have nurtured us, so we are offering some homestyle vegetarian recipes inspired by our mothers and mothers-in-law, such that we can tell their stories and share the credit with them.”
Copra’s beverage program contains an array of options designed to complement the rich
flavors showcased on the menu.
The restaurant offers an eclectic cocktail program crafted in a collaboration between Nora
Furst, Stephanie Gonnet, and Christopher Longoria of West Bev Consulting and mixologist Varun Sudhakar, who is based in Kerala.
The cocktail program incorporates many flavors borrowed from the chef’s pantry, while also celebrating fresh ingredients that are rooted in California. Where possible, the team has sourced local spirits, while also rounding out the program with bottles from around the world, including some single malts and gins from India. Imported arrack, a distilled alcoholic spirit made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers or sugar cane, also features on the menu.
“Chef Gopinathan is creating a restaurant that represents his hometown, but we also want to make sure that the cocktail program ties back to California,” says Longoria. “The techniques we’re using are representative of the bar community here, especially when it comes to extracting flavors from various fresh and preserved ingredients.”
A Clarified Lassi Punch features fresh mango along with a buttermilk and yogurt wash,
softening the intense flavors of the Venezuelan rum, Scotch, amaretto, and added spices,
including white pepper, toasted green cardamom, and a dash of cayenne.
For those drawn to a smokier flavor profile, the Kokum and Smoke contains a sweet water flavored with kokum, or dehydrated mangosteen fruit, which possesses some of the same souring qualities as tamarind. Usually, the kokum is cut into a few pieces and chewed at the table as a tannic and bitter digestif, but in this cocktail, its inherent smokiness is deepened with mezcal, and accented with tangy citrus.
Copra’s menu also includes a number of non-alcoholic cocktails, including the Salty City, which merges coconut yogurt, cucumber, salt, black garlic and lemon for a savory flavor profile.
A robust list of wines, ciders, and co-ferments has been curated by noted sommelier Ceri Smith of Biondivino. When putting together their beverage selections, many restaurants look towards, or even rely upon, sweeter whites to balance out spicy foods. Smith’s approach offers a more expansive set of conclusions about which beverages play well with intensely aromatic dishes. Her wine list celebrates the unexpected: for example a light and bright Ligurian red, Selvodolce “Rosso…se” 2019, shows that red wine, often overlooked in pairings with spicy foods, can indeed complement the piquancy of Indian cuisine. That said, she won’t shy away from an out-of-the-ordinary Riesling, such as Eric Kamm’s Grand Cru “Frankstein” 2020.
Copra’s wine list will focus on a group of notable producers, offering several selections from each. This format gives diners the opportunity to try more than one expression from a given vintner, gathering a more nuanced sense of their style and craft. After enjoying a bottle of the Nusserhof “Bl.te.le” Bianco 2020, diners can explore the same Alto Adige producer’s “Elda” Rosso 2016, “Kretzer” 2020, or more robust “Rossi Ty…” 2016. “Having a chance to sample multiple wines from a single producer is a lot like looking at an artist’s collection in a museum,” explains Smith. “The visitor leaves with a better sense of the creator’s intention and their wider body of work.”
Also notable is the restaurant’s selection of co-ferments. As an emerging category that allows makers to enter the industry without having to invest in a plot of land on which to grow grapes, the selection gives diners a chance to sample beverages from a new generation of makers. Æblerov’s Okapi 2020, a cider, wine, and beer hybrid flavored with hops and a touch of lilac flower, is a particular standout, offering a balanced body with a residual sweetness.
90% of the list will be priced at under $100/bottle. All of the ciders and co-ferments are served by the glass, along with a selection of wines.
The Copra Restaurant has 140 seats, 40 in the mezzanine and 100 in the main dining room and 16 bar seats. The restaurant is 1670 sq ft and the interior was designed by Schoos Design in collaboration with Studio Mood.
The Copra Restaurant is closed on Monday’s and is open Tuesday – Thursday: 5:30pm – 10:00pm, Friday – Saturday: 5:00pm – 10:00pm and Sunday: 5:00pm – 9:00pm.