Pin It
Submit to Reddit

Il Conto, Per Piacere 

An Italian neighborhood eatery in Center City

In America, we don't have those handy eating place monikers that other countries have developed throughout the past two centuries. Ask an American what a cafe is and the answer could vary from a place for wireless communication and a coffee, to a small restaurant.

Bistros are even more confusing.The French and the Italians, however, got it right. In those countries, there's an understood difference between a bistro and a restaurant, an osteria and a ristorante.

Italy has levels of eateries. The most casual is a bar that may offer sandwiches while an enoteca is a wine bar with tapas-type foods. Spots called pizza rustica or a taglio are enticing places with the large rectangle pans of pizza in the front window waiting for the passersby. Hungry diners buy a piece or two and take them to eat in a piazza. Other takeaway places are the hot food tavola calda; a rosticceria, typically with hot and cold roasted meats and blue plate specials to go; pasticceria, a pastry shop; and a gelateria which sells ice cream. However, none of these categories are "full-service" restaurants.

Full-service restaurants are divided into three primary categories: ristorante, trattoria and osteria. A ristorante is an upscale place with informed servers, lengthy wine lists, sophisticated menus and a big price tag. The more casual trattoria is typically a family-owned venture featuring a regional cuisine and having moderate prices. The osteria is a small, even more casual eat-in place serving no-nonsense meals, and the prices are easy on the plastic. Osteria translates from Italian as "tavern" or "pub."

Charlotte restaurateur Augusto Conte opened his third restaurant, the 50-seat Coco Osteria, last June. (Conte's other restaurants are Luce and Toscano, and he also owned the now-defunct Conte's Ristorante Italiano in Myers Park and Trattoria Rustica in Dilworth.)

The interior work at Coco Osteria, fronting on Tryon Street and part of the Hearst Tower Plaza complex, was performed by San Franciscan native Katherine Alexander of Mejia Interior Design, who also designed Luce and said she's currently working on Conte's latest restaurant venture in Phillips Place in SouthPark.

Coco's small bar area radiates -- literally. The base of this free-standing bar is back-lit stained glass, which Alexander has protected from toe-tapping patrons with laminated clear glass. For a small corner space, Coco seems bigger with expansive windows and soaring ceilings anchored below by dark wood tables. Outside seating allows 20 patrons to enjoy either live music on the plaza or the center city hustle.

The source of fervency is Charlotte's new-found urbanism. People want to be in that ambience and vibrancy. After all, Coco may be a neighborly food spot, but the neighborhood is in Charlotte's seat of power that bespeaks wealth and limitless possibilities. Coco, which is Italian for cook, is the kind of low-key eatery where BOA traders can meet after work to swap stories. There are no alcoholic drinks sold here, but there are a dozen or so beers, and a wine list with about 30 whites and 55 reds from Italy and the western US. Coco has a rhythm, an ebb and flow: Servers cobble tables together for larger groups, then separate them later in the evening for the after the show deuce. People schmooze and smooch and have a tendency to dawdle over a glass of wine.

The menu is typical of a neighborly place: Tuscan-styled pot roast; chicken scaloppini; lasagna; rabbit with garlic, rosemary and potatoes; pastas, many made in house; antipasti to share; soups; and salads. The chef is David Lopez, who honed his skills on the job and has been with Conte for nine years.

The food is familiar. Linger over the cheese plate filled with the enormous flavors of hard and semi-hard Italian such as pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano and then knock it back with a warming sip of the smoldering Stefano Farina Sassaia 2000, a wine we instantly became wild about. After such piquant apps, the ravioli entree is somewhat of a mild float back to a comfort zone. The lamb shank, Stingo D'Agnello in Tegame, while falling off the bone, is simply, if not sparsely, prepared. Sides, an extra $3.50, include a bowl of sauteed spinach, eggplant parmesan, sauteed green beans, or roasted potatoes.

Most pasta dishes are around $12 or $13 while entrees cost no more than $16, which is what you would expect of pub-style food even if it's located in a beautiful setting.

But I've always admired the congenial Italian harmony between form and function and how something as humble as tavern cuisine could be served in a fine-looking, pulsating space.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. To contact Tricia via email:

Pin It
Submit to Reddit

Speaking of Cuisine_feature.html


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Creative Loafing encourages a healthy discussion on its website from all sides of the conversation, but we reserve the right to delete any comments that detract from that. Violence, racism and personal attacks that go beyond the pale will not be tolerated.

Search Events
items in Creative Loafing Charlotte More in Creative Loafing Charlotte pool

© 2018 Womack Newspapers, Inc.
Powered by Foundation