The prospect of an elegant new restaurant at the franchise-heavy campus end of State Street is intriguing - and its unusually inexpensive prices are even more so. For under $14, Opa serves entrees like "roasted quail on orzo pasta with rutabaga/turnip/carrot mirepoix and blackberry demi-glace."
Opa is clearly trying to do something new on its block, bringing ingredients like duck confit and rabbit to a young audience who, though recently captivated by "real food" guru Michael Pollan, might be just as likely to pop into Qdoba. Opa aims high and for the most part succeeds.
When you walk into Opa, the vibe is a palpably different from the space's previous incarnations, Maza and the Saz. The painted exposed brick, low lights, leather and granite create an attractive dining room. The ambiance is relaxed while still inviting you to feel a little fancy - an apt description for the experience of eating there.
Opa's first courses provide a range of tastes and origins, from Belgian frites to charcuterie and cheese. Greek specialties like dolma (stuffed grape leaves), saganaki (pan-seared Greek cheese) and spinach pie round out the appetizers. In one, tender, sweet crayfish and mussels mingled with chorizo in a saffron broth. The dish was a bit off-balance due to the boisterous spiciness of the chorizo, but packed a lot of texture and flavor into a small bowl. A plate of polenta topped with well-seared roasted wild mushrooms, flanked by crostini bearing generous scoops of chicken liver, made for a hearty start. I would choose one of these two over the endive salad with lardons, apples and a poached egg, which didn't stand out compared with the other dishes. The salad's apple-vanilla vinaigrette sounded good on the menu but wasn't powerful enough to capture my attention.
Main courses are likewise a mixture of Belgian (waterzooi, a seafood stew), Greek (moussaka, a sort of lasagna; and spanakopita, spinach and feta pie) and other influences. Opa's proficiency with seafood showed itself again in the waterzooi, which offered lots to enjoy: whitefish, chicken, mussels and an appealing bitter hint of beer. The stew seemed to magically get better the more we ate of it.
The aforementioned roasted quail entrée faltered slightly, as both accompaniments - orzo and a root vegetable mirepoix - were undercooked. Speaking of the mirepoix, I noted an area in which Opa needs to diversify its approach. All the entrees on our table featured the same size dice from these same vegetables, giving otherwise lovely plates a disappointingly generic appearance. Opa would profit from raising its presentation standards on this point.
The short ribs were enjoyable, in a pool of deeply flavored jus, though the meat was a smidge less tender than it ought to be. The accompanying mushroom risotto was creamy and chewy, warm and filling - exactly right.
For dessert, Opa presents a mix of standards with variations. A quince brown betty, though in appearance more like a tart, showcased perfectly cooked sweet-tart fruit. The German chocolate cake had an unusual cream cheese version of the traditional frosting, a nice change given that the traditional is so often cloying. The crème brûlée, while smooth and sweet, lacked the definitive, shatter-worthy caramelized crust it needs, and the baklava was skippable.
Opa's service was among the most memorable parts of the night. It's always a plus when enthusiasm for food pings back and forth between staff and guests. This was my experience at Opa, and it is one of the rewards of dining at a good restaurant that will encourage students (and everyone else) to bypass cookie-cutter franchises for real restaurants serving real food.