Image: Not going hungry at Opal – Salmon, Pork Chop, Squash, Mushrooms.
Last Updated: January 2023
Opal is a sibling restaurant to Nina May. Like Nina May it focuses on seasonal and fresh cooking, using a variety of techniques that roughly fall under the New American moniker, though Opal is more open to sourcing beyond the region. Opal, like Nina May, presents dishes simply – they even have “chef’s choice” multi-course option called “Simple Supper.” Yet, the simplicity is deceptive. Like a magician only using a card deck, it looks uncomplicated but there is a lot more going on that is revealed as you progress.
Part of the magic comes in playing with combinations on the plate, instead of layering or incorporating into sauces for a single stacked bite. Scallops with romesco sauce is an easy pairing, but then the chef adds in collard greens to unsettle the comfortable. Mushrooms are matched with the sweet starch of parsnip puree. Salmon sits in carrot-ginger sauce. It is taking familiar ingredients and matching the in slightly unexpected ways that keeps your palate engaged. Other dishes are more straightforward like a pork chop dressed with peppers placed atop sweet potato puree, or squash with ricotta and honey. Which is to say, there is thought and care behind the construction and preparation of the dishes. It is not a risk to order what sounds good and trust the chef.
The space is large, open, sleek, and white. There is a large bar area. Opal and another recently-opened spot, Joy from the 7 Reasons team, both moved uptown to more residential neighborhoods rather than looking to add another spot to the Wharf or downtown. This appears to be a nod to the work-from-home reality. Downtown power lunches and happy hours are less likely when no one is in the office. Instead, people will want to go out for dinner and drink nearby after a day cooped up in the house. The cocktails at Opal fit the general approach of a few classic ingredients playing off each other. The wine by-the-glass leans toward familiar varietals from less obvious regions: Chardonnay from Paso Robles, Sauvignon Blanc from Moldova, though there is also Cab from Bordeaux, Malbec from Argentina, and Pinot Noir from New Zealand. They also have a few non-alcoholic cocktails.
Chef Colin McClimans and business partner Danilo Simic made Nina May work in a spot that had defeated others. Now they are branching out to an area that might not be obvious, but upon reflections makes total sense. But they are good at not doing the obvious. If you live in the area, we suggest you give Opal a try, but you probably already have. It is also worth going out of your way.
Other Guidance: The vibe is neighborhood nice. No need to dress up, but not out of place if you did. The emphasis on seasonal produce means vegetarians and GF can find more than a couple options. The restaurant is located at street level with a slight ramp up to the main floor. There is also a patio, weather permitting.
Washington Post: Made his December 2022 list of places Tom is enjoying.
DCist: First Look