1311 Sansom Street
Entrées: $11 to $24
One and a half stars.
Four stars signifies an "extraordinary" restaurant, three stars is "excellent," two stars is "good," one star is "fair" and no stars is "poor."
When it comes to digital first impressions (like the one just mentioned in the Fare review), Opa goes for sheer volume. A cartoon folk dancer skitters across a webpage that blossoms- with fluttering Greek flags, a cartoon olive branch, and an animated statue of Poseidon twirling his trident. There’s also a wandering pigeon and a head shot of Telly Savalas in a spread collar. Who loves ya, baby?
This chaos of kitsch is an inexact fit for the actual restaurant, where a vaguely Euro techno beat recently amped up a happy-hour crowd of 20-somethings with all the energy and twice the noise of a Santorini nightclub on discount-cruise-ship night. Opa relegates the broken plates of a thousand Greek dining clichés to a playful mosaic of shards on the bathroom wall, and shoots for contemporary chic in the dining room, where whitewashed brick walls, exposed ducts and an island bar clad in white river stones give the interior a lounge-y feel—and no way for sound to escape. Half-full at dinner, Opa lives up to its festive name. At capacity, it’s like an echo chamber full of hyenas.
It took 30 minutes to get a drink at a reserved table nearly overrun by a woefully mismanaged Center City Sips mob. Good thing Opa’s wine program hits the bull’s-eye. Grape varietals like moscofilero, limnio and robola are well worth discovering, and all the more so when served by the glass. (Kudos also to our friendly, overstretched server, who wiped that first round off our tab.)
The kitchen, run by White Dog Cafe alum Andrew Brown, aims for modern twists on simple Greek fare, and over the course of two dinners hit every part of that target. Including the far edge.
Zucchini chips, individually battered and fried, were an oregano-kissed wonder—executed with the kind of precision a Japanese tempura master would envy. Fried sweetbreads with a raisin-caper-almond relish and smoked eggplant puree could have come from a Michelin-starred restaurant in Athens. The whole roasted dorade? Simply perfect.
But there were just as many disappointments. Brown spices his pork souvlaki halfway to a Spanish chorizo with smoked paprika, yet it tastes kind of like a Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage. Roasted potatoes came wet and mushy. A striped bass fillet arrived overcooked, while a hamburger was undercooked, bloody and mealy. Plating was sometimes comically spartan, as in a rubbery slab of flambéed kasseri cheese attended by one lonely lemon wedge.
Opa has potential, but until it achieves more consistent execution, it’s more likely to make your ears ring than your mouth water.