Opus in Gulf Gate revisits Mediterranean classics.
SRQ Review | January 2022
In new restaurants
When kataifi shrimp arrive at Opus Restaurant & Lounge in Gulf Gate, the impression they give almost defies words. While it might sound familiar to the Greeks, to the rest of us it looks like an absurd postmodern sculpture, a cheeky mix of aquatic life and a bird’s nest. Shrimp tails protrude from a tangle of threads, and each piece rests on a puddle of sweet and spicy cherry sauce sprinkled with za’atar. In the end, after a bit of wonder and, admittedly, bewilderment, the dish is just a deliciously accessible piece of shrimp wrapped in threads of batter and fried. And that’s what the Opus seems to do with its entire menu; take something classic and tasty like the Greek specialty of shrimp wrapped in kataifi and add seasonal and local produce to it.
Created in collaboration between owner Richard Carney and executive chef Kyle Harrington, the menu borrows from Carney’s culinary palate and Harrington’s fine dining, which began in the upscale kitchens of Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande nearly 20 years old. Carney, a former interior designer from Buffalo, NY, and Harrington, born in South Philadelphia, were eager to celebrate the cuisines of the West Coast of the Mediterranean, from Tunisia and Spain to France and Europe. ‘Italy. Carney, unsurprisingly, also managed the restaurant’s modern yet warm design, with lots of blues and earth tones offsetting the clean lines of the building itself.
A caponata pays homage to Carney’s Sicilian roots. Specifically, the inclusion of pine nuts tilts the small plate towards the Catania style of the dish, but regardless of the region of Sicily, Opus’ caponata is dense with eggplant, zucchini, red peppers, tomatoes , olives, capers and parsley. Depending on how the local produce looks that day, Harrington may garnish the dish with parsley or basil, but either way, when served on the toasted baguette, it looks more like a healthy starter than a light appetizer.
Another common application for caponata is serving it with fish, and Opus does just that with the seasonal Gulf snapper entrée. A loose cut of snapper comes seared with the skin on, giving it a bit of crunch and crunch that complements the buttery, delicate cut of fish. The caponata sits under the fish, making it easy to get all the flavor profiles in one bite, including a garlicky salsa verde so good it can make a corn dog taste divine -waves. A drizzle of lemon juice from the grilled lemon further broadens the flavor profile, adding a little pep to an otherwise creamy dish. The tendril catwalk cocktail goes well with the snapper. Made with gin, muddled basil, Saint-Germaine, lemon juice and house-made ginger syrup, the dry, lemony and slightly sweet drink cuts through the richness of the plate nicely.
But if rum is more your speed, the old-school Opus awaits. Diplomatico rum, chocolate bitters, and a coconut ice cube give this iteration of the popular drink less bite than its whiskey counterparts. This drink pairs well with the roast chicken entrée, which comes with a whole bird tanned as perfectly as a lifeguard on Baywatch. The juices from the roasting process ring around the generous serving of mashed potatoes (mashed potatoes) made with two parts Yukon potatoes and one part sweet cream butter. When all of this is combined with the mushroom sauce, the umami is out of this world.
The steak frites offer what is probably the easiest win on the menu, with a perfectly charred butcher steak served with fries that tick all the boxes – a little crispy, a little tender inside, deliciously flavorful. A harissa ketchup brings a touch of spice to the fries while a salsa Española should not be overlooked as an accompaniment to the steak. Although listed as a starter, the plate can easily be shared as the steak is sliced. If shared, it can make room for quattro formaggi peppers, Opus’ take on a Buffalo favorite. Hungarian wax peppers, which can vary on the Scoville scale from bite to bite, are stuffed with ricotta, gorgonzola, pecorino and mozzarella. The creamy cheeses inside offset the heat from the peppers, though a tall glass of water should be kept nearby.
While kataifi shrimp or Gulf snapper may be more deserving of signature status at Opus due to their more ambitious and complex flavor profiles, the dish most likely to sell out nightly is pappardelle. Yes, many Italian restaurants in the Sarasota area offer some form of braised rib stew served over freshly made pasta, but it’s such a categorically wonderful dish that it deserves a spot on any menu. The wide noodles are made from scratch, giving them the perfect al dente consistency, while a braising time of four to five hours on the short ribs gives plenty of time for the fat to turn into a silky affair. to lick your fingers. A fair warning. Like all comfort food, this dish is heavy, which means it should be eaten with caution if you hope to try any of the homemade desserts.
A crispy, sticky baklava has a more nutty profile than most thanks to a healthy dose of diced pistachios, while a seasonal crostata uses Harrington’s mother’s dough recipe — and heirloom worthy. Crispy but fork tender, the crostata is stuffed with compotes of all available seasonal fruits. Accompanied by a Frangelico whipped cream, the dessert is definitely worth leaving room for. For those with a bottomless joie de vivre, head next to the Opus lounge for a nightcap of homemade limoncello.