Back in October, Kuna closed its doors. Everyone thought they were closed, including myself. Once everyone calmed down, the owners announced that they were simply remodeling and changing the restaurants format. Then in December, they reopened their doors as Opera.
On Christmas Eve, Amy and I decided to stop by and see if the change was for the better or worse. There weren't many customers there and the only people serving food were the owners. Talking to one of them, we found out that the change in format "...all started with a coat of paint." Then they realized that they needed new dishes and once they bought new dishes, they bought new silver, and then table clothes. After the remodeling happened, they felt it was also time to change the format of the restaurant from Italian to French.
Opera's menu is significantly different from Kuna. The pastas that used to make up the majority of the menu are gone - yes, no more penne with vodka sauce. (sob) Appetizers consist of salads and lighter items like steak tartare and country pate. Prices for appetizers range from $6 to $8. We had both the steak tartare and country pate at our last visit and they were very yummy. Nice medium sized chunks of steak tartare are served on top of potato skins. The steak is served with capers and chilies. It was nice and spicy! A "light fare" menu is also available with dishes like assorted cheeses, cured meats, and boudin noir, as well as some lighter choices like grilled asparagus and salmon tartare. Our first trip to Opera, we ordered the cured meats to start. When it comes down to it, cured meats are cured meats. However, you get the pate and garlic sausage with the cured meats, which are very good on their own. The meats were...well, meats. Cured meats, by themselves, get a bit boring after a while unless they're served with cheese. I'd recommend ordering the meats and cheeses to share with a table of four or more. Make sure you call and make a reservation if you want to go with a partner of more than four people though. There aren't many tables that can hold more than four. Our last trip to Opera, we ordered the pate on its own. It was served with fig and celery root moutarde (mustard). We enjoyed the pate much better on its own and it left us not nearly as full leading into our entrees. Dishes in the "light fare" menu range from $14 to $17.
Entrees change on the menu quite often. The last time we went to Opera, only two of the entrees remained on the menu from our first trip - the lamb chops and the pork chop, which I happened to order during our first trip. The pork chop comes with knockwurst, garlic sausage, and sauerkraut. The dish wasn't bursting with flavor but it tasted very different from any pork dish I've eaten in DC. Everything in the dish was baked together, almost as if it was a stew. The flavor of the sauerkraut was mixed with the knockwurst and the garlic sausage. The pork was tender and cooked just right - not dry, but juicy. You wont find lots of heavy, starchy side dishes served with Opera's entrees. Everything on the plate is meant to compliment and add to the flavor. Our last trip, I had a tenderloin dish served with potatoes, yams, carrots and onion. I wasn't so crazy about this dish because the way it was cooked (similar to the pork chop) kind of ruined the meat. The tenderloin was chopped up into small chunks and only a few were actually cooked medium rare the way I asked. Amy ordered a fried risotto dish that reminded us of the suppli that 2 Amys serves, only Opera's version is served with a vodka sauce (the vodka sauce returns!). It was pretty good, but in order to keep the fried risotto from getting soggy, the outside is made very crispy and ends up being a bit chewy.
This is a little off topic, but I've gotta mention it...Our last visit, there was this woman a few tables over who'd obviously had one too many glasses of wine and was talking very loud for the size of the dining room. She had ordered a dish with a thick bacon as one of its ingredients - a different version of the pork chop dish I'd ordered our first trip. Just think of someone with a nasal, Fran Drescher-esque sound to her voice saying this over and over, "I CAN"T BELIEVE HOW BIG THIS BACON IS! HAVE YOU EVER SEEN SUCH HUGE BACON?! THIS IS THE BIGGEST BACON I'VE EVER SEEN!" It was all very phallic and Amy and I and the tables around us couldn't stop giggling.
Another significant renovation occurred in the area of the bar. The tiny serving area that used to be the bar has been increased in size considerable, and now there is room to store many more liquors. The drink menu has been expanded as a result. We've found ourselves ordering a few drinks each which has made our bill more expensive than it should have been. Drink prices range from $8 to $10. The wine list is not huge, but has some good wines on it from Italy and France. There is even the Insolia which is one of our favorite wines from 2 Amys. One draw back to the new format - the free wine tastings that Kuna used to have while you waited for your table are gone.
We have yet to try the desserts at Opera and haven't seen anyone else order them either. Both visits, we were too full to eat anything else after the entrees. Just to name a few though - panna cotta, chocolate torte, and tea poached figs.
We were pretty happy with both of our trips to Opera. As I said before, both times we ordered a few drinks each which caused our bill to be over $120. The drinks alone added $45 to our bills. Overall, I'd say the menu at Opera is very reasonable, with no dish costing more than $20 (with one exception - the tenderloin I ordered at our last meal was $22).
Is Opera better than Kuna? I'd say it's all a matter of personal taste. Personally, I'd have to say it's not. I miss the pasta dishes I loved at Kuna. However, there are lots of good things about Opera like the country pate and steak tartare that are worth going back for. Plus, there are plenty of other places in DC to get good pasta.
1324 U St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Dress Code: Casual
Parking: none - street parking is a rare commodity in the U Street corridor. There is no Valet either. I recommend cabbing or taking the metro. The U Street stop is a block away.