Patrick Owens' new venture Opal dazzles 

A Tasty Gem

The pasta at Opal deserves special attention, like the tagliatelle with pork sausage, broccolini, and marjoram

Photos by Katie Gandy

The pasta at Opal deserves special attention, like the tagliatelle with pork sausage, broccolini, and marjoram

In the foyer of Opal, a light stone wall rises high, drawing eyes upward to marvel at the attention to detail in each beautifully hand-carved stone. Behind the wall, large wooden beams soar above the bar, giving it a rustic feel. The smell of warm bread, earthy olive oil, and fresh pasta is in the air. It feels like Tuscany. Beyond the bar, the modern dining room with naked wooden tables, plush leather chairs, and cozy booths creates an informal and relaxed ambiance. California meets Mediterranean. Not only is the decor fresh, but the food is too.

Ambitious chef and owner Patrick Owens had an idea to fuse local ingredients with Mediterranean flavors. Scallops with a caramelized-seared crust are thinly sliced, dripping with a smoky citrus, and garnished with crispy housemade chips to create an appetizer of scallop carpaccio ($9). The warm buttery flavor of the scallops and the tanginess of the citrus play well off each other. The housemade mozzarella ($11) comes seasoned and topped with freshly chopped tomatoes. The sweet milky flavor is infused with a peppery olive oil, adding a pleasing bite to the mild cheese.

A smoky housemade duck ham, semi-soft truffled sottocenere cheese, and Iberico lomo are all part of an impressive charcuterie and cheese plate ($12). Iberico refers to the black Iberian pig, a fat little breed that is raised on acorns in Spain and Portugal and prized for its rich flavors. Opal serves the Iberico lomo (loin), arguably one of the best hams in the world. You can craft your own charcuterie plate by choosing from a variety of premium meats and cheeses. Options include chorizo, creamy Cremont cheese made from both goat and cow milk, and an Italian cured salami from Molisano.

The bar at Opal is very inviting, a great place to have a pre-dinner drink or to indulge in charcuterie and cheese or even a plate of succulent mussels with gavi, fennel, and cured olives ($14). The wine list is simple yet refined, offering plenty of options by the glass and bottle. There's a modern cocktail list ($8 each) too, which includes a vibrant violet hibiscus mojito and a ginger-apple martini. The beer selection caters to craft beer lovers with options like Stone IPA, Victory Prima Pilsner, Westbrook White Thai, Bell's Amber, St. Bernardus Abt 12, and Allagash White. The St. Bernardus Abt 12, which has rich flavors of vanilla, plum, and cloves, paired well with the meats and cheeses of the charcuterie plate.

When it comes to eating a full meal in the dining room, the pasta course deserves some special attention. All of the noodles are made fresh in-house. A healthy whole wheat chitarra requires the dough to be gently pressed through strings (chitarra means guitar), creating long, flat strands of pasta. It comes served with plump shrimp, juicy tomatoes, and sharp pecorino ($15). Servers recommend the pasta dishes be shared, which is not a bad idea. A recommended option is the cavatelli with duck confit, cherries, and fonduta ($15). The fresh noodles and the creamy, rich fontina cheese blend perfectly with the tender duck confit and the sweet cherries.

Entrée selections change ever so slightly every day. A beef option that was once a peppercorn-encrusted prime New York strip on one day changed to a peppercorn-encrusted wagyu bistro steak on another. This tender cut was seasoned perfectly, cooked to order, and sliced before making it to the table. The seared diver sea scallops ($24) came served over a beautiful bed of Israeli couscous with chopped zucchini, tomato, corn, and topped with brown butter.

Of all the entrées I sampled during several trips to Opal, the clear winner was the fresh local flounder with soft goat cheese polenta, spinach, and sauce vierge, a simple dressing made up of basil, olive oil, lemon juice, and tomato, a perfect enhancement to the fish. The creamy polenta is given a sharp, tangy note by the fresh goat cheese. If you encounter this dish on the menu, order it, but be warned: The fish selection changes almost daily.

Owens doesn't stop at the main entrées. His respectable skills carry over to dessert to help finish off what's already a noteworthy night. The ancho chili chocolate gelato ($8) is satisfying (but could stand to have some more bite). The moist hazelnut chocolate cake sits in a sweet puddle of bourbon caramel, with a dollop of vanilla-scented mascarpone on top ($8). The traditional cheesecake is replaced with a fluffy goat cheese cheesecake accompanied by peach purée, almonds, and cherry balsamic glaze ($8).

With Opal, Owens has put together something unique, something that Mt. Pleasant needed. And he should know. The local boy opened Langdon's when it wasn't clear Mt. Pleasant could support a high-end dining room. But it did, and Langdon's has become the town's only AAA four-diamond restaurant. Now, he's giving natives a new option that is more casual but still delivers delicious fare and top-notch service. Opal is not just a place to go to for food, but to go to for an incredible dining experience. Much like Langdon's, we predict Opal will quickly become an enduring favorite in Mt. Pleasant and a destination for serious eaters from the entire area.

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