Hocus Opus

For Rapoport and company, the fifth time's the charm.

A perfect martini goes a long way toward softening me up. Here's my totally unprofessional confession: I'm inclined to love the food that follows it in direct proportion to the mastery with which my drink has been mixed. Terrible, isn't it? Worse and worse, many a food snob would crucify me for sipping hooch before dinner. They tell me the hard stuff ruins the palate. Gin dulls the buds, disables judgment, and — for me at least — casts a fuzzy, rosy glow over the direst circumstances. I'm much more likely to feel forgiving about that stain on the suede banquette or the parade of suctioned and anorexic behinds passing within inches of my fork when I'm fully liquored up. Give me a good martini and I'll be eating truffled portobello tart right out of your hand.

The bartender at Opus 5 did that the other night. By the time I'd finished my inspired "Summer Martini" ($12), an ultra-frigid concoction made from muddled cucumber, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and good gin, I was regarding Burt Rapoport's new restaurant with the greatest affection. Any obstacles to our continuing relationship had been summarily removed. If Opus 5 had been human, you would have said we'd taken an immediate shine to each other. We were practically necking.

And oh, the prejudices I'd had to overcome! I have a deeply rooted and irrational suspicion of any restaurant with a West Boca Raton address (although, against my better judgment, a few of my favorites do live here). I hate anything that smells of too much money and not enough soul, of anything strategized into functionality or spun by PR mavens. Corporate restaurateurs like Rapoport and his partner in this venture, Bruce Blum, make me feel itchy and impatient. Rapoport, who owns Henry's in Delray and Brasserie Mon Ami in Boca and parts of Max's Grille and Jazziz at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, is given to vapid boardroom babble (Opus' cuisine, he told the Sun Sentinel, "will be distinctive but not challenging"). God forbid anybody should be challenged over dinner (not that Rapoport has ever attempted it in any of his ventures). Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer owners to be on the premises, spreading their personal pixie dust around, not off scouting locations for their next mega-venture. Like a musical opus, a restaurant should ideally be thoroughly infused with sensibility. It should be a work of heart and of art.

Joe Rocco

Location Info

Map

Opus 5 Restaurant

5050 Town Center Circle
Boca Raton, FL 33486

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Boca Raton

Details

Open for dinner from 6 till 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; until midnight Friday and Saturday. Lunch Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. till 2:30 p.m. Call 561-544-8000.
The Shops at Boca Center, 5050 Town Center Cir., Boca Raton

Maybe that's what Rapoport and Blum were getting at with "Opus" anyway: presumably, they didn't name their restaurant after a penguin. Something unexpected has happened here. Rapoport and Blum put a lot of money into the old Zemi space — about $1.8 million — and that's par for their course. They ended up with a truly beautiful interior, thanks to Adolfo Galvez, a Miami designer. Rather than the usual South Beach kitschy-koo meets Boca (s)excess, Galvez has put together a couple of tasteful, soothing rooms full of unexpected visual interest. The ceiling, for example, is composed in wonderful layers — big circular lamps hung at one level, mirrored above by wooden grids of larger circles within squares. All those circles are picked up again in the pale, curved banquettes — and very comfortable they are too (although they've already succumbed to staining). And the squares sound a bit of visual rhyme against cream-colored columns that look like stacked platters (which resemble, again, the square white plates your tuna tartare and paillard of veal salad are served on). One wall is padded and quilted in butterscotch-hued fabric: comfy, lush, and sound-absorbing. Another wall is given over to a wine cellar of highly polished wood and glass. The bar is back-lit. The floors are old-fashioned wide plank, the precise color of an excellent old cognac. The look is handsome, unstuffy, and mildly exciting.

So I like the look. I like the drinks. And I pretty much like the food too, even a couple of days later, on sober reflection. The menu is relatively casual — a few elegant and trendy small plates in the $10 range, a bunch of similarly priced main-plate salads for those figure-conscious Boca gals, and a number of interesting if not challenging main courses: half a dozen or so fishes — wild salmon, farmed ruby trout, Norwegian halibut, and snapper — and as many meat dishes, including prime chopped steak, organic chicken, lamb chops, and beef short ribs costing $23 to $34. A pork shank from Berkley farms comes with ginger plum glaze and vegetable fried rice; seared tuna is crusted in wasabi with ginger and Thai chili emulsion. Except for the salads and some of the Asian-inspired fish dishes, this all feels a bit heavy for summer fare; and it doesn't look like the menu is going to change much seasonally, although Chef Francis Casciato is continuing to tweak it. But there's enough variety here to keep us well occupied over many future visits.

We liked both our starters: eggplant patties ($9) and chopped salad ($9). They evidenced enough spunky innovation to keep our hackles smoothed. Casciato, a peripatetic Philadelphia boy who has worked with Rapoport in many guises, including at the much-loved and now-defunct Prezzo in Palm Beach Gardens, adds pine nuts, white raisins, and bread crumbs to his mashed eggplant so the dish resembles a fancy, vegetarian version of crab cakes. Served with truffle-oil aioli and a balsamic reduction, they're scrumptious — soft, sweet, with a mild bite from the eggplant, a rich mouthful with the aioli and vinegar. And the chopped salad certainly wasn't more of the same-old. Carrots, celery, purple cabbage, cucumber, sure. But the addition of seaweed salad, miso-ginger dressing, and big silky leaves of pale-green butter lettuce made this dish a happy event that I'd like to be able to reproduce at home, along with that summer martini. Also available: a yummy-sounding vegetarian minestrone with asparagus, baby spinach, and artichoke gnocchi; and truffled portobello tart with goat cheese and balsamic syrup.

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