The Coastal American restaurant Opal, now open in Chevy Chase, is the latest offering from chef Colin McClimans and Danilo Simic, co-owners of Shaw’s New American restaurant Nina May. With an emphasis on seasonality and sustainability, Opal serves vegetable-forward dishes and a focused selection of fish and meat sourced from the American coastline. Its cross-cultural appetizer menu, innovative mixology program at the bar and full view of the kitchen make it a unique and compelling dining experience sure to enrich the neighborhood, especially with its newly introduced brunch and forthcoming lunch menus.
We had the distinct privilege of speaking with McClimans about what makes Opal special.
District Fray: How would you say a clear view of the kitchen can enhance the dining experience?
Colin McClimans: Everyone likes to see what is going on in the kitchen at a restaurant. It’s like having backstage passes to a concert where you get a look at all the action, which is not usually visible in each dish. At Opal, we have the wood-burning oven right in the front of the kitchen, and guests can see the bread being made from start to finish. This transformation from dough to bread is exciting, and the guests like the fact that we are very transparent with how and what we are cooking.
What are a few unusual traditions that Opal’s menu brings together? What’s compelling about those combinations?
As an American restaurant, Opal is drawing inspiration from a lot of different cooking traditions. We have Italian, French, Middle Eastern, Asian and Latin American techniques all included in our menu. The diversity in flavors that we put together is unique and offers lots of different flavors to try. Some dishes are driven by spice, and others are driven by texture. Our main focus is to have flavorful and well-executed dishes, and we accomplish that through our menu.
How is Opal different from anything else in the neighborhood?
Our goal at Opal is to offer an unforgettable dining experience through great hospitality. We focus not on what other places nearby are doing, but on what we ourselves can bring to the neighborhood. We saw a demand for a great neighborhood restaurant that could offer a chef-driven menu with friendly, attentive service. We knew there was an opportunity to offer a creative experience for the guest in the style of a tasting menu called Simple Supper. With this menu, the kitchen sends out snacks and family-style shared plates to enjoy at the beginning of the meal. Guests just have to select their entrees, and the rest of the experience is curated by us.
What lasting influence on local food culture would you like Opal to have?
Any influence that we can have on something or someone as a restaurant is incredible. We are trying to create these amazing memories for guests through a hospitality experience in a particular way. If any of that clicks for the guests and stays with them, then we have done something extraordinary. We have always focused on sourcing our ingredients locally and sustainably. Opal can influence people with how great seasonal produce can be, and how powerful a connection between a fruit or vegetable and a farmer can be. It can teach people that you can eat in a very seasonal way as long as you are committed to sourcing properly.
How does Opal create a unique brunch menu experience?
At Opal, we have an exciting mix of breakfast items and lunch items, so there is something for everyone to enjoy. We offer fresh-baked pastries and our wood-fired bread, which we make daily. We take approachable dishes and enhance them, making them unique to our restaurant. Things like green eggs and ham Benedict and PBJ-stuffed pancakes are good examples of that.
What can we expect from the lunch menu?
Expect to see similar items that we offer at brunch and more sandwiches and salads for guests to enjoy. We will also offer a two-course lunch experience with rotating apps and mains for a set price.
What would you most like people to know before they eat your food?
Going back to sourcing, it’s essential for the guest to understand how hard we work in order to source only the best ingredients for their menus. We present them in a very approachable and unique way, and we hope to provide all of our guests with an amazing experience.