Located in one of New York's most densely populated sections, Opus serves gluten-free, dairy-free, and peanut oil-free food in addition to regular items. Though I have no food allergies, for the many people who are allergic or those with celiac disease, Opus provides delightful alternatives. To savor regional and Bari-inspired Italian cuisine, diners have many worry-free choices. Owners Giuseppe and Enzo Lentini arrived in New York from Bari, Italy about 35 years ago.
Though the brothers are steeped in Bari culinary traditions, their menu also features selections from other parts of Italy and is prepared "casa linga" (home-style). Giuseppe has cooked since age 13 and handles the kitchen, while Enzo supervises the front of the house. After losing the lease for their restaurant Lantini, they rebounded with Opus on the same block. The new restaurant is modern, sparse with clean lines. Diners may either sit in the bar section and watch Giuseppe make pizza and other mouth-watering dishes or sit in a quieter part of the eatery. French doors open onto Second Avenue.
Bari cuisine is enriched by a wide variety of fruit and vegetables produced locally. Three typical agricultural products are found within the surrounding Puglia region: wheat, olive oil, and wine. Local flour is used to make homemade bread and pasta, including most notably, the famous orecchiette hat-shaped pasta, recchietelle or strascinate, chiancarelle (orecchiette of different sizes), and cavatelli.
We ordered the Grilled Octopus, $15 and Crab Cakes, $9. It arrived plain with the right hint of slightly charred flavor, the way it is usually served in Bari. My taste, however, requires a spritz of lemon and a drizzle of the aromatic and very tasty olive oil, a specialty of the Puglia region, to make it more enjoyable. The accompanying house-made rosemary focaccia only heightened the eating enjoyment. The crab cakes were the best I have ever had. Enozo calls it “the real McCoy.” This culinary specialty is made with lumps of jumbo crabmeat, sweet red pepper, and parsley and is dusted with almond flour. The crab cakes are served with a Dijon mayonnaise sauce.
According to Giuseppe, Bari is known for its seafood—beef is almost non-existent there, though one can find veal and lamb. The local Ragu alla Barese include lamb, pork, and often horsemeat, considered something of a local delicacy. But that is not on the menu here! I ordered the Fresh Fish and Shellfish Assortment, a tomato-based dish, $23. I could literally taste the care it took to prepare. The tomato sauce was benefited by the addition of fresh tomatoes, while the fish was wonderful, smooth, somewhat sweet, and melted in your mouth. Dip a piece of the homemade focaccia into the delectable broth and savor both. My friend opted for the Veal Scallopini with Gorgonzola and Gratineed Parmigiano, $20. The veal was very tender while the cheeses added a lovely accent to the meat. My friend never tires of this dish.
Pasta al Forno, a baked pasta dish, is very popular in Bari and was historically a Sunday dish or a dish used at the start of Lent. The dish commonly consists of penne or similar tubular pasta, a tomato sauce, polpette (small beef and pork meatballs), and halved hard-boiled eggs. But different families have variations. The pasta is topped with mozzarella or a similar cheese and then oven-baked, which gives the dish its trademark crispy texture.
We also shared the amazing Pappardelle with veal ragout and fresh pesto, $20. The pasta is house-made and cooked perfectly al dente. I could have had more but was running out of room. Another unusual presentation and perhaps a good choice would have been the fresh bucatini with fresh sardines, raisins, and pine nuts, $18 or the penne with rabbit in light tomato sauce, $20, which I will certainly try the next time around.
Opus also serves first-rate 12-inch pizza made either with cheese or dairy free, $15 to $19. Do try one of the fourteen varieties. I promise you will not regret it. Giuseppe told me he has the diners’ best interests and their enjoyment foremost in mind, not wanting to present them with what he might like, but what they would enjoy: simple food, the freshest you can find, cooked to perfection. That is true gourmet food!
Three desserts are noteworthy at Opus: the delightfully fluffy, not too sweet, gluten-free Italian cheesecake made with almond "flour" and citrus zest, $8, the finger-licking-good Tiramisu, $8.00, and the unusual granita with figs and cactus pears. Bari and its province, not to mention the Puglia region, which has a range of notable wines, included Primitivo, Castel del Monte, and Moscato di Trani.
Location: 1574 Second Avenue
Hours of operation: Seven days a week. 5:00 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday until 11:00 p.m.
Free delivery from between 61st and 96th Streets and between Fifth Avenue and the East River.