With its colorful, baroque interior, you wouldn’t expect to find yourself in a Chinese restaurant. But that’s exactly what Opera is. Well, a modern variation. Gone are the  plastic-covered high-back chairs. Absent are the statues of fat, smiling buddhas.  The only thing you’ll find here are the occasional bare breasts, discreetly plastered across the walls in a sort of Chinese newspaper graffiti. Though the trend for Asian-Fusion restaurants in Chicago is at an all-time high, Opera is definitely leading the pack. No offense to its somewhat generic cohorts, *cough* P.F. Changs *cough*, but Opera brings a fresh approach to modern, regional Chinese cooking. The menu unfurls somewhat poetically, divided into “sky”, “land”, and “sea”. Appetizers range from Main Lobster Spring Rolls to Twice Cooked Crispy Wings and everything in between. Unfortunately, one of the menu’s most refreshing highlights has disappeared: an Asian-style nacho plate made with crisp wonton wrappers, avocados, duck-meat, and a savory-sweet plum sauce.  Perhaps they didn’t like using the word, “nachos”. Entrees at Opera include dishes from the south-east, like Massaman Braised Short Ribs and Singapore Noodles, as well as more familiar Chinese menu items. The Firecracker Chicken, a nod to traditional Kung Pao, is perfect for those looking for a more familiar tasting Chinese-American dish. The Kung Pao Tofu doesn’t even taste like tofu. Its texture and flavor have been embellished so much so that you wonder if you’re eating chicken. Patrons looking for a more modern approach should check out the “grilled” section, where they can choose from items such as a 1/2 chicken cooked Vietnamese style, NY strip steak with a ginger-soy sauce, and even a Kobe beef burger with fried egg on top. Though it may seem a little whimsical on the inside, part circus, part underground Chinese gang land, the food at Opera is definitely focused. Creative concepts, succesful executions, and an atmosphere that is both imaginative and strange. What more could you ask for?

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