Greetings from an Atlanta!
I was in Chicago last weekend visiting my mother and I just had to share what a great time we had at Opera.
We started out with ruby peach martinis, which were very good if you like drinks that don't taste like alcohol (which we both do). For apps, we had a pork and ginger dumplings and the vegetable spring rolls. Neither one was very inventive, but they were far superior in terms of quality to what you can get just anywhere. The dumplings came with a little bit of broth and some greens on top. They were surprisingly spicy. I wasn't as crazy about the springs rolls because the sauces didn't add much flavor.
For mains, I had the sweet and sour chicken with vanilla-scented pineapple sauce. This was amazing. It was only distantly related to the sticky, red sauced stuff you can get anywhere. The chicken was very lightly fried, making it light and fluffy. It was also very tender white meat, as opposed to what you might normally get in sweet and sour chicken. The chicken was sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds. The sauce was very light, almost not visible, and it added a sweet, pineapple taste (although I couldn't detect the vanilla) that reminds you of the taste of that scary red sweet and sour sauce, but is so much better. There were some cashews and peppers mixed in, and my favorite, lychees!
My mom had the orange beef. This was definitely enough for two people to share, although I thought the chicken was not. I only had a bite of this, but the beef seemed very tender. It tasted like you would expect orange beef to , only better. I guess that's the way I would summarize Opera's food; it's like Americanized Chinese food, only much better. To me, it was like the difference between mac and cheese made with that powdered cheese from a package vs. made with gruyere.
For dessert, we split the banana pudding with date-cognac ice cream. The pudding was similar to a bread pudding with fried banana fritter type things on top and creme anglais you pour on yourself. The ice cream's flavor was very subtle, not overwhelmingly cognac-y.
One of the best parts of the meal was the service. Our waitress was great. I'm kicking myself that I can't remember her name. There was a thread on the not about food board recently where people were talking about whether we could expect good service from waitstaff who are just doing it as a temporary thing. It turns out our waitress is a college student, but she was fantastic. It was so refreshing to see someone who actually seemed to be enjoying her job. It was fun just to watch her work. She made food and drink recommendations, asked about food allergies, and talked about the chef and the neighborhood.
My only complaint about the restaurant was that it was extremely loud. If you are looking for something romantic, I definitely recommend trying to get one of the private vault/booths, otherwise you won't be able to hear your date. For my mom and I it was fine though, because we enjoyed watching the scene.
Although there are many restaurants in Chicago that I want to try, I would go back to Opera in a second.