OPUS pares food and jazz in Armory

Alejandro Betancourt 02/25/08More articles
Armory Square’s latest addition to great food is OPUS, a warm and grown up European style restaurant with cool arts and jazz energy. First time local owners Don and Kristina Dixie are very pleased with the results of their efforts to create a mellow dining spot with live jazz and piano acts. “We wanted to blend in with Armory Square because we want people to go from place to place, but we wanted to be something more relaxing for our age group,” said Tina, who took charge of the design. The home of what used to be Daniel Jacks and Sweet Papa’s Pizza has finally been given justice using the lounge entrance as an overlook to a small stage and intimate tables below. Connected by a sexy spiral staircase, the tall and skinny once-was-alley takes maximizing city spaces to another level, turning the exterior walls of two buildings into interiors now, rich with textures and urban vibe.

The menu at OPUS created by chef Nicolas Dessein brings native experience of Mediterranean kitchens to Syracuse, with respect for old world ingredients and consistency. “The menu is about Mediterranean home style cooking with simple ingredients,” said Dessein, who lists olives and dry salamis as essential flavors, followed by basil, lavender and tomatoes. Regional CNY farms provide groceries for a slow food menu he believes in, even if he has to drive when delivery is not an option. Dessein prepares the sauce for his Lamb Curry entrée for 12 hours and adds details like a berry reduction to the bottom of a crème brulee dessert. Simplicity in his menu is characterized by well thought out pairings of food prepared in traditional kitchens.

Highlights that chef suggests are the Thai Fried Tortellini, surprisingly filled with ginger chicken and lemon grass with a sesame soy sauce, Pizza Flambee that is prepared on light puff pastry, Chicken Provencal pan seared to order with roasted rosemary lemon flavors paired with field mushrooms, and the Lamb Curry which he offers as his best dish.

Meats outnumber seafood menu items, possibly because his favorite meal as a young boy was steak and green beans. “I traveled a lot with my dad through Europe and I remember a restaurant in Paris where they brought us steak and green beans, but the green beans came soft and wrapped in bacon that was crisp,” Dessein said.

He still doesn’t know how they did that. Born in the South of France, he lived in Europe for years before moving to New York and working for restaurants like Balthazar in NYC and recently Lemongrass in Armory Square. His favorite casual foods on the menu are the Cold Meat and Cheese Plate and the Trio de Gamma, featuring homemade tapenade and fresh salsa.

Don kept the bar simple too, offering a better traditional martini instead of a newer fruity drink. Full menu is served at the bar and lounge area that includes a swanky black leather couch for five that overlooks the stage and people watching below with a plasma screen floating at a viewable distance.

The corner stage is elevated a few steps from the main dining floor and is not much larger that the grand piano that usually rests on it. Tina is on the lookout for future jazz acts. So far there have been live piano, DJ and jazz ensemble performances.

Along with performers, artists are welcome to approach the owners about displaying their work. “We’re not showing any local art now, but we would like to,” Tina said.
The couple’s taste in art is completely different according to Don, but they’ve managed to agree on elements of design, entertainment and food that make OPUS live up to its name.

Full catering and a private room are available with customized additions and suggestions (chef creates details such as special infused salad dressings for you).

Dessein’s private notes include designs of regional food tours such as the Mid Eastern Trip or the French Trip with appropriate courses and best-paired wines. Interestingly, there are only two French wines selected by the chef on the list. “Region is not important now,” he said.

The wine list mostly features American wines and some products of international vineyards. “What is important is to know what to drink with it,” he adds, “it can make a dish better or worse.”

Rating: 1.7/5 (10 votes cast)

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