*What’s Up’s 2013 Best of the Best nomination form is up! Nominate Opus for the best veggie-friendly restaurant category. Deadline is March 31.*
This review was originally published in the Tiempo Dining Out section of the El Paso Times on February 15, 2013 as part of a series of monthly reviews that feature vegetarian friendly restaurants in the El Paso region.
Most restaurants shy away from adding vegan dishes to their menus because most people shun the label. Chef Michael Ross of Opus World Bistro waves away any negative notions by creatively accommodating this underserved community. After receiving many requests for vegetarian dishes and developing a relationship with the Vegetarian Society of El Paso, he has created an eclectic vegan menu that plays on textures and flavor combinations.
Opus has lunch and dinner menus Tuesdays through Saturdays and a Sunday brunch with endless mimosas and sangria— all vegan friendly. As the restaurant’s name implies, these menus take you around the world. Much of the influence is from Asia and the Mediterranean. All vegan menu items are clearly indicated with a leaf symbol, in which you’ll notice that there are a lot of leaf symbols on the menu. You’ll also notice that they aren’t your typical, boring salad and roasted vegetable plate options. They are well-thought-out entrees with much knowledge behind them.
At lunch, you can choose among small plate appetizers, salads, soup, sandwiches and pasta dishes. The most creative lunch item is the eggplant “bacon” sandwich, which is an interpretation of a BLT. Thin slices of eggplant are seasoned with what tastes like smoked paprika and baked at a low degree for hours; a method commonly used in place of a food dehydrator. The outcome has a smoky crunch with a hint of sweetness that offers a pleasant alternative to its high-cholesterol converse. The sandwich is served on a bolillo roll or whole-wheat sandwich bread with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and a tahini-based spread in place of mayo. All sandwiches come with a choice of soup or salad.
Small-plate appetizers during lunch and dinner include spiced lentil samosas, kimchi and shiitake pancakes, and vegetable spring rolls. Samosas seem to be popular, because they had run out on two separate occasions. The vegetable spring rolls are fried and have a delicate, crisp texture that isn’t greasy and doesn’t fall apart. Six spring rolls stuffed with cabbage and carrots come with a sweet orange chile dipping sauce. The silver-dollar sized Korean pancakes come with a soy dipping sauce that has the taste and consistency of molasses. The pancakes are soft and have an earthiness from the mushrooms and a fresh scallion flavor. I couldn’t really taste the kimchi, but the orangey hue of the pancakes indicated its presence.
During dinner, a basket of lavash (thin, crispy Middle Eastern bread) and mini cornbread muffins along with cream cheese and cottage cheese dip is brought to your table. Specify vegan, and you’ll get a basket of spicy papads (an even thinner crispy flatbread from India, also known as papadums) and creamy non-dairy-based jalapeño dip.
The current vegan dinner menu boldly offers mimics of classic seafood dishes such as paella and “crab cakes.” The faux crab cakes consist of a blend of tofu, bulgur wheat (the grain commonly found in tabouleh salad), seaweed and spices. The texture and flavor is so dead on, you’ll never know you’re eating tofu. The dish is topped with a corn basil relish and avocado.
Another entree presents a fusion of Asian flavors, a lentil mixture stuffed into garlic tofu pockets and served with sautéed bok choy over a yellow curry sauce. The lentil filling lacked flavor, seeming to solely serve the purpose of texture and protein, but was redeemed when combined with the garlicky tofu skins, ginger topping and thick, creamy sauce that tasted like Madras curry powder.
Vegan options don’t end at dessert. During my visit, chocolate ganache cake and apple tart would have been available if they hadn’t run out. I opted for the Italian wedding cake, which would’ve been great if it didn’t taste like it had been sitting in the fridge past its prime. Pecans and coconut are speckled throughout layers of white cake and a thick cream-cheese icing. Creme anglaise (a custard sauce) and a couple of blackberries are served alongside the cake.
Opus also hosts non-vegan and vegan wine dinners on Thursdays. Chef Ross makes sure to pair the four courses with vegan-friendly wines, as the majority of wineries use animal-derived fining agents such as casein, gelatin or isinglass during the winemaking process. Suitable alternatives can include carbon, limestone or plant casein.
Both blessing and curse is the seasonality of the Opus menus. If a past favorite is gone or all of these choices can’t satiate your palate, Chef Ross is happy to prepare something off the menu with available ingredients. He will also accommodate anyone with other dietary restrictions such as gluten sensitivities. At Opus, it’s haute to go vegan regardless of your eating habits.
Amazing vegan wine dinner from October 26, 2012:
- Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 11am-9pm; Friday 11am-10pm; Saturday 5-10pm; Sunday 11am-3pm. Monday closed.
- Cost: $$-$$$.