At first, veteran restaurateur Charlie Venis says Opa! is the Greek equivalent expression of hee-haw. "Well," he corrects, "what it really means is 'let's enjoy life.' Get excited."
The latter is what we did when our server shouted "Opa!" as he flicked his Bic above the saganaki, setting it ablaze and igniting a desire for the assuring presence of sprinkler heads. Saganaki is thick pie sections of lightly breaded Romano cheese that is deep-fried, placed on a hot metal plate and doused with a shot of vodka that hisses and steams.
Saganaki is a profoundly significant dish at Charlie's Opa! Grille. This fledgling Greek restaurant has yet to secure a liquor license, and it's the only way to catch a little hooch buzz, though. Opa! does offer complimentary glasses of wine in the interim. The saganaki Romano pads are moist and chewy, even if the bottom is a little too charred to create a perfect flaming moment.
But if charred cheese gets you down, there are other distractions, including endless plates of warm bread (sans butter) and bowls of olives.
There is lots of other genuine Greek cuisine, too. Dolmas avgolemono, stuffed grape leaves filled with spiced meat and topped with a butter sauce, were moist with a pronounced wisp of clove.
Hard to figure, though, how Charlie's kitchen got the calamari in the kalamaria tiganita so tender that it could very nearly be siphoned through a soda straw. Dredged in flour and pan-seared, the body pieces (no tentacles) are doused in lemon-garlic butter, adding a little zip to the mush.
Straying a little from Greek, Opa! offers a Caesar salad. Detectable anchovy and lemon dressed the chopped romaine while the Greek salad had all of the usual fresh suspects swamped in a fiercely searing dressing suitably punched with oregano.
Venis opened Opa! Grille in a strip mall slot on Preston Road just south of LBJ Freeway. Venis' past forays include Greek Isles Grille in Plano, Goldfinger and Kostas near Bachman Lake. It's outfitted with a faux arbor in the center of the restaurant and a faux well in the faux arbor. Postcard Greek Isle scenery shots are framed with windowpanes and shutters: swell views for the perspective-impaired.
But such cheese doesn't impact the flavor of the food--much. Opa! platter, a cuisine sampler, is packed with flaky and elegant spanakopita (a phyllo pie jammed with spinach, eggs and cheese), juicy grilled chicken and a gyros carving that was lean. Moussaka, the traditional baked layered lasagna-like creation made with ground beef, eggplant and lamb topped with a cheese béchamel sauce, was smooth, well herbed and delicately light.
Even the rack of lamb was simple sublimity: a grilling of juicy pink medallions that left most of the heavy lifting to the natural lamb flavors.
There were conspicuous stumbles, though. Beef tenderloin was a gray soggy kitchen sponge of a cut without any herb or spice clarity to rescue the forlorn textures. Shrimp myconos, sautéed shrimp over rice with tomato sauce littered with feta cheese, was virtually inedible, so fishy was the fume.
As fast as Opa! sinks you into the sorry depths of ghastly grub, it uplifts you with mind-bendingly simple centerpiece treatments. Pork medallions in a light sherry wine sauce were mouth-meltingly tender and lusciously juicy. Chicken lemonati, a marinated and grilled chicken breast topped with artichokes and mushrooms in a chicken broth lemon-butter sauce, was another blazing example of exquisitely executed simplicity.
Yet despite the name, it's a sure bet that no cheese arsonist will ever squeal "hee-haw." And picker Roy Clark will never wrap his twang around "Opa!"
12829 Preston Road, 972-661-0134. Open 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily. Open for dinner 5 p.m-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. $-$$
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