Restaurant of Requirement

Restaurant of Requirement

Monrovia’s Caffe Opera fulfills every evening need

By Erica Wayne 10/09/2013

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One of the most delightful creations of J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter series is the Room of Requirement. According to Dobby the House Elf, “It is a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it … When it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker’s needs.” In other words, a lifesaver.   

Well, last night, freshly returned from a hectic three-week trip necessitated by my husband’s need to collect an engineering award in Dresden but giving us a chance to visit Prague, Vienna, Budapest and London, with a side-trip to Watford Junction’s Warner Bros. Studios where the Harry Potter films were shot, we required a restaurant where “rest” was the operative syllable.

Jet lag, mounds of laundry, six grumpy cats, cancellation by UC of their signature health care plan while we were gone, mountains of bills and newspapers, demands for attention by my husband’s grad students, imminent arrival by East Coast relatives for a weeklong stay and a shutdown of our government all caused us to have “real need” to escape to someplace where we could gain a modicum of respite from the onslaught of imminent obligations.

Luckily, without even having to walk past its location three times to make it appear (a necessity at Hogwarts to “magic” the Room of Requirement), we easily discovered Monrovia’s Opera on our first pass north on Myrtle Avenue and found its elegant ambiance, unobtrusive service and delicious food perfectly suited to our immediate needs.Situated on the southeast corner of Myrtle and Lime, Opera is a beautiful restaurant. Its two-story high dining room is quite large with tall windows on the main level of the two street-facing sides and clerestory windows above, giving diners a wonderful view of black and white striped awnings, passers-by and tree-top vistas with street noise almost completely muted.

The room is lit from above with dimmed track lighting, flickering oil lamps on each table and Venetian glass sconces. Walls are painted charcoal and burgundy (matching the linen napkins), tablecloths are crisp and white. Four slightly elevated and very comfy booths flank the south wall, one of which we snagged. Other diners are seated at spaciously placed tables on carpeted floors.

Unobtrusive paintings line the room. An enormous looking glass (reminiscent of Rowling’s Mirror of Erised) is oddly positioned at floor level, obliquely parked against a wall and reflecting the interior. A wall fountain above the wine rack trickles over a bed of terrazzo. A classical music backdrop lowers anxiety levels. The kitchen is visible along the eastern wall, but a glass barrier mutes any clatter of silver or china.

And then there’s the food. We opted for Opera’s special prix fixe menu: A choice from five appetizers, 12 entrees and three desserts, along with a glass of wine for a mere $32. While we were selecting, our server brought us an adorable aluminum basket (with cut-out stencils of bread types) holding warm crusty slices of excellent loaves, some plain, others with slices of hot chili peppers baked in, and whipped butter.

We chose fried calamari and a mixed green salad topped with gorgonzola, smoked bacon, poached pear and balsamic vinaigrette as our starters, chardonnay as our wine. I was a bit disappointed when the calamari arrived; two thick “logs” instead of small rings and tendrils. But panko crusted, well-seasoned and piping hot, they were quite tasty. The salad was good (nice pear and lots of bacon) if a bit overdressed. Next time I might opt for one of the simpler Caesars that I noticed being delivered to our neighbors.

Among the main dishes, our selections were trout almondine and spicy linguini with jumbo shrimp. When the platters appeared, we were impressed by their attractiveness. Admittedly, there were only two shrimp atop the pasta, but they were fetchingly intertwined and very tender. The sauce was spiked with just enough pepper flakes and freshly chopped basil to make it interesting and was incredibly rich — lots of cream, butter and cheese mixed into its tomato base.

The butterflied trout had been pan-seared and perched, with a roundel of caper-stuffed butter, on a square of scalloped potato. Adorning the plate were a heap of garlicky emerald broccoli florettes and caramelized carrots with just a hint of a sweet spice, possibly mace. The perfectly cooked fish was sprinkled with a smattering of almond slices. And both entrees were so generously portioned that (alas) some pasta had to be sacrificed back to the kitchen.

By the time our desserts, warm chocolate bread pudding with crème anglaise (obviously created in-house) and lemon layer cake (obviously imported from an off-site bakery) were presented, each with a spritz of light whipped cream, we were way too full to do more than taste. But Opera had done its magic. As we prepared to leave our concerns seemed less pressing and we felt girded for the chores ahead.

On the way out, we peered into the adjacent bar (Bar O). Brighter and smaller, with banquette seating along lateral walls and a large manned bar and flat-screened TV tuned to baseball at the rear, it seemed a nice place to hang out. And, as our server had confided, Opera’s entire menu is available at a 25 percent discount for Bar O customers, a very appealing prospect for sampling the large a la carte bill of fare.

Another hint from the server: Opera (like Hogwarts’ Great Hall) is ornately decorated for the holidays. If anything could make the lovely dining room even more so, I imagine it would be Christmas lights, ornaments and perhaps even a tree.

So, for the next few months (especially after Daylight Savings Time ends and my mood, like Persephone’s, declines till spring), Opera will continue to serve as my “restaurant of requirement” whenever I need cheering up.

Caffe Opera
402 S. Myrtle Avenue,
Monrovia
(626) 305-0094
Full bar/Major cards
caffeopera.com

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