The minute I walked into OPM Restaurant & Lounge and was led into the room by a curvy hostess in a tight dress, I noticed something peculiar with the crowd: women outnumbered men about 20 to 1. They were all dressed-up, made-up and toasting one another with skinny glasses. Most were in their twenties, sitting in groups of six or more. I suspect there were at least two bachelorette parties present. OPM was the kind of place that would be conducive to that, as well as birthdays.
If this were the 1990s, I would liken OPM to a trendy Midtown hotspot in which Carrie Bradshaw and her girlfriends might convene to gossip about Mr. Big over Cosmos, but OPM was more Sin City than Big Apple. A faux hedge made up the walls along an upper section and throughout the M.C. Escher-esque space, which was otherwise decorated with a frosty silver color scheme and tasteful mix of Victorian-style parlor chairs and long plushy couches. On the lower level, two gigantic speakers that resemble NASA rocket boosters flanked a DJ podium, with its multiple computer monitors.
The most Vegas-y interior design feature, though, had to be the backlit white leopard-patterned wall that dominated the room as though the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Beneath this, inside cocooned pods that resemble Haunted Mansion Doom Buggies, the few men who were there on dates sat across from their ladies. The rest of them were unescorted and gathered at a bar near the entrance, their eyes glued to a TV tuned to sports. To them, this might as well have been a Buffalo Wild Wings, as most of them were dressed in shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps as though they were in one.
Since I was going to be eating in the restaurant itself, I planned my wardrobe more appropriately. With the first thing listed on the menu being a seafood tower for $149, it seemed wise to have my socks match the color of my pants. Still, I wasn't about to blow my entire budget on an appetizer. Instead, I opted for the scallops. Already a $19 small plate consisting of three prosciutto-wrapped scallop steaks garnished to the nines with flecks of fried herbs, shriveled shishitos atop a curried purée of carrot, each morsel was dolloped with “lemon air,” a soy lecithin head of froth straight from Ferran Adrià's El Bulli playbook. The “air” tasted, expectedly, like nothing, but the scallops were perfectly cooked.
In fact, I noticed the kitchen staff's ability to correctly assess when to stop cooking the seafood pushed a lot of the dishes from good to great. A wild, striped bass that looked as if it were going to be as dry as something from a box labeled Gorton's Fisherman was instead so moist and supple it wiggled on my fork. And the thick peanut-and-miso sauce surrounding the fish and corn kernels that could've easily been too cloying was kept from being so by the ginger the chefs packed into the fish's crust.
For the uni in the udon dish, they don't even apply heat—they just lay the precious lobes of sea urchin raw over the noodles. And because the udon was essentially coated in a rich, cheesy sauce akin to Alfredo, the chefs supplied each bowl with a cheese-cloth-wrapped lemon to squeeze some acid into it. When I did, it instantly turned a heavy dish into a light-footed one.
It was the same for some of OPM's most popular small plates. The tired restaurant trope of roasted bone marrow and toast was given new life, served with coarse salt and a bright parsley salad dressed in lemon, the exact way Fergus Henderson—the man who originally popularized the dish at St. John in London—conceived it.
A DIY pork-belly bun—which drew inevitable comparisons to those at David Chang's Momofuku as any pork-belly bun does these days—came with the bun separated in its own bamboo steamer basket. But most important, a sharp mango and green papaya salad flanked it, proving again the kitchen staff know how to balance rich flavors.
Even still, I was too afraid to try the foie gras dessert. Yes, I said dessert. Though I had full confidence the cooks would make sure the ice cream made with goose liver would be answered by the apple compote that came with it, I opted instead to try the dish that most of the restaurant's customer base would actually order: the green tea tiramisu, a dense rectangle dusted with matcha powder that came complete with green tea Pocky sticks and a macaron on the side. If I know anything about OPM's overwhelmingly female demographic, it's that chicks dig macarons.
OPM Restaurant & Lounge, 8901 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 848-1188; opmhb.com. Open Sun., 10 a.m.-midnight; Tues.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Dinner for two, $50-$100, food only. Full bar.