Monday, June 11, 2012

Restaurant Preview: The Optimist

Atlanta is not a seafood town. We're a good 4+ hours from the nearest coast, so that's not a big surprise. But still, a gal wants a good seafood dinner sometimes, right? So it was with great excitement that I checked out Ford Fry's new restaurant, The Optimist, last week.

I was immediately struck by how beautiful (and huge!) this west midtown spot is. The decor is subtly nautical with a hint of NYC cool. With a soaring hull like ceiling, white subway tiles and rustic tables, The Optimist is one of the prettiest spots in town.

No hot spot is complete without an interesting cocktail list these days. We kicked things off with an old salty dog (vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, salted rim) and a Port Antonio Cocktail (Gosling's Black Seal Rum, Flor de Cana gold rum, kahlua, lime, housemade velvet falernum, cinnamon). Although it was the Mr.'s drink (complete with a very manly tiny umbrella!), I preferred the Port Antonio. I couldn't quite place why it tasted so unusual, but thanks to the glories of Wikipedia, I bet it was the falernum, a sweet syrup with almonds, ginger or cloves and lime.

We had the good fortune to be seated next to Ford Fry himself, who was trying out the restaurant as a guest for the first time. Ever the intrepid reporter, I chatted him up and learned that he's got big plans for more restaurants in town. Since everything he touches turns to gold, color me excited!

Our very enthusiastic waitress got us started with a couple of Parker rolls. Usually I skip the bread because I'm a carb Nazi. But these were just so warm and yummy looking, I couldn't resist. And great googly moogly, they were good! A little salty, a little doughy, I could eat a whole batch of these. Seriously, why aren't everybody's rolls this good?

The Optimist comes complete with an oyster bar, so we started with a sampling of the east coast and west coast oysters. This may just be a June thing, but allow me to strongly recommend the west coast over their wee eastern brethren. The west coast oysters were huge and succulent, just like I like 'em!

Next up...more oysters! This time fried with pork belly, pickled mushrooms, and red wine fish bordelaise. Yep, these are just as awesome as they sound. Simultaneously crunchy and creamy with rich umami flavors. I want more of these. Right now.

The crabby coconut broth served with mussels was even better when sopped up with a buttery toast point. There's nothing more disappointing than a weak sauce mussel broth, so we were very pleased that this one was so darned flavorful. Even better unlike last time the Mr. and I ordered mussels, he didn't almost die from food poisoning.

Fortunately we were pretty darn gluttonous when it came to the appetizers because the service is still slow. The restaurant is brand spanking new and already popular, so that's to be expected, and I am sure that will get sorted out in the next couple of weeks. Our lovely waitress was oh so apologetic, so we didn't mind too much. 

The main downside is that my stomach had plenty of time to send my brain the signal that I was full so I didn't eat as much of my entree as I would have liked. The Optimist serves sustainable seafood, so of course for the main event we had to go with fish. Other than sushi, the Mr. and I rarely order fish when we're out because more often than not it's so overwhelmingly average tasting that we wish we'd gotten meat.

Fortunately, the seafood at The Optimist all sounds genuinely interesting, so my interest was at least piqued. We chose a skate wing schnitzel and a duck fat poached swordfish. They're not serving that anywhere else in town, now are they? I'm a sucker for schnitzel, but I've never had it with fish. The breading was perfectly crisped and the bite of lemon and capers kept things interesting.

The swordfish was much subtler with the boldest flavors coming from pickled peppers and crispy pancetta. Given my normal carnivore ways, I'm not shocked that the schnitzel was my fave because it was definitely the meatier of the two.

The fish dishes are a la carte, so our epic pig out continued with sides of beignet style hush puppies with cane sugar butter and potato gnocchi with lobster butter and corn. The hush puppies might be too dessert-like for some, but I never met a beignet I didn't like, so I loved them! I could imagine sitting at their lovely bar and just slinging back cocktails with some raw oysters and a side of hush puppies. Heaven!

I also enjoyed the sweetness of the corn paired with the gnocchi. My Italian purist hubby didn't think they wer quite pillowy enough, but I actually really liked their creamier consistency. Potato, Potahto (literally). 

All in all, I was very impressed! The vibe is sexy and cool, perfect for a night out with friends, a hot date, or just nibbles at the bar. In a sea (pun fully intended) of same-same southern spots, The Optimist is southern influenced but quite distinctive. Don't like seafood? Never fear, there is a little bit of meat, too, and with dishes like lamb belly, you'll be just fine. 

I'm a big fan of Ford's, and although it's still early days, I think The Optimist is a very worthy and much needed addition to the Atlanta restaurant scene

The Optimist 
914 Howell Mill Rd.
Atlanta, GA 30318
404 477 6260

*Full disclosure: Although my meal was comped, I always endeavor to offer my unbiased opinion of the experience! I really am this into The Optimist!

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