If you are looking for the seventh blog to report on the newly opened restaurant The Optimist, then it is confirmed, you are in the correct place.
I’ve been eagerly anticipating the opening of Ford Fry’s (JCT) new restaurant, helmed by Adam Evans, former sous chef of JCT. The Optimist is close to my side of town (next door to Octane), and Atlanta could surely use more high quality, but casual, seafood spots, especially one with a raw bar. Knowing how good FIG is, when last year I heard Mike Lata was opening an oyster bar in Charleston (The Ordinary), I lusted for one of our own.
I was invited to try The Optimist (read: free meal) and though I often eschew these offers, recent eating trips to Charleston, Vegas, and Chicago have put a dent in my budget. And besides, such an invite provides reason to give the restaurant an early run, before they hit their stride. As such, this shouldn’t be perceived as a proper review, but just a few photos and thoughts, with any criticism intended as early feedback.
First of all, the space is extremely well done. They did a superb job with the renovation. The restaurant has patio seating, a raw bar room, and a tremendous main dining room, with a high ceiling, dozens of custom hanging light fixtures one might expect in the hull of a ship, walls which are balanced with soft wood paneling, a large view into the open kitchen, and on the opposite side of the room, a long, and at the time, heavily populated bar. I wondered to myself how loud the room would become when full, but the aforementioned wood paneling was probably intended to soften the acoustics.
It’s always a welcome sign to walk into a seafood restaurant and see shellfish on ice (Kyma comes to mind), which is what one encounters when they walk past the raw bar to the maître’d stand. I plan on spending a little time here in the future.
The bread service is comprised of warm, buttery salted dinner rolls, which are quite good, though I try not to fill up on bread these days. When eating as much as I do, one has to pick their battles.
Katie and I shared some crispy green beans ($7), very well done in a soft tempura style, with a “buttermilk-dill mignonette”. Who we are kidding? We all know it’s basically homemade ranch dressing, and a flavorful one at that.
I sampled a couple of both East and West Coast oysters ($2.50-$3 each), while my vegetarian wife stared in horror. I asked my server what each one was as he tried to run off, and he quickly told me, “the small ones are West Coast, the large ones are East.” Yeah, thanks.
Usually I think it’s proper to eat high quality oysters unadorned, though I did sample a few shots of the homemade hot sauce. That and their cocktail sauce would be fantastic at an Apalachicola oyster roast, but my suspicion that the heat did too much to mask the oyster’s natural liquor was correct.
Who doesn’t love an open kitchen?
Katie sampled the skate “schnitzel” ($22), a somewhat fickle fish which tastes sweet and clean at it’s best, though can easily take on that “fishey” or ammonia taste if not cleaned properly and served within its short shelf live. It was a brave choice for someone who has only eaten fish a handful of times. While the breaded fish was pan fried quite well (a common preparation for this fish) with tasty seasoning, the fish was undercooked for my tastes.
However, my duck fat poached swordfish ($24) was fabulous. I’ve never had a thick piece such as this that was so tender all the way through. The brilliant fish was gently accompanied by some un-distracting pickled sweet peppers and a thin disc of crispy pancetta. I would easily recommend this to anyone. Katie even loved it, not knowing how it was prepared. I told her after she finished.
My expectations are high at these prices, but we had fun and there’s lots of promise. The swordfish was as enjoyable as any piece of fish I’ve had in a while. However, it’s more my speed to end up at the raw bar, or the lively regular bar, and I plan on remedying that in the near future. Just as soon as my credit card recovers.