You can’t help but feel optimistic about Chef Ford Fry’s new restaurant, The Optimist. From the name to the talented Fry and executive chef Adam Evans, the restaurant has been highly anticipated since it was announced last fall.
The Optimist takes its name from a small sailing dinghy as well as the upbeat attitude felt towards catching the next big fish. The menu focuses on sustainable seafood dishes that are prepared in a wood burning grill and oven. Landlubbers needn’t fear; there are several mouthwatering turf options.
Chef Fry excels at cooking superb fish without complicated preparations (the salmon sandwich at JCT Kitchen is my top pick for lunch in Atlanta), so I was looking forward to my first taste of The Optimist.
You enter The Optimist though the oyster bar, which has the look and feel of one in New England – so much so that you almost expect to see water outside instead of Howell Mill Road. The adjoining restaurant is a large open space with a bar at one end and the kitchen at the other. The décor is a warm mix of wood, off-white and nautical blue. The high ceiling with its wood paneling has the (intentional?) look of a hull of a ship.
Cleverly named cocktails help you get in the seaside spirit. The Beach Shanty is a refreshing mix of Allagash white ale, spiced rum, lemon and ginger liqueur. Also quite tasty is the Cutty Shark, made with Cutty Sark scotch, honey, lemon and lavender bitters, with whipped egg whites giving it a thick head of foam.
If you’re seated at the oyster bar, be sure to try the delicious (and strong) punch – either the house punch or the punch of the day. The house punch is made with Gosling’s black rum, Hennessy VS cognac, black tea, sugar, lemon and Leopold Brothers’ Georgia peach whiskey.
My husband and I started our meal with two shellfish appetizers: fried oysters and mussels. The “Angels on Horseback” was The Optimist’s take on bacon-wrapped oysters — fried oysters served on top of pork belly with a scattering of picked mushrooms. The salty and savory flavors of the oysters and pork were a great combination. The mussels were served in a green curry broth that had a spicy kick. We were glad there was a large piece of bread to soak it up.
For our main course we shared halibut and tuna. The Alaskan halibut was served with wood grilled hen of the wood mushrooms and a red wine bordelaise sauce. We enjoyed the sauce and the texture of the halibut, though the fish was a touch over salted.
The tuna was served with harissa, charred octopus and potato salad. At first glance we thought the hot chili sauce would overpower the delicate fish, yet Chef Evans was able to pull it off. The tuna was cooked perfectly, with a lovely rare center. I just wished that we had more than the one piece of octopus.
As most entrees keep the focus on the fish, you’ll want to order a couple of side dishes. There are plenty of tempting offerings, from beignet-style corn milk hushpuppies to potato gnocchi with lobster butter. We enjoyed the sautéed mushrooms and the wood roasted beets that were drizzled with a smoky vinaigrette.
Though quite full, we were persuaded by our server to taste the grapefruit tart. The tart was topped with candied honeysuckle, curls of Venezuelan white chocolate and a mimosa reduction. Pastry chef Taria Camerino created the dessert with the restaurant’s theme in mind; grapefruit and mimosa are said to have happiness-inducing properties.
Throughout the evening we had great service. Our server was friendly and attentive, and our food came out promptly.
The future looks very bright for The Optimist.
The Optimist and The Oyster Bar at The Optimist, 914 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. (404) 477-6260
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