Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Optimist Atlanta

When I first heard rumors that one of my favorite chefs, Ford Fry, was opening a seafood restaurant, I was pretty excited. It's no secret that I think Ford is one of the most talented people in the city, so I was fairly confident I would like the place, but the reality of it just blew me away. The Smith Hanes designed space makes you feel as if you've somehow found yourself on the Carolina coast, without the tedious drive. The vintage painted brick walls, the vaulted wood ceiling and the blue and white ticking on the bar stools are almost as welcoming as the hostess, Ayesha, who will greet you with a big smile and make you feel right at home. 

You enter through the oyster bar, a great place to pull up a stool and suck down a few bivalves, or, if that isn't your thing, they've also got a separate small plate menu that might tempt your palate.  

One of the things I most appreciate about the space is wandering around and looking at the whimsical touches, like the racks holding Optimist key chains with keys that don't open any door or the framed picture of a towheaded tot admiring his first catch in one of the loos.

The open kitchen allows you to see the carefully orchestrated choreography taking place within, as the team work together to put out plate after plate of amazing food. I would recommend requesting one of the tables opposite so you can enjoy the show.

As with all of Ford's restaurants, you can expect to find some of Atlanta's most talented mixologists slinging drinks behind the bar. The drink above is the Mother of Pearl, my current favorite libation, composed of Death's Door gin, Fever Tree tonic water, Fee Brothers celery bitters, with a celery salt/black pepper crusted rim and celery leaf, fennel frond garnish. This is the perfect thing to sip on as you wait for sundown to bring relief from the stifling southern heat. 

These beauties are the opti yeast rolls with cane syrup butter and sea salt. They are quite possibly the best rolls I've ever eaten. Order them. Even if you are just getting drinks at the bar. You want these rolls.

Frothy she-crab soup with shrimp toast, this may cause your heart to stop beating after the first sip, but it is worth it. Don't be a hero, order the small, unless you are in the habit of drinking a quart of cream on a daily basis. At the risk of sounding repetitive, this is the best she-crab soup I've ever eaten, rich and intense with crab flavor, without that washed up on the seashore funk that some variations have. The shrimp toast is crispy and shrimpy and will have you staring at your fingers in disbelief as you gobble the whole thing down in seconds.

Whole Georgia white shrimp a la plancha, "sopping toast", arbol chile, lime. As my dining companion and I agreed, this sauce is good enough to bathe in, you could serve cardboard-breaded flip flops in this and they would taste delicious, much less the beautifully fresh, wood grilled Georgia shrimp. Your server may try to take the pan away before you have mopped up every last delicious drop, a quick growl under your breath and he will drop it. Not that I know from experience or anything.

The even more incredible crab version of the above dish, this is a special, but if you ever see it on the menu, get it. You can thank me later. Wood grilled crab, that insanely good sauce, an intensely fresh herb salad of Thai basil, this will make your mouth feel happy. 

Executive Chef Adam Evans has a real talent for creating flavors and textures that you will remember for a long time after the plate has been cleared. One such meal is the white bread crusted flounder with tomatoes and picked herbs. The perfectly cooked fish is topped with a thin slice of super crisp, golden brown, buttery bread, that almost seems to function as if it were the fish's own skin. Set on top of heirloom tomatoes bursting with flavor and more of those fresh herbs, it's the kind of dish that makes you want to come back and order it again soon. If you go, be sure to come back here afterwards and let me know which dish you just can't stop thinking about.

The Optimist
914 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA
Tel: 404 477 6260
Fax: 678 705 6156

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Attack is Back!

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It's that time again!! It's time for the Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival!!

Even though it seems as though there are new food festivals popping up in Atlanta all the time, the one that has been my #1 pick since it began three years ago, is the Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival. Created as a fundraiser for Georgia Organics, this great event pairs some of the South's top chefs and mixologists with local farmers to celebrate the fruit, that, in my humble opinion, most epitomizes summer, the tomato.

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Hosted by one of my favorite chefs, Ford Fry, in and around his West Midtown restaurant JCT Kitchen, this year's event will take place this Sunday, July 22, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. You can expect to rock out to the musical stylings of the Spazmatics and local chef band, 5 Bone Rack, as you sip and nibble your way through tomato utopia.    


One of the best bites from last year was the "The Love Apple" created by Chef Christopher Neff from Sprig, a perfect cherry tomato stuffed with summer tomato salad and red snapper ceviche. It was bright and fun and tasted like summer at the beach. I had to slap my own hand to keep from popping about 15 of them in my mouth.


My top pick for drinks, The Pineapple Express, was created by one of the most talented mixologists in the city, Brian Stanger. The gorgeous tomatoes that he was given to work with were as tasty as they were beautiful. I'm lucky he let me try a slice, it had such a fantastic flavor. I wish I had been smart enough to save some seeds from it for my garden!


The above photos are just a few from last year's event. If you want to view the whole photo set, please feel free to do so here.

Most of the chefs are set up outside, and this is July in Atlanta, so dress accordingly and don't forget the sunscreen! For more information, check out the website. If you want to join me there, you can buy your ticket here. This year's line up has chefs coming in from as far away as Washington, DC, so you will not want to miss it!   

Participating chefs include:

Jay Swift of 4th & Swift
David Larkworthy of 5 Seasons Brewing Company
Tyler Williams of Abattoir
Gerry Klaskala of Aria
Andy Carson and Carla Tomasko of Bacchanalia *Won “Best Tasting Dish” in 2011
Shaun Doty of Bantam & Biddy
Todd Ginsberg of Bocado
Carvel Grant Gould of Canoe
Tandy Wilson of City House (in Nashville, TN)
Ryan Smith of Empire State South
Whitney Otawka of Farm 255
Terry Koval of Farm Burger
Harper McClure of The Federalist (in Washington D.C.)
Cooper Miller of The Feed Store
Christopher Schmidt of Floataway Café 
Ford Fry of JCT. Kitchen & Bar
Brent Banda of La Tavola Trattoria
Eric Ottensmeyer of Leon’s Full Service
Zeb Stevenson of Livingston Restaurant + Bar
Chris Hall of Local Three
Steven Satterfield of Miller Union
Donald Sargent of Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream *Won a “Special Mention” in 2011
Drew Belline of No. 246
Adam Evans of The Optimist and Oyster Bar at The Optimist
Andrew Smith of Ormsby’s
Nick Rutherford and Molly Gunn of The Porter
Hector Santiago of Pura Vida *Won “Best Presentation” in 2011
Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun’s, Kevin Rathbun Steak and Krog Bar
Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House *Won “Best Booth” in 2011
Ron Eyester of Rosebud and The Family Dog
Scott Serpas of Serpas True Food
Drew Van Leuvan of Seven Lamps
Jessica Hanners of Souper Jenny
Christopher Neff of Sprig
Eddie Hernandez of Taqueria del Sol *Won “People’s Choice for Best Tasting Dish” in 2011
Chris Marconi of West Egg Café
E.J. Hodgkinson of Woodfire Grill

Participating mixologists include:
Kevin Bragg of 4th& Swift
Ryan McLaughlin of Abattoir
Clay Webb of Bacchanalia
Kellie Thorn of Empire State South
Jarina Naone of Floataway Café
Jerry Slater and Callie Schlosser of H. Harper Station
Andy Minchow of Holeman & Finch Public House   
Lara Creasy of JCT. Kitchen & Bar, No. 246 and The Optimist
                        Miles Macquarrie of Leon’s Full Service *Won “Best Tasting Cocktail” in 2011
                        Stuart White of Miller Union
                        Paul Calvert of Pura Vida *Won “People’s Choice for Best Tasting Cocktail” in 2011
                        Brian Stanger of Woodfire Grill