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

1 comment:

  1. Emily, this place looks wonderful and I absolutely love the name! :)