Ford Fry has brought his optimism about the West Midtown dining scene to another Howell Mill Road location. The Optimist is located just up the street from his other west side eatery, JCT Kitchen. The new space, located inside a former ham warehouse, has been transformed into what is apparently the designer’s idea of a fish camp. Now, I have been to a couple fish camps in the past and the good news for us is that this beautifully designed and fastidiously detailed space is nothing like any of the dank fish camps I have ever visited.
As you approach from the parking lot, you pass an insanely difficult putting green area on your way to the front door. I assume they put this here to provide some entertainment for patrons who might be waiting for a table; but for our purposes, it was just a source of amusement for my husband as he mocked my feeble attempts to sink a ball as we enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail.
Upon entering, you discover that The Optimist is actually two concepts in one cleverly divided space. The room is simply named “The Oyster Bar”. Offering a great raw bar and a selection of small plates, most of which are prepared in an open wood oven right there at the bar. Also worth mentioning is the signature Fish House Punch. A blend of Gosling’s Black Rum, Hennessy V.S. cognac, black tea, sugar, lemon, peach whiskey and what is undoubtedly some sort of black magic this stuff is wickedly addictive (too bad this place is a block from my apartment).
After our putt-putt and cocktails, we were seated at one of the long banquets that stretch across the expansive main dining room. Although I would have preferred to dine at one of the super cozy booths across the back wall, we were running late for our reservation so I decided not to be that guy. The dining room is absolutely stunning. The warehouse high ceilings and concrete floors are made warm with reclaimed wood accents, high end finishes, and cleverly curated nautical themed décor.
We were quickly greeted by Daniel who was our server for the evening, whom to my pleasant surprise didn’t launch into some long soliloquy of daily specials because, as he smartly pointed out, the menus are printed daily. As it stands, the expansive menu has plenty of fantastic options to choose from. He was so kind, however, to point out a few of his favorites to help narrow down my search.
For starters, we had to try a couple of the Raw oysters, which where amazingly fresh given our inland location. Served on ice with a house mignonette and freshly grated horseradish. Perfect!
That was followed by a few selections from the small plates menu. There were mussels steamed with a Birds Eye Chile in a green curry broth which were delicious. Now, I’d heard before our visit that Executive Chef Adam Evans can be a touch heavy handed with heat but, in my opinion, I would have liked a little more heat. We also had the whole Georgia White Shrimp A La Plancha with “Sopping Toast”. The sauce was fantastic and the shrimp where fresh and delicious (unfortunately, the shrimp weren’t deveined all that well). I’m not sure that’s exactly what the chef intended when he included the quote “messy, but worth it!” on the menu.
For the entrée course I took one of Daniel’s suggestions and chose the seared rare tuna, charred octopus & potato salad, harissa. My fish was seared perfectly rare, the octopus was crispy and delicious, and the warm potato salad with harissa was a great complement. However, the harissa, typically a hot Tunisian pepper sauce, again left me looking for a little more heat. My husband chose the Maine sea scallops with an oxtail marmalade and brown butter-chicken jus. He thought the savory sauce was a bit of an odd pairing with the lightness of the scallops, but I thought it was triumphant and the highlight of the night.
Offering great options for pairing by the glass with each course or plenty of heavy hitter options if you prefer to go for the gusto with a bottle or two, the wine list features a selection nearly as vast as the dinner menu.
Now be prepared. Being surrounded by all this beauty and having all these delicious treats to choose from comes at a price. At three bucks an oyster, the average small plate coming in at around nine dollars, and an entrée at somewhere around twenty five, you can rack up quite a bill in short order. And that’s before you order wine and a cocktail or two. But I say, what the hell, you’re worth it! So, grab your someone special and head over to The Optimist for what will surely be a special evening made so by this unique eatery.
Visit Clayton’s website at www.feedinfrank.com for more restaurant reviews!