The Optimist – West Midtown
JCT Kitchen remains one of my favorite restaurants, so I expected nothing less than perfection from The Optimist, Chef Ford Fry’s newest dining concept. The seafood restaurant exceeded my expectations.
The Optimist shares JCT’s simple understated style, but The Optimist’s dining room is wide and open, drawing in layers of natural light from large windows, the tables are spread farther apart, and the seats are larger. No need to feel compelled (or obligated) to get to know your neighbor. Also, the restaurant features Oyster Bar located in a separate room that offers a raw bar with east coast oysters and peel and eat shrimp, small plates, beer, wine, punches and oyster backs.
The Food. On my first adventure to The Optimist, the restaurant had been open only one week. Nevertheless, our server knew everything about the menu’s offering of food and drinks and made spot on recommendations for both. We started with two inventive specialty cocktails (the Port Antonio is my favorite) along with crispy long beans and an order of whole ga white shrimp. Our waiter warned us the shrimp is served with heads on and he brought hot towels for our hands. Admittedly, I’m a lazy diner who prefers to not work for my food; however, I thoroughly enjoyed the shrimp. The flavors were perfectly combined. I’d order the dish again in a heartbeat. Plus, getting a little dirty on a date is fun. (Update: I did order it on my second visit)
We debated about entrees, considering Florida grouper, Alaskan halibut, whole roasted Georgia trout and wood roasted half Amish chicken before settling on grouper and chicken so we both could sample each. The grouper, served with smoked Vidalia onion and horseradish broth, tasted divine, while the chicken with salsa verde, was quite exotic – a tangy, savory sensation. Entrees are presented a la carte; therefore, we complemented our dishes with potato gnocchi in lobster butter and buttered spring onion potato puree. The airy texture of the gnocchi was an unexpected treat and the potatoes tasted as though they were mashed in my grandmother’s kitchen.
We ended the meal with dessert whether we actually saved room or not. Buttermilk donuts with sweet corn ice cream and hot pepper jam for me and pound cake with ice cream and chocolate sauce for A. I love donuts. There, I said it. I enjoyed these immensely, but I’d be lying if I claimed they top JCT’s Brioche Doughnuts with espresso ice cream. Regardless, donuts are not always on The Optimist’s menu and the other desserts are phenomenal. We enjoyed peach cobbler the second time around.
Will I go back to The Optimist? I already have and plan to keep returning. You should, too. Tonight.
Go for: Dates, group dining.
What to know: Complimentary valet.
Contact: 914 Howell Mill Rd. | www.optimistoysterbar.tumblr.com | 404-477-6260
Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee