When The Optimist opened last year, it filled a large void in the Atlanta culinary scene by not only bringing a fresh and fun upscale seafood eatery, but by also adding on a kick-ass raw bar! The exterior of the building isn’t much to look at, but once you enter, smell the wood burning oven, and gaze upon the soaring dining room you know this place is special.
I have yet to enjoy the oyster bar, with its impressive rotation of 15+ oyster varieties (which you can get raw or baked in the wood fired oven) and small plates like whole GA whole shrimp w/ lime and chili, and octopus w/ kimchi puree and candied coriander. They also serve an impressive list of house made “punches” the best of which is the Fish House Punch with Angosling’s black rum, Hennessy V.S. cognac, black tea, sugar, lemon, and Leopold Brothers’ peach whiskey…oh and it comes by the pitcher as well as the glass.
My first experience at The Optimist was dinner two weeks ago, and even though they were packed and we had to wait a little past our reservation, the staff worked like a well oiled machine; seamless transitions, no long waits between courses and prompt, friendly and knowledgeable service! I’ve been back twice, both lunch and another dinner service, and each time I found myself liking the restaurant more and more. Their small plates/appetizer menu has something for everyone and includes a few exciting dishes like spicy Spanish octopus w/ saffron aioli & olives and a warm kale salad w/ crispy pig ears, a soft poached egg and bacon-sherry vinaigrette; both of which were great. The fried oysters were probably my favorite; crispy, but raw in the middle…the texture was mind boggling!
My other favorite small plate was the whole GA white shrimp a la plancha, with “sopping” toast, arbol chile, and lime; as the menu states, they’re “messy but worth it”!
Transitioning to the entrée section of the menu you’ll find several wood grilled, fresh sea fare like monkfish, golden tile, snapper, salmon and even Florida pompano, all with unique finishing touches and accompaniments. I have had both the swordfish poached in duck fat w/ celery root puree & garlic chile relish and salmon w/ amazing wood-roasted red & golden beets, smoked egg, horseradish and apple; both were sublime.
Oh, and don’t worry, they also have some four – legged options for the land lubbers: short rib, chicken, pork chop and rabbit. Aside from the fish, they also have one of the best lobster rolls (with a crap load of claw and tail meat) in the city; sorry Octopus Bar.
While the apps and the main selections are all worthy ordering options, don’t sleep on the sides; roasted brussel sprouts w/ bacon and pickled peppers, the aforementioned beets, and an amazing mash up of basmati curried rice with smoked fish, egg and peanuts!
And then there are the infamous corn milk hushpuppies “beignet style” served w/ cane sugar butter… hush puppies with a donut like exterior dusted w/ powdered sugar; the first taste is sweet fried dough and reminds you of beignets, then the savory corn breaks through and you think “I don’t know what the hell this is, but I like it…”
I have read a few mixed reviews on The Optimist, and I realize some are more critical than I, but it has been a long time since I went to a restaurant that had a palpable energy like this one; I left with a sense of euphoria, was completely satisfied and immediately booked my next reservation on the car ride home… if you can’t tell, I really enjoyed my first few experiences at The Optimist; Ford Fry and Chef Adam Evans have really hit a sweet note and if this is any indication of things to come, Buckhead is going to get two new great additions in the coming year.