It was a cool rainy Winter’s night and all I wanted to do was go home and curl up on the sofa, but a last minute dinner invitation was too tempting to resist: “The Optimist you say?” Hmmm….sofa or seafood. “Uh, sure, I’m available for dinner at 9pm!”
Perhaps the name The Optimist was conceived to counteract this country’s economic downturn, as it seems optimism is truly contagious. Regardless, chef and owner Ford Fry has a winner on his hands with this seafood restaurant in the booming Westside, just down the street from his other restaurant, JCT Kitchen.
It’s a gorgeous industrial modern space with exposed brick, metal trusses, and lots of wood including what appears to be original flooring. Lighting behind both bars exudes warmth. I imagine the space to be light and airy during daytime hours. Outside, there is a small yet tricky putting green. Colorful balls and putters are available inside at the hostess stand. Who doesn’t want to play a little golf after dining on oysters?
I met BG at the oyster bar where she was enjoying a cocktail. A glossy white brick oven with a blue octopus painted on it provides a whimsical focal point. We were escorted to our table in the almost full dining room….quite a feat at 9pm on a rainy Monday. I ordered a glass of bubbly.
We decided to share a couple of starters, garlicky littleneck clams and spicy Spanish octopus. Wafer thin slices of garlic and a handful of parsley flavored the clams’ broth, with a thick slice of Texas toast for dipping. A huge tentacle, much like the ones painted on the oven, was roasted and sauced with a kimchee puree. Delightful and photogenic.
On to entrees, we thought sharing one would leave room for dessert….a wise move. However, it was difficult to decide between the grouper and scallops so we flipped a coin. Grouper won. It was served with roasted Japanese eggplant, piquillo peppers, and pine nuts. Probably not the most exciting dish ever, but I’m never too excited by fish. We also ordered a couple of extra veggies, Brussels sprouts and turnip greens. Both were good but neither outstanding. I heard the scallops were amazing, after the fact, of course.
Another glass of bubbly and it was time for dessert. Our server listed them verbally. BG inquired about the “Savannah style” beignets, which were described as layered and heavier than New Orleans style. Drizzled with syrup and served with creme fraiche, they were indeed dense but delicious.
Although it wasn’t the best meal I’ve had recently, the atmosphere and service were superior. There are enough items on the menu to bring me back, like the frothy she-crab soup, Maine mussels in green curry broth (yes!), and of course, the scallops. Plus, I need to improve my putting.
914 Howell Mill Road 404-477-6260