Ford Fry’s popular westside fish house, The Optimist, celebrated its first year on May 25th. LC and I dined there the evening before, arriving predictably late despite my lie regarding our reservation time.
Entering through the Oyster Bar, the place was still hoppin’ at nearly 9pm. Industrial trusses are juxtaposed with original distressed brick and lots of wood for a post-modern effect. Blue and white accents are refreshing by day, with clever ambiant lighting creating warmth at night. No plastic fish or life preservers on the walls, although you will find a few nautical stripes here and there.
One of the ubercool preppy hosts used to work with me and showed us to an especially comfy blue banquette with a view of the dining room. I had a split of Freixenet before leaving home and continued with cava once seated. LC ordered a specialty cocktail with a pirate inspired name, the Scurvy Scoundrel, made with vodka, house made grapefruit cordial, and lime. With no plan in mind, he insisted on ordering the charred Spanish octopus immediately. (this is how we end up ordering for 4 rather than 2 most evenings out)
In addition to the octopus starter, I wanted to try one of the three soups. They all sounded delicious so I asked our server which he preferred. Smoked whitefish chowder was his answer, and mine too. We also ordered the mussels in green curry to share and LC ordered one each of the fresh oysters for himself…I’ve never acquired a taste for the briny shellfish despite numerous attempts.
A pair of soft buttery rolls flecked with coarse salt arrived along with our drinks. Moments later the roasted tenticles of a little octopus appeared, garnished with diced chorizo, and a generous spoonful of hot chili sauce made with calabrese peppers. I’ve eaten this dish before and enjoyed it but find the meat somewhat tough, especially the tiny tenticle ends that become inedibly crisp. Perhaps a better preparation method for octopus is grilling, like Jay Swift amazing octopus dish at 4th and Swift.
When I inquired about the smoked whitefish chowder, I assumed there would be chunks of potato, maybe some kernels of corn, but our server said the only chunks were of fish. Served in a cast iron pot with housemade oyster crackers, the presentation alone was worth its $9 pricetag. The chowder was creamy yet light, full of tender pieces of fish with a subtle smoky flavor. Delightful.
A large portion of mussels steamed in green curry sauce was served with toasted bread for dipping. I had hoped the curry would have a little kick, but it was not to be. After our trio of appetizers we were full, but decided to split the scallops entree and not just one but two sides.
Lately, we’ve been having an affair with baby carrots, like the perfect ones at P’cheen. Here, chef roasts them, then serves them chilled, drizzled with a little honey and flavored with herbed ricotta and black pepper. I’m not sure why LC wanted the sugar snap peas, perhaps it was his ironic need for “something green”. Or maybe it was that the menu said they were served with shaved horseradish. Regardless, they were grossly undercooked, yet we ate every last one. We also polished off the plate of subtly sweet and tender carrots. Four plump scallops, flavored with brown butter chicken jus and grilled green onions, were kitchen split for us. They melted in our mouths.
Did I mention we were full after the appetizers? So, naturally we ordered dessert….to go; A goat cheese tart with house made blueberry conserve. When we got home I served it on a tiny plate that looked remarkably like the ones they use for bread service at The Optimist. Sublime with a hint of tartness from the berries.
To say The Optimist is a success is an understatement. With a solid year under its briny belt, a decent reservation time on a weekend is still two weeks out. So put your sailor pants on and get in line. Ahoy matey!
914 Howell Mill Road 404-477-6260