Recently I had the opportunity to dine at The Optimist restaurant on Howell Mill Road. My inner round girl, whose name is Gloria aka Glo for short, was very much happy to oblige. It was brutally cold outside, so pulling up to valet with no line was a fantastic way to start my dining experience. Owned and operated by Chef Ford Fry, with the assistance of his Executive Chef Adam Evans, The Optimist brings fresh seafood to the urban landscape of Atlanta.
“Upon entering, my friend and I were led by the hostess to the fresh oyster bar (which opens at five p.m. and remains open later than the restaurant). The décor of the restaurant is upscale. The open floor plan is elegant and maritime — with wine and water glasses immaculately resting on cherry wood tables. Our server, a very knowledgeable young lady, convinced me to try what is considered the first oyster ever consumed. Leary, but feeling adventurous, I went for it.
Bite: The Appetizers
Oyster & Caviar
I started my dining experience with a tasting from the raw bar. Not sure of what to expect, I found the presentation to be splendid. A solo oyster with white sturgeon caviar on top was nestled in its shell within a container of ice. The oyster was ocean water fresh and the caviar was a nice briny compliment to the dish.
Fried Clam Roll
This is an absolute must try when you visit. The roll is buttery and baked fresh daily. The clams are fried to perfection. They are light, crispy, and golden. The lemon mayo, kimchi vinegar, and pickled peppers all marry together harmoniously. This tasty bite will definitely feed two comfortably.
Smoked White Fish Chowder
This chowder IS in fact what you want to eat on a cold winter’s night or any night for that matter. I had to try a couple of spoonfuls from my friend’s cup — needless to say, I will be coming back for this chowder. It is that amazing and that good. The smokiness of the bacon combined with thick cut pieces of tender white fish finished with a drizzle of olive oil makes this chowder complete, and the perfect accoutrement to warm your soul.
Taste: The Entrée
I decided on the tilefish, which is a white flaky fish with a hearty flavor and an ability to handle spice well. The tilefish was cooked to perfection. The African spice blend covered the fish well without overpowering it with unnecessary heat. The lime butter, fennel, and pickled jalapeno made a rich delicious sauce that paired nicely with the fish. It made the dish light and exotic. You can close your eyes and be anywhere eating this dish, and that’s a luxury in itself.
We decided on some sides that would pair well with our dishes. We settled on the corn milk hushpuppies, served “beignet style,” with powder sugar and cane syrup butter. We also had the crispy fingerling potatoes with rosemary garlic aioli. The side dishes were served family style. The hushpuppies were a creative play on the savory-sweet factor — kudos to them for thinking outside the box.
Love: (because everyone loves…) Dessert
Unfortunately, I could not indulge in dessert this go around. Glo was just to full, a first for her, but true enough she too has a limit. The Chocolate & Frangelico Creamux with Chantilly cream and hazelnut caramel, or the Mascarpone Cheesecake with malted crumble and persimmon jam are the first things on Glo’s list when she returns. The list of gourmet desserts also includes Apple Streusel, Key Lime Pie, and frozen treats like Salted Caramel with sea salt and cinnamon ice cream.
The Optimist is your “Top Chef” fantasy. It’s a mini jaunt to a New England restaurant on the “ha-bar.” It’s after work business meetings over McCallen 12s and water. If you are near the west side of Atlanta and want to entertain the in-laws, impress some colleagues, or just want to see what it would be like to eat like Tom Colicchio, then stop in and taste some of the best seafood in town. Make sure you bite, taste, and love all the great all the great and tasty offerings from the Urban Fare, and I’ll bring you another great restaurant from my fabulous city.
914 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318
Tel: 404 477 6260
Fax: 404 389 9578
Lunch: Monday–Friday 11:30–2:30
Dinner: Sunday–Thursday 5–10
Friday & Saturday 5–11
Oyster Bar: Monday–Friday 5 till …
Saturday & Sunday 3 till …