Going to new (or “new to me”) restaurants is a joy to me in this life. My opinions usually range from the sublime to the ridiculous. I prefer to check out a place more than once before I give it a rave or a big thumbs down. You never know what kind of night the staff might be having.
But after dining at The Optimist http://theoptimistrestaurant.com last night here in Atlanta, I shall rave on! Make a reservation and go…….now.
I, as always, checked out the menu online before I joined my fellow family foodie, Ann, for dinner last night. (Try to say that fast three times.)
The complimentary valet parking guys set the mood by laughing and just being nice guys as we arrived. As we strolled past the putting green (yep, that’s a little odd) and through the fun and comfortable outdoor seating, entering the first room at the host desk, we were greeted with big, easy smiles as we confirmed our reservation and opted to sit at the oyster bar before making it into the dining room.
Behind the bar is a beautiful wood fired oven putting that gorgeous aroma in the air that just makes me salivate. We ordered two of the fun mixed cocktail rum punches and with the oven staring us down, some of the roasted oysters. Topped with paprika butter and just a little parmesan cheese, they are only in the heat until the cheese melts and the butter sizzles, leaving them still plump, juicy and luscious. The oven gives it just the slightest smoky hint over the top. Delish!
Smiling from ear to ear, we headed to the main dining room. On a Wednesday, the place was pleasantly full. I am sure on the weekends, it is packed.
Logan, our laid back, fun and knowledgeable waitress for the evening, helped guide us to a lovely bottle of wine. Wine with dinner is just part of the food. Not a drink – drink, part of the whole meal.
She suggested the Gruner Veltliner, Berger, Kremstal 2011. It reminded me of a Gewürztraminer, but not as sweet. Very crisp, light and lovely. She hit a homerun and we haven’t even ordered! Go Logan, go Logan!
Ann started with the grilled calamari salad and I chose the smoked white fish chowder. Let my vibratory moment begin! I am sure you have felt that feeling when you are so happy, so satisfied, just living in the moment, enjoying life and feeling that all is right with the world. Well prepared and executed food does that to me. It feels like I am vibrating with light! Sadly, not often enough. The chowder did it!
Silky smooth with lots of smoky fish and finely diced vegetables. A bit thinner than its New England roots, this is exactly how I prefer it. It had a perfect balance of salt, savory and earthiness with a luscious cream finish.
With Logan’s guidance, I chose the crispy red fish served with roasted peppers and a lovely soy based sauce. Ann had the seared tuna steak with a crispy potato salad. The potato salad had an oil based dressing instead of mayonnaise and was served warm. Potato deliciousness!
The soy sauce based sauce on my fish was delicate and not over salty. It also didn’t really have an Asian flair. Most sauces have a tendency to put themselves in front of the protein, this didn’t. The sauce was actually a beautiful background for the crispy fried delicate redfish. Yum!
We wanted to just walk over to the big bar for another cocktail after all of this great food, but it was packed, so we ambled back out to the oyster bar. I didn’t think I wanted any dessert but, hey, a homemade key lime push-up pop on the menu, are you kidding me, it was just screaming my name. Fun, funky and precious and also the perfect coda on the end of a glorious food evening.
The menu here is definitely skewed to very fresh seafood. There is a chicken dish, a pork dish and a steak dish on the menu, but the chef obviously is working wonders with his ever changing fresh seafood and fish. Vegans, vegetarians and paleos will just have to make do with the abundant sides. We ordered a side of roasted Vidalia onions with our meal. They were charred to perfection!
The best thing about The Optimist is the vibe. The hip West Midtown dining and drinking scene is white hot and sometimes you feel very underwhelmed by pretentious food, overpriced drinks and uptight staff. The vibe here was just perfect. Everyone seemed to be glad we were there. (Take that Miller Union. Although your food is spectacular, sometimes I have felt rushed as you wanted to turn the table and stepped on by folks that just want to see and be seen.)
The sous chef was handling the kitchen last night, as Logan said the chef was away filming something. I hope he is on the next Top Chef. He deserves an award for getting it all right!