An optimist is someone who figures that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's the bluebird of happiness. ~ Robert Brault
This past Sunday the Belle of Ballast Point and I found the gastronomic bluebird of happiness at The Optimist Fish Camp and Oyster Bar, 914 Howell Mill Road in Atlanta. If you have preconceived notions of what a fish camp and oyster bar looks like, you will be pleasantly surprised by The Optimist.
There is an elegant warehouse look to parts of the interior with bare concrete floors that transition to hardwood as you move from the oyster bar into the main dining room that is illuminated by hanging lamps with hand blown glass and a baked on chrome finish.
We had reservations (a necessity) for 6:30 so we were promptly escorted to our table with a view looking into the bustling kitchen. One of the absolute highlights of our visit to The Optimist was our server, Theodora, who presented us with menus and catered to our every whim throughout the course of our meal.
To get our whistles wet we requested a couple of adult beverages. I had consumed a beer a bit earlier so I decided to stick with it and ordered a local brew, the Sweetwater 420.
My bride was in a quandary over a choice of wines, first considering a prosecco, but was then tempted by a sparkling Ode Panos - a pink-skinned grape variety grown in Peloponnese, Greece. The Belle was pleased with this suggestion from Theodora. The wine brought back pleasant memories of a trip to Santorini a few years ago.
I was sorely tempted by the nice selection of east coast and west coast oysters on the half shell, because I do love raw oysters. Then, under small plates, I saw Charred Octopus with kimchi sauce and candied coriander. Oh my, octopus and kimchi. I had to have it, and was that ever a tasty appetizer. The octopus was perfectly prepared with nary a hint of chewiness. I still swoon at the memory.
The bread roll was a special treat, fresh and warm with a subtle honey sweet glaze on top.
My dining partner eschews appetizers, preferring to save room at the end of the meal for a dessert. She did enjoy the huge 'Simple Salad' that was simply delicious - fresh and crispy, with shaved celery and herbs, accented with a banyuls (a fortified apéritif or dessert wine) vinaigrette.
From land and sea, there were so many mouth watering choices, and I wanted them all. That would be impossible at one sitting so I had to narrow it down. It was a struggle, but I finally chose the Roasted Haddock with garlicky steamed clams and a split roasted marrow bone with a topping of sauteed onions.
This dish won acclaim at a James Beard event in New York City not too long ago, and I can understand why. The fish was sheer roasted perfection. The clams were truly gifts from the sea. The marrow bone was packed with fatty goodness. Even now I am wiping the slobber from my chin (you may not want to dwell on that image).
My bride was equally enamored with her choice of Roasted Halibut with grilled Brussels sprouts, sweet peppers, and crispy pancetta. She declared this dish to be a savory treat for the buds of taste and paired beautifully with Theodora's recommendation of a superb Columna Albarino, a green-skinned grape
variety native to Galicia on the north Atlantic coast of Spain. This
Columna Albarino presented the exotic notes of pineapples, white peaches
We will now move on to my bride's after dinner appetizer, or what some call a dessert. She chose the Bourbon Beignets with a side dish of prepared-on-site artisinal vanilla ice cream. To accompany her beignets she requested a glass of Dark Lady, a South African red wine with intense rich chocolate mocha aromas, rich black cherries, coffee and almonds. The Belle said this was a great pairing, thanks again to Theodora.
I preferred to drink my dessert so I had a delightful 20 year old Dow Tawny Port - a perfect end to a perfect meal.
The Optimist demands return visits to enjoy the myriad of gastronomic treasures on their menu. Notice I used the plural visits - lamb belly next time, and after that the sea scallops with oxtail marmalade, and then...
Wouldst that Atlanta weren't so far removed from Tampa.
Even if the food hadn't been superb, which it was, Theodora would have still made this a memorable evening.
All food, beer, and wine brought our total for the night to $152.28. We were amazed! We have had much less and paid far more at some less than stellar venues back home in Tampa. For us, The Optimist was a true bargain.
I think we went a bit over our usual 20% for good service, but it was deserved.