I’ve been meaning to take my beloved to the Optimist since early this year. We’ve even gotten as far as having a reservation with another couple (that we ended up having to cancel). Last week, while enjoying lunch at the General Muir, we were talking about the Muir’s recent inclusion in the fifty finalist for best new restaurant of 2013 from Bon Appetit. It was then that I remembered the Optimist had also been in the finals, so I googled the results. Seeing that they had been named Number Seven, we discussed it and made a reservation for tonight. We arrived a little late, due to the Falcons appearing on Sunday Night Football, and the restaurant was working towards full and, by the time we left, the oyster bar out front (below) was developing a crowd.
I had been a couple of times shortly after they opened for lunch, but this was my first visit for dinner. And I had been really looking forward to this dinner. They started us off with these fabulous rolls,
kind of like the dough of a pretzel, toasted and buttery at the same time (promising). I devoured mine and then looked lustily at my tablemate’s.
Looking over the menu, we had to google a couple of the fishes with which we weren’t familiar- tilefish, SC Porgy – before we decided on our entrees. The server came over and saw the fish on my phone and asked if we had any other questions.
We started with my choice for a starter – whole (read: shell on) Georgia white shrimp a la plancha, with “sopping” toast, arbol chili and lime. Before the shrimp was served, an empty plate (“for shells”) and a saucer with hot wash cloths and lemon arrived (hmmm).
This was by far the best part of the meal, aside from the fact that it was incredibly messy (the menu did say “messy but worth it”). And I had no idea that the shrimp would have to be shelled – maybe the inclusion of the word “whole” should have been more of a clue, but I would have appreciated a tip from the server. Aside from that (not so minor) detail, the dish was excellent, primarily because of the sauce.
Without knowing the recipe, the flavors we tasted were of pimentos, butter and olive oil along with the arbor chilis (Mexican tree peppers that are about twice as hot as a cayenne on the Scoville scale) and lime. There was a piece of toast underneath the shrimp that was soaked in the sauce that we shared. Then Jo finished off the last of her roll with the sauce.
As they came to clear the plates, I actually stopped them (at least twice) from taking the black wok-like bowl it had been served in and asked for some more bread for sopping. They (much, much) later brought me two more rolls and I saved the last of those for “dessert” – sopping up the last of the sauce with the second roll after I finished my meal.
Jo ordered the monkfish, which was served with corn and blistered shishitos.
When it arrived, the fish was so tough that there was no way to cut it with a fork and it was a challenge with a knife. Up to that point, the service had been at the edge of overly-attentive (no dirty plate remained on our table for more than 90 seconds) yet, when we needed our server, I couldn’t get another servers attention or find ours. I finally flagged down one of the folks cleaning tables and asked him to find our server – it seemed like an hour passed, but I’m guessing it was six to nine minutes. When she appeared, several minutes later, we told her that the fish was tough. She offered to bring another entree but (with the length of time it had taken to get our meal) the consensus at the table was that I’d be done by the time her food arrived (she would have been correct). By the end of the meal, the server returned and said that the kitchen agreed think the fish was tough. How nice it was to be validated – I was afraid that we were idiots. But, glory be, the kitchen agreed that the fish wasn’t right.
I ordered the seared yellowfin tuna, served with charred octopus & crispy potato salad, olives and harissa.
The tuna was seared perfectly and fork tender. And the harissa sauce was an unexpected complement. I did avoid the roe in ginger jelly on top. The crispy octopus, potato and olive salad was surprisingly tasty.
We also had a side of summer corn and butter peas with pickled okra. I wish that they had mentioned the onion.
After I finished my meal, even though only one of us had eaten dinner, the waitress brought us dessert menus. That wasn’t going to happen, so we asked for the check. I paid and we headed to the valet stand (where I placed a to-go order from Yeah Burger! so that we both would have eaten dinner before we got back home).
Needless to say, I’m not overly optimistic about there being a return visit.