First Look: The Optimist, west Midtown

Credit: Becky Stein, Special to AJC

Credit: Becky Stein, Special to AJC

Dining Out

The Optimist, west Midtown

Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Oyster Bar: 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5-11 p.m. Fridays; 3-11 p.m. Saturdays; 3-10 p.m. Sundays.

914 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-477-6260,

The Optimist, the third restaurant from Ford Fry of JCT Kitchen and No. 246, offers a fresh daily catch of sustainable seafood simply prepared in the kitchen's wood-burning ovens and grills. The name refers to a small sailing dinghy, and the casual fine dining concept conjures up coastal fish camps, oyster bars and beach vacations.
The look: Situated in an early 1900s building on Howell Mill Road, at the nexus of booming west Midtown, the design by Smith Hanes ranges from the raucous to the understated. The surfboard-shaped Oyster Bar near the entrance is inspired by the wild styles of Venice Beach. The elegant hangarlike main dining room features shades of white and wood under soaring steel trusses and an exposed plank ceiling.
The scene: At dinner one evening, there was that unmistakable new restaurant buzz of anticipation in the air, as small crowds gathered around the dining room. At the wide, walnut-topped cocktail bar, a woman regarded the smoked salmon and caper berry garnish perched on the rim of a pink gin martini named The Truth as We Know It.
The menu: Executive chef Adam Evans mingles familiar seafood dishes with a variety of modern touches. Wood-roasted Florida grouper ($26) is topped with smoked Vidalia onion and served in a bowl of horseradish broth. Duck fat-poached swordfish ($24) comes with pickled sweet peppers and crispy pancetta. At lunch, soft-shell crab cioppino ($18) is a melange of garlicky tomato broth, potato, corn and clams.
The drinks: Beverage director Lara Creasy put together a wine list drawn from coastal regions around the world and chose draft beers from American craft breweries in port cities such as Baltimore, Boston and San Diego. The Oyster Bar features a daily punch with seasonal fruit and "oyster backs" ($5) made to pair with raw bar specials. Recently, the Sea Grass mixed Bison Grass vodka, Dolin Blanc vermouth and fresh tarragon.
The extras: Outside, look for a patio with cafe-style seating under an awning, and coming soon, a two-hole putt-putt golf course.