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Friday, June 8, 2012

Lunch at the Optimist

Cioppino with softshell crab
I lunched Thursday at Ford Fry's new restaurant, The Optimist, in West Midtown. Fry owns the nearby JCT and No. 246 in Decatur. A fourth is on the way. This new restaurant, whose executive chef is Adam Evans, styles itself a "fish camp & oyster bar."

Let me warn you at the outset: You're not going to find fish-camp prices here at lunch or dinner. Lunch with my friend Tommy cost about $40, including tip. That's without alcohol or an appetizer other than a plate of four yeast rolls studded with sea salt and glossy with cane-syrup butter.

I don't mean to imply the food isn't worth every penny. I ordered a soft-shell-crab cioppino ($18). The salty, crunchy crab covered the bowl's entire contents. This is not not exactly a classic cioppino in that the tomato broth was quite shallow. But that worked just fine, allowing me to smash the dish's potatoes in the slightly garlicky broth and gave me better access to the fresh corn. There were quite a few clams in the bowl too, but, frankly, several of the shells were empty.

My friend Tommy ordered the oyster loaf ($12) with fries. Now, the shop up the road, famous for its oyster po' boy, has some serious competition. The bread at the Optimist is slathered with the restaurant's "comeback sauce," which the server described as a zingy tartar sauce.

Grape fruit tart
My personal high point of the meal was finding Taria Camerino on the job. Taria, whose most recent venture was the Sugar Coated Radical, a chocolate shop, is now working as pastry chef for Fry's three restaurants. Taria has closed the Radical's location in the Old Fourth Ward but plans to reopen in a former church building.

Her decision follows a horrific robbery last February. An armed robber broke into her apartment above the store, threatening her, her partner Ashley Henson, and their two children. This occurred the same day that another downstairs retailer was shot and killed.

Taria, who is a classic synesthete, treated us to a tart made with white chocolate and candied grapefruit peel. Taria assigns a different emotional state to each of the tart's ingredients. We weren't sure what we should be feeling, but our palates were certainly happy.

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