Several weeks ago, Chad casually mentioned that I shouldn’t make any post-work plans on Friday, the 15th. Naturally, this prompted a slew of questions on my end, most of which remained unanswered. Are we going to dinner? Yes. Where are we going?? [Silence] Have I been there before??? [Crickets] Will it at least be blog-worthy?!? [Smirk] And it was…
When we arrived at Friday’s final destination – The Optimist – I literally jumped out of my seat (or would have had I remembered to remove my seat belt first). The Optimist has been at the top of my list for quite some time now, especially since Esquire magazine deemed it the “Best New Restaurant” of 2012.
Despite showing up a few minutes early for our 8:15 pm reservation, we were seated immediately in the main dining room. The décor is exactly what you would expect from a West Midtown establishment – cool and chic with an upscale warehouse-feel. After spending less than two minutes in the restaurant, I gave it an A for atmosphere.
We started with a round of cocktails – the Tiki Torched for Chad and the Los Feliz Café for me. True to our server’s description, the Los Feliz Café tasted just like a grapefruit margarita in martini form.
The refreshing cocktails paired perfectly with the butter-glazed & sea salt dusted yeast rolls that we couldn’t get enough of.
A visit to The Optimist wouldn’t be complete without oysters, so we ordered a pair each of the east and west coast oysters. The duo confirmed what I already knew about my taste in oysters, that I much prefer the east coast variety.
The Thatch Island east coast oysters were noticeably bigger, meatier, and saltier. The Pacific west coast oysters were smaller and sweeter, with a creamy cucumber finish. They were a nice bite, but at $3 and $3.50 per oyster, there are better (and tastier) ways to spend your money at The Optimist.
The Shrimp a la Plancha came next, my favorite dish of the night. The prawns were nothing less than jumbo-sized and drowning in a mouthwatering chile-lime broth. The single most delicious bite of the sizzling-hot dish, however, was the “sopping” toast. The toast was strategically placed beneath the shrimp for broth-soaking maximization. As the menu suggested, it was definitely “messy, but [well] worth it.” Rest assured, the dish concluded with a pair of piping hot towels to wipe away the messiness.
The menu offered a wide-selection of fish with no shortage of creativity in the preparations. I opted for the duck fat poached swordfish, served over a celery root puree and garnished with garlic chile relish. Swordfish isn’t usually my first choice for seafood, as I tend to go for the flakier, lighter types. However, I was so intrigued by the preparation of this dish that I thought it warranted a risk. It did.
The fish was beautifully cooked, with a nice sear on the outside and a moist, firm texture throughout the inside. The ultra-rich and understated duck fat combined with the spicy relish into a burst of flavor. I even got Chad to agree that my entree won the competition (and that is certainly a rarity).
Chad had the red snapper, pan-seared in a lime broth with herbs. Although the sear on his fish was absolutely perfect, the acidity of the broth was too much for me to handle.
Side-wise, we shared the Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) and the shoestring fries (I’ll never tire of French fries, you’ll learn).
The sunchokes were roasted & salty, with a subtle hint of rosemary. The fries were accompanied by a tangy malt vinegar aioli for dipping. True to shoestring form, they were extra crispy and impossibly difficult to eat with a fork.
At this point, I was only two days into my 40-day Lenten abstinence from dessert, so we had to forego the dark chocolate mousse that was calling our names (or really just mine). All the more reason to return after Easter, I suppose!
The Optimist was everything I hoped it would be and more. Being conservative, I would say I’m cautiously optimistic that there is a 99.9% chance I will return to The Optimist.