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Review: Octopus Bar

Late-night dining in East Atlanta Village

I'm sitting at a table on a patio surrounded by graffiti on one of the coldest nights of the year. It's a patio but not a patio in that it has walls, wooden walls, but they're not really walls, not in the traditional sense. They let in air at the corners, and to combat the icy drafts, electric fireplaces flicker their faux flames in the corners of the ... what? Room?

I am surrounded by chefs, and it's midnight.

To my right, the owner of one of the Westside's best restaurants is at a table in deep discussion with his chef. At a table in the middle of the room is a Fox Brother and a gaggle of cooks. Sitting at the bar is a bartender from a well-loved cocktail den two neighborhoods over. He stopped by my table on the way in and admitted that he's actually closing his bar tonight, but came here, to this drafty but comfy patio, for a drink and a dish that I don't see on the menu. Apparently word got out about it regardless. Word travels fast in this industry.

And industry is what Octopus is all about. It's hardly even a restaurant, more of a tacked-on concept: A place for chefs and waiters and late-night diners to go after all the other places have closed. Owner Nhan Le took a look at his current restaurant, the Vietnamese pho house So Ba, and wondered what he could do to leverage it. After a couple of exploratory supper club-type dinners with chef Angus Brown (formerly of Miller Union) they decided to open Octopus on So Ba's patio and serve a completely separate menu. Le invited local graffiti artists to come in and paint the walls, resulting in some fun but predictable pieces, and one brilliant corner behind the bar, a deep red dreamscape of a piece by local artist Brandon Sadler that resembles a bloody octo-tsunami. Octopus opens at 10 p.m. and closes at 3 a.m. six nights a week.

Le and Brown are serving food specifically geared toward the passions of chefs. The menu is a collection of international oddities and a few insane mishmashes, portioned for late-night snacking or sharing. Some work as full meals — a subtle, gingery broth swimming with needle-thin noodles and shrimp and rabbit dumplings, or the awesomely warming rabbit with ricotta cavatelli, cauliflower cream and curry oil. And some are undoubtedly sides, such as shredded, lemony Brussels sprouts made crunchy with walnuts that work as a slaw more than a stand-alone dish. There are a couple of large dishes to share every night, including whole fish showered with ginger and cilantro, and a Korean pork barbecue platter served with some of the most lovely, spicy, and delicate house-made kimchee around.

The only hint of So Ba's influence is with a plate of bo la lot, tight rolls of beef wrapped in grape leaves over rice noodles. But the flavors in this dish are more refined and precise than the crowd-pleasing Vietnamese served inside during regular business hours.

Salt and pepper shrimp beg to be eaten whole, the creamy interior of their heads exploding beneath a shattery fried exterior, the sweetness and burn of onion and jalapeño clinging to the fry. Uni (sea urchin) is a favorite ingredient, used to top oysters and also in one of the most outrageous dishes of the decade: a house-made ribbon-like pasta tossed with globs of the stuff, bringing out its pink oceanic funk. The combination makes about as much sense as throwing sashimi in your Bolognese, until you recognize the stinky cheese, über-umami qualities in the sea urchin. You have to have an advanced appreciation of uni to get this dish, but if you do you'll taste the brilliance in the bowl.

There are times the freewheeling nature of Brown's cooking misses the mark. A house-made sausage and pasta dish that's both too salty and gummy recently replaced the rabbit cavatelli. The "oysters our way" are fun briny mouthfuls, but toppings on the fresh oysters such as chicharrónes get lost — I'd prefer a simple raw bar. Which is fortuitous because Le has plans to add just that — a raw bar in the middle of the patio/dining room serving different varieties of oysters and some sashimi.

The drinks list is short — a handful of beers, two sakes, three red wines, and one white. The emphasis is on the five or so cocktails. I especially love the Villager, a take on the rye/maraschino craze sweeping the bars of Atlanta, and the Bluff, a lemony Averno concoction that has all the floral, herbal guile of that liqueur. I'd love to see a bottle of decent sparkling added to the offerings — Octopus is a place for ghetto decadence, and drinking Champagne at 2 a.m. on a slightly shabby East Atlanta patio would surely fit the bill.

To say Octopus is a casual affair would be a gross understatement. As is befitting of late-night dining, a kind of low-key revelry prevails. Service is friendly and can be a touch disorganized. If the patio is busy, as it gets on weekends especially, drinks can take a long time to materialize. Because the space is technically outdoors, smoking is allowed. All of this makes for a slightly rough around the edges and occasionally odd experience. I spent one evening here flanked by a large group celebrating a birthday, the guest of honor rising wobbly from her seat to declare, "Seriously you guys, thanks for being the best friends ever, I love each and every one of you, I love to party, thanks for making this the best night of my life, WOOOOOO!!!" The oysters, the uni, the delicate house-made pasta don't negate the fact that this is late night in East Atlanta, and it feels like it.

But Octopus is also the next step in our city's evolution, an evolution that broadens the definition of dining — how it works, when it happens, and who it serves. Octopus isn't as comfortable or swank or boring as most of the good restaurants in town. And as such, it is far more exciting.



More By This Writer

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===Fado Irish Pub & Restaurant=== Tue., March 13, 7 p.m. Bushmills Whiskey Tasting. Fadó and radio host Rich Sullivan of 92.9 davefm are hosting a whiskey tasting. $39.95 covers a tasting of five whiskeys and six dishes. Master of Whisky Kevin Mulcahy of Diageo will be on hand to lead guests through the tasting and explain each whiskey to attendees. 20 percent of the proceeds from the evening will be donated to St. Baldrick’s Foundation. ===Details===

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[http://clatl.com/atlanta/double-zero-napoletana/Location?oid=3432475|===__Double Zero Napoletana__=== ]Tues., March 13, 5-10 p.m. __Supper Club at Double Zero Napoletana.__ Treat your taste buds to a trip to Southern Italy at Double Zero Napoletana on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 as it hosts the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s Supper Club dining event. The menu features pizza, fresh pasta and seafood, as well as Antipasti and Sfizi, handmade pastries, and gelato. ===__Details__===

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Article

Monday March 12, 2012 02:31 pm EDT

  • James Camp
  • Double Zero Napoletana

Fado Irish Pub & Restaurant Tue., March 13, 7 p.m. Bushmills Whiskey Tasting. Fadó and radio host Rich Sullivan of 92.9 davefm are hosting a whiskey tasting. $39.95 covers a tasting of five whiskeys and six dishes. Master of Whisky Kevin Mulcahy of Diageo will be on hand to lead guests through the tasting and explain each whiskey to attendees. 20...

| more...
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*wikimedia commons
*He stank
What most Tar Heel fans thought would be an easy passage to the ACC championship game proved a little more difficult on Saturday afternoon. With Carolina forward John Henson out with a sprained wrist and his replacement, James Michael McAdoo in foul trouble very early in the game, NC State looked poised to dash everyone's hopes for a Duke UNC ACC championship (if Duke beats FSU in the second semifinal game today, that is - at half time it's looking far from guaranteed with FSU up 33-31). State had a lead as large as 7 points early in the second half, but Carolina came back to tie it up. It stayed that way right down to the buzzer, with UNC up by 2 with 1.2 seconds left. State just couldn't pull off that miracle. UNC won 69-67 

See? I can write like a sportswriter. 

But just because I can write like a sportswriter doesn't mean I want to. What I really want to say is, GODDAMN THAT WAS A CLOSE AND EXCITING FUCKING GAME. Also, Ramses the Ram is very, very stinky. He did a lot of his dancing right beside me, seeing as I'm at the end of press row right next to the UNC band, and by the end of the game that ram stank. 

Here's the thing: for a team with national championship hype, NC State shouldn't have given UNC that much trouble, even with one of their star players out. On the up side, State's performance proves definitively to me that they deserve a place in the NCAA tournament, which their defeat of Virginia on Friday is widely thought to have earned them. 

UNC Coach Roy Williams agrees that NC State ought to be in the tournament. At the post-game press conference he said "If I was on the NCAA tournament committee I'd fight very hard for NC State to be in the tournament. There's no doubt in my mind they're one of the best 68 teams in the country." He also refused to answer any questions before his players, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller, had been addressed. "We need to get them back in the shower," he said. "They smell bad up here."

I'd love to stick around and see the end of this Duke FSU game, but I've got beer to drink! See ya tomorrow for the championship game."
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*[http://clatl.com/atlanta/ImageArchives?by=1290445|wikimedia commons]
*He stank
What most Tar Heel fans thought would be an easy passage to the ACC championship game proved a little more difficult on Saturday afternoon. With Carolina forward John Henson out with a sprained wrist and his replacement, James Michael McAdoo in foul trouble very early in the game, NC State looked poised to dash everyone's hopes for a Duke UNC ACC championship (if Duke beats FSU in the second semifinal game today, that is - at half time it's looking far from guaranteed with FSU up 33-31). State had a lead as large as 7 points early in the second half, but Carolina came back to tie it up. It stayed that way right down to the buzzer, with UNC up by 2 with 1.2 seconds left. State just couldn't pull off that miracle. UNC won 69-67 

See? I can write like a sportswriter. 

But just because I can write like a sportswriter doesn't mean I want to. What I really want to say is, GODDAMN THAT WAS A CLOSE AND EXCITING FUCKING GAME. Also, Ramses the Ram is very, very stinky. He did a lot of his dancing right beside me, seeing as I'm at the end of press row right next to the UNC band, and by the end of the game that ram stank. 

Here's the thing: for a team with national championship hype, NC State shouldn't have given UNC that much trouble, even with one of their star players out. On the up side, State's performance proves definitively to me that they deserve a place in the NCAA tournament, which their defeat of Virginia on Friday is widely thought to have earned them. 

UNC Coach Roy Williams agrees that NC State ought to be in the tournament. At the post-game press conference he said "If I was on the [NCAA tournament] committee I'd fight very hard for NC State to be in the tournament. There's no doubt in my mind they're one of the best 68 teams in the country." He also refused to answer any questions before his players, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller, had been addressed. "We need to get them back in the shower," he said. "They smell bad up here."

I'd love to stick around and see the end of this Duke FSU game, but [http://clatl.com/omnivore/archives/2012/03/06/win-tickets-to-sweetwaters-brew-your-cask-off-and-try-xl-cls-40th-anniversary-ale|I've got beer to drink]! See ya tomorrow for the championship game."
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*He stank
What most Tar Heel fans thought would be an easy passage to the ACC championship game proved a little more difficult on Saturday afternoon. With Carolina forward John Henson out with a sprained wrist and his replacement, James Michael McAdoo in foul trouble very early in the game, NC State looked poised to dash everyone's hopes for a Duke UNC ACC championship (if Duke beats FSU in the second semifinal game today, that is - at half time it's looking far from guaranteed with FSU up 33-31). State had a lead as large as 7 points early in the second half, but Carolina came back to tie it up. It stayed that way right down to the buzzer, with UNC up by 2 with 1.2 seconds left. State just couldn't pull off that miracle. UNC won 69-67 

See? I can write like a sportswriter. 

But just because I can write like a sportswriter doesn't mean I want to. What I really want to say is, GODDAMN THAT WAS A CLOSE AND EXCITING FUCKING GAME. Also, Ramses the Ram is very, very stinky. He did a lot of his dancing right beside me, seeing as I'm at the end of press row right next to the UNC band, and by the end of the game that ram stank. 

Here's the thing: for a team with national championship hype, NC State shouldn't have given UNC that much trouble, even with one of their star players out. On the up side, State's performance proves definitively to me that they deserve a place in the NCAA tournament, which their defeat of Virginia on Friday is widely thought to have earned them. 

UNC Coach Roy Williams agrees that NC State ought to be in the tournament. At the post-game press conference he said "If I was on the NCAA tournament committee I'd fight very hard for NC State to be in the tournament. There's no doubt in my mind they're one of the best 68 teams in the country." He also refused to answer any questions before his players, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller, had been addressed. "We need to get them back in the shower," he said. "They smell bad up here."

I'd love to stick around and see the end of this Duke FSU game, but I've got beer to drink! See ya tomorrow for the championship game.             13066795 4986952                          ACC Tournament semifinals: UNC stinks (no really...they smell bad) "
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Saturday March 10, 2012 04:24 pm EST

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What most Tar Heel fans thought would be an easy passage to the ACC championship game proved a little more difficult on Saturday afternoon. With Carolina forward John Henson out with a sprained wrist and his replacement, James Michael McAdoo in foul trouble very early in the game, NC State looked poised to dash everyone's hopes for a Duke UNC ACC championship (if...

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Article

Thursday March 8, 2012 11:36 pm EST
NC State ended their first half against Boston College with a 3-pointer and then finished the game with TWO 3-pointers in a row to soundly beat BC 57-78. This made me happy. I've never understood what Boston College is doing in this conference in the first place. Also, NC State is such a great scrappy underdog team, I've always loved them. Here's how it works: NC State hates UNC and thinks... | more...
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On Tuesday, I asked folks to tell us what they'd like to see from CL over the next 40 years for a chance to win tickets to this weekend's Brew Your Cask Off event at Sweetwater. I got a ton of great responses, some hilarious and some thoughtful. But my favorite was this, by Steve Luxenberg:

Since newsprint is so passe, and the interwebs are dying, I'd like to see Creative Loafing be presented in a town-crier format, where the news, local restaurant reviews and "Are you Shaved?" are read aloud in public squares by folks sentenced for misdemeanors in Fulton and DeKalb.

Congrats, Steve! 

The runner up, who doesn't win anything but my undying love, is Nicole Wójcik, who sent an entry that included this:

In five years, will CL have a homepage compatible with my internet-ready Acuvue Konnectd contact lenses?
 
Later in life, will CL ensure that I'll be able to connect to Omnivore by simply gazing into my infant's eyes during a feeding?

That is so awesome."
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On Tuesday, [http://clatl.com/omnivore/archives/2012/03/06/win-tickets-to-sweetwaters-brew-your-cask-off-and-try-xl-cls-40th-anniversary-ale|I asked folks to tell us what they'd like to see from CL over the next 40 years for a chance to win tickets to this weekend's Brew Your Cask Off event at Sweetwater]. I got a ton of great responses, some hilarious and some thoughtful. But my favorite was this, by Steve Luxenberg:

Since newsprint is so passe, and the interwebs are dying, I'd like to see Creative Loafing be presented in a town-crier format, where the news, local restaurant reviews and "Are you Shaved?" are read aloud in public squares by folks sentenced for misdemeanors in Fulton and DeKalb.

Congrats, Steve! 

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In five years, will CL have a homepage compatible with my internet-ready Acuvue Konnectd contact lenses?
 
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That is so awesome."
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On Tuesday, I asked folks to tell us what they'd like to see from CL over the next 40 years for a chance to win tickets to this weekend's Brew Your Cask Off event at Sweetwater. I got a ton of great responses, some hilarious and some thoughtful. But my favorite was this, by Steve Luxenberg:

Since newsprint is so passe, and the interwebs are dying, I'd like to see Creative Loafing be presented in a town-crier format, where the news, local restaurant reviews and "Are you Shaved?" are read aloud in public squares by folks sentenced for misdemeanors in Fulton and DeKalb.

Congrats, Steve! 

The runner up, who doesn't win anything but my undying love, is Nicole Wójcik, who sent an entry that included this:

In five years, will CL have a homepage compatible with my internet-ready Acuvue Konnectd contact lenses?
 
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Article

Thursday March 8, 2012 04:21 pm EST

  • wikimedia commons

On Tuesday, I asked folks to tell us what they'd like to see from CL over the next 40 years for a chance to win tickets to this weekend's Brew Your Cask Off event at Sweetwater. I got a ton of great responses, some hilarious and some thoughtful. But my favorite was this, by Steve Luxenberg:

Since newsprint is so passe, and the interwebs are dying, I'd like to see Creative...

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Also, I'm at the ACC Tournament. Woo-hoo!!"
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Also, [http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2012/03/08/acc-tournament-gets-going-at-phillips-arenaam-i-the-only-person-in-atlanta-who-cares|I'm at the ACC Tournament]. Woo-hoo!!"
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Also, I'm at the ACC Tournament. Woo-hoo!!             13066758 4973971                          Omnivore - Fresh Loaf has some stuff on it: Atlanta food deserts, me blabbing about basketball "
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Article

Thursday March 8, 2012 02:59 pm EST

A couple of things of note over on Fresh Loaf: Thomas Wheatley has a post up about the frightening U.S. Department of Agriculture's map of Atlanta's food deserts. That's deserts, not desserts, don't get your hopes up.

Also, I'm at the ACC Tournament. Woo-hoo!!

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