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Octopus Bar restaurant review, East Atlanta Village

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I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to be a chef in this town.

Not because of anything to do with the diners in this town, but my heart goes out to anyone who knocks off work at midnight on a Tuesday in Atlanta with an empty belly.

Review by Jon Watson

Review by Jon Watson

With a few exceptions, late-night dining choices often consist of little more than a few drive-thrus or your neighborhood Waffle House. While those certainly can do in a pinch, especially a drunken one, finding a meal worth remembering in the wee hours is a daunting task.

Well, restaurant industry types, night owls, and famished partiers in East Atlanta have one less thing to complain about. Nhan Le, owner of So Ba Vietnamese restaurant in EAV, has teamed up with former Miller Union chef Angus Brown to create a late-night dining destination unlike any other in town. This culinary odd couple revamped the patio at So Ba as Octopus Bar, serving a completely different menu catering to adventurous late-night diners and restaurant staff looking for a decent plate of food after their shift.

Handmade fettuccine with sea urchin and pancetta (all photos by Becky Stein)

Handmade fettuccine with sea urchin and pancetta (all photos by Becky Stein)

Simply walking into Octopus Bar gives a jolt of satisfaction, as if you know something the rest of Atlanta hasn’t caught on to yet. There is no signage luring diners in off the street, no website to link to, and no phone number to call their own. Open six nights a week from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., the semi-indoor patio adorned with street art perfectly fits the diverse and often left-of-center crowd, making it one of the more unique restaurant atmospheres in Atlanta.

Rabbit and shrimp wontons in rabbit broth with egg noodles and Chinese broccoli

Rabbit and shrimp wontons in rabbit broth with egg noodles and Chinese broccoli -- another great dish on a menu filled with them

Brown and Le’s menu begs to be shared with friends, consisting mostly of small plates and a few “family style” dishes. The selection is seafood heavy, with shellfish like uni (sea urchin), shrimp, lobster, and oysters dominating the menu. While occasionally Vietnamese inspired, Brown and Le construct a menu of frequently changing dishes that often defy classification.

Where else in Atlanta can you chat over a steaming bowl of sea urchin pasta ($14) at 2 a.m.? Both subtle and decadent, the house-made fettuccine tossed with salty pancetta and heady hunks of velvety uni must be tasted to be believed. While the squeamish or those uninitiated with uni may struggle with this one, fans will likely remember this dish above all others.

Don’t you dare peel the shells from the salt and pepper shrimp ($8), deep-fried whole and sautéed in a light coat of chili and jalapeño. The crackle of shell and salty burst of flavor as you crunch through the first head will soon have you gnawing the tail and licking your fingers. Despite being uncomfortably full, I order an unrealistic second helping of these and still leave a bowl of decapitated shrimp in my wake. The heads are simply too tasty to waste.

Salt and pepper shrimp: eat the shells!

Salt and pepper shrimp: eat the shells!

Larger groups should take advantage of their numbers and clear space for at least one of the family style dishes. Both the daeiji bulgolgi ($22), crispy strips of spicy Korean marinated pork served with a delightful house-made kimchi, and the fried whole flounder ($30) swimming in ginger sauce make for excellent centerpieces. Also perfect for sharing, be sure to order extra grilled bread for the savory coconut milk broth pooled beneath the mussels ($10), for below the surface surely lurks the few remaining chunks of braised pork belly. I recall one broth-soaked bite in particular that may have been the single best of all of my meals here.

Brown and Le certainly take risks with their menu, giving the food an edgy playfulness, but inevitably not all of them succeed. The hot dog ($5) served simply with German mustard stands up just fine on its own, but on a table swarmed with exciting dishes like the uni fettuccine and the buttery Maine lobster roll ($14) it looks like a waste of precious real estate.

Though the drink menu isn’t the deepest in town, Octopus Bar sports a few impressive cocktails that should not be missed. My whiskey weakness immediately drew me to the Villager ($9) more than once, but it was the Green Gorilla ($12), a subdued concoction of absinthe, citrus, and vermouth, that impressed me the most.

It would be easy to chalk up Octopus Bar as simply an “industry spot” or an oasis in an otherwise desolate late night dining landscape, but the inventiveness and flavors of Brown and Le’s food thrusts them out of any niche. Do yourself a favor: tide yourself over with a snack, stay up past your bedtime, and make your way down to East Atlanta in a hurry.

OCTOPUS BAR
560 Gresham Ave., Atlanta, 404-627-9911
3stars5Food: Asian-inspired small plates for adventurous palates
Service: Friendly, but noticeably slows when busy
Best dishes: Salt and pepper shrimp, uni pasta, coconut milk mussels
Vegetarian selections: Pescatarians are in luck, but truly vegetarian dishes are rare
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover
Hours: 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays
Children: Hire a babysitter
Parking: Very tight, expect to park on a side street
Reservations: No
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: Yes
Noise level: Moderate
Patio: Nothing but patio, mostly closed in
Takeout: No

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27 comments Add your comment

Webster

January 26th, 2012
10:01 am

Pescatarians? I had to look that one up. I see Pisces there in a mixed up way.

Lorenzo

January 26th, 2012
11:14 am

So if a restaurant is capable of cooking this well, why only starting at 10pm? I mean, Octopus Bar has gotten rave reviews all over the blogs and discussion boards, so it isn’t as though there’s a lack of demand. From what I’ve read, it seems to me that people are far more enthusiastic about Octopus Bar than they are about So Ba. Is this another case of a restaurant creating hype for itself by introducing an air of exclusivity, along the lines of “we only serve our burger after 10 pm”? Or is the problem that Octopus Bar believes they couldn’t keep up with the demand and therefore the quality might decline if they were to open earlier? If so, that’s quite a conundrum.

Eew

January 26th, 2012
11:16 am

Eeew….who wants to eat that stuff on a belly full of alcohol (late night diners)???

MG

January 26th, 2012
11:41 am

Eew, how is it any better than eating Krystal or McDonalds??? At least this food is fresh!

ACE

January 26th, 2012
11:56 am

Cale

January 26th, 2012
12:03 pm

Did someone really just ask how this is any better than eating Krystal or McDonals? What is wrong with the people in this town? Wow.

bob

January 26th, 2012
12:16 pm

Pandy Fackler

January 26th, 2012
1:28 pm

I LOVE this place! It is upscale without being fussy. The shrimp and rabbit wontons are the best I’ve ever tasted. East Atlantans have been needing a late night eats spot that does not serve only fried dishes. Industry people and night owls, like myself, are happy to accept this concept with open arms. We may not be Chicago or NYC where good food is available at any time of the night, but I think this is a beautiful step in the right direction. Kudos to these brave restaurant warriors for going against the grain. I personally think opening at 10 is genius. The staff and chefs are fresh and ready to go the distance in fulfilling a void in this mostly pretentious foodie scene.

Edward

January 26th, 2012
1:39 pm

So if I went there with friends after being out I would be stuck with a crappy hotdog with nothing but mustard? I’m glad to know that beforehand, some friends had mentioned this place. I’m highly allergic to shellfish and I’d rather not need my epi-pen after a few cocktails. ;-)

atlfunlver

January 26th, 2012
9:52 pm

Sounds good except for having be around EAV trendys

iago's yoda

January 26th, 2012
10:08 pm

I want to go to there.
Wow.

MG

January 26th, 2012
10:26 pm

“Did someone really just ask how this is any better than eating Krystal or McDonals? What is wrong with the people in this town? Wow.”

Hey Cale, why don’t you learn some reading comprehension… I was responding to Eew’s comment: “Eeew….who wants to eat that stuff on a belly full of alcohol (late night diners)???”

I was basically saying I’d much rather eat food at the Octopus Bar instead of other late night food like Krystal, Waffle House, or McDonalds.

FancyPants

January 26th, 2012
11:59 pm

McDonald’s has both an apostrophe and a d.

Atlantan

January 27th, 2012
11:16 am

Is this how “left of center” people eat?

Jeff

January 27th, 2012
3:15 pm

Wow, this sounds fantastic.

JC

January 27th, 2012
3:40 pm

R. Thomas has been around for a while now, and all the hype from being new has faded. But for quality food 24 hours a day, it’s still the best place to go.

Foodie

January 27th, 2012
3:55 pm

try pho24 on buford for 2am authentic vietnamese. it’s authentic, delicious, and cheap.

Chef Boyardee

January 28th, 2012
11:10 am

When I am hungry late at night, I find a 24 hour Kroger, buy several cans of Beef a Roni, go home and enjoy!

Ronald McDonald

January 28th, 2012
11:12 am

OK…..You all think this place is great, but does it have a Playland™ in front for the children?

Check and Mate!

JMO

January 28th, 2012
12:04 pm

Figures…all the many years, I, a night owl ,lived in Grant Park area, and had a hard time finding good restaurants , and now that I have moved away, one opens up. Several places to go but most closed their kitchens at 10pm, especially during the week. I used to think that Atlanta would have everything I wanted…but I was so wrong. I guess it would if you are a day time person who is off every weekend…but not if you aren’t.

Ronald McDonald

January 28th, 2012
1:00 pm

Quit your whining

Bozo

January 29th, 2012
3:12 pm

You mean it’s actually safe to be out after dark in Atlanta? I’m going to McDonald’s tonight!

Ally C

January 29th, 2012
3:35 pm

This place is awesome! Super cool hangout. Amazing food. Intellectual yet down-to-earth people. If you find yourself hungry at 10 and looking for a bite. This is the place to go!

BthSdzofTbl

January 29th, 2012
5:35 pm

Working straight through doubles as a server/bartender and being famished AND missing most of the weekend fun can be depressing. I cant always stand the though of another basket of fish and chips as much as I love them. I will be in to try this soon! At the very least it sounds like an interesting destination.

Horseradish

January 30th, 2012
2:26 pm

Cardinal Rule of Food Poisoning…It will gust your butt before it busts your gut.

EAV Girl

January 30th, 2012
10:15 pm

First….hooray! Second, if you have a bad attitude about food other than McDonalds or a bad attitude about an amazing neighborhood that accepts ALL types of people…great! Stay in your lame bubble we don’t want your negativity in our neighborhood…

WHAT?

January 31st, 2012
6:50 pm

OMG! People eat octopuses? What’s next? People going to eat rabbits? Where do they come up with this crazy stuff. I might open a restaurant that sells goat and lamb meat. I bet crazy people would come eat it if I call it Hoofs or something. Next they’ll be making pizza out of vegetables. Here is your salad pizza sir!