Photo courtesy of nolact.com
I recently had the pleasure of dining at South Norwalk’s new kid on the block, NOLA Oyster Bar for a lovely food blogger dinner. As each plate came out, all of us culinarians simultaneously assumed the position, cameras in hand, descending like hawks on every creation. We patiently took turns, giving everyone an opportunity to line up their shot before eagerly sampling each of Chef Dan Kardos’ well-thought out dishes. While my family and friends are used to ‘accepting this behavior’, here it was welcomed and frankly, expected. How nice to be among so many who share my passion.
The architectural fusion between contemporary and early 20th century design immediately transported me to the French Quarter. While I sipped on my virgin mojito (which I must say was deliciously refreshing!), others enjoyed rounds of unique cocktails with a popular vote towards the oyster shooter. Although I only got to take in the peppery aroma, reviews across the booth rang unanimously in its favor. A kicked up version of one of NOLA’s well-known staples, oysters, was waiting at the bottom of what appears to be their improvement of a Bloody Caesar, coated with a spicy rim. It’s a conversation starter for sure, and I look forward to trying it when that time comes again.
Our first round was the crab & artichoke fondue, a more playful name for a dip so many patrons would quickly order. I immediately noticed a smokiness which piqued my curiosity to refer to the menu description. Smoke gouda. Aha. And bacon. Well, now you’re just showing off. The very rich bowl of creamy goodness was paired with crisp, homemade crackers that were quite addictive even on their own. While this was the one plate we didn’t lick clean, it was mostly due to the heaviness of this starter that encouraged us to leave room for other bites to come.
Next on our tasting journey was fried brussels sprouts. While I often refer to them as the underdog of vegetables, it still makes me smirk at how quickly these will fly off a platter when done right. We may as well have been a bunch of kids in a candy store, holding back restraint from taking too many for ourselves. Yes, I said it. Restraint from eating too many brussels sprouts. As if the crispy coating weren’t enough, the sweet, salty, acidic juxtaposition of maple, cider vinegar, bacon and pistachio certainly did the trick.
Although a tough act to follow, the CPA Beer Braised Mussels were cooked to perfection. They offered a hearty, meaty flavor thanks to the smoked ham broth, a creative idea for an often too-fishy dish. Chipotle butter gave a smoothness to the sauce which was served with crunchy toast just begging to mop up every last drop. And we did.
Cornmeal fried oysters provided the ideal batter-to-seafood ratio, allowing our palates a moment to take in both flavors separately and together. In keeping with the theme of meat and shellfish pairings, braised pork made a grand appearance here, and clearly played well with others. A bold move that paid off in spades. To round out that homestyle feel, the duo sat a top creamed spinach, pearl onion jam and aleppo chili flakes, for a chic twist on surf and turf.
As we approached the finale, the table was presented with a modern translation of the ever-so-famous chicken and waffles. A sweet, fried cornbread waffle certainly held its own beneath a succulent butter-poached lobster enhanced by griddled scallions and queso fresco. While it was less savory than anticipated, it was evident each of us would’ve happily traded in our polite forkful to order a full dish for ourselves.
Our last savory sampling was blackened shrimp over pork fried rice. While the soy, sprout, egg, scallion and sesame hint that this meal belongs in a Chinese restaurant rather than a Big Easy inspired bar, the blackened shrimp gave us an ‘aha’ moment, proving there was a method to this madness. Welcomed heat radiated throughout the hearty dish, offering that recognizable flavor profile from down south. With one flavorful bite I was back in New Orleans.
To round out our well-balanced selections, we ended on a sweet note with maple and pistachio panna cotta with apple jam, as well as a chocolate and peanut butter pot de creme with whipped cream. Each dessert was served parfait-style, with decadent layers of silky smooth sweetness topped with crunch from pistachios or roasted peanuts respectively. The mini glass mason jar-style presentations let us see exactly what we were eating, so we could happily marry a little of everything on each spoonful.
I look forward to returning to NOLA Oyster Bar, where I would gladly order many of these dishes again, as well as try more of Chef Kardos’ innovative menu items.
For more information, visit nolact.com.
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