Several weeks ago CTbites first announced the opening of Nola Oyster Bar in South Norwalk, described as a seafood restaurant with dishes from Maine to New Orleans. After my initial visit, it is apparent that much of the food is influenced by the great flavors and traditions of New Orleans, but the creative interpretations are singularly of Chef Dan Kardos.
Exposed brick walls, wood and tin columns, and wrought iron rails dominate the interior with white “antique” chandeliers hanging from the ceiling to create a very New Orleans visual. The front area includes a large, arced granite-topped bar that seats 10, plus a large reclaimed “Bankers’ Table” that seats an additional eight guests overlooking the floor to ceiling windows. The center section of the restaurant overlooks the kitchen, plus the rear room is available for regular dining or a private event.
Nola Oyster Bar is a place for fun, drinks and great food.
The kitchen is under the direction of Chef Dan Kardos (The Whelk, Harvest Supper). The menu is divided into four sections: raw bar, small plates, salads, and entrees. The starters include raw oysters, clams and tuna Crudo, chowder, gumbo, seafood pan roast, tacos, mac and cheese, plus greens and sides with traditional salads and other unique combinations. The entrées include two burgers (tuna or beef), tacos, sandwiches, shrimp and grits, scallops, skate and several meat options.
The “Tuna Crudo” is a delightfully light choice to start to the meal. Thin slices of tuna are topped with a sauce comprised of soy, hot sesame, jalapeño and candied ginger. While a sesame-soy combination is a traditional accompaniment to raw tuna, Chef Kardos takes the dish in a unique direction with the addition of the candied ginger. This sweet component creates a distinctive and delicious flavor combination when combined with the saltiness of the soy and the spiciness of the diced jalapeño.
The “Black Kale Salad” includes pears, sautéed squash, toasted hazelnuts, and pepitas and is another delicious dish to start the evening. The kale has a rich earthy flavor plus a touch of bite, and the crunchiness of the dish increases with the toasted pepitas and hazelnuts. The thinly sliced pears are a great addition to the dish, bringing a wonderful level of sweetness. The entire salad is beautifully dressed in a light citrusy dressing. I really enjoy how the sweetness of the pepitas and the pear complement the earthiness of the kale. The squash, unfortunately, does not add to either the flavors or the textures of the dish.
For a soup with a hint of spice, Nola Oyster Bar offers a delicious “Spicy Seafood Gumbo” with shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels, and Andouille. This rendition would make the French Quarter proud. A deep rich base made with a dark roux brings deep, rich flavors when combined with the delicateness of the traditional seafood additions. The oysters and mussels bring brininess to the gumbo, and the shrimp add a touch of sweetness. The spiciness of the Andouille sausage kicks up the heat just a little. I would characterize the flavor as sweet-spicy, but not too intense.
The “Poached Lobster & Cornbread Waffles” is the decadent option that combines breakfast and dinner. Chef Kardos’ begins with two delicious cornbread waffles topped with large pieces of succulent, butter-poached lobster. These are surrounded by one of the most flavorful brown sauces that I have ever tasted, reminiscent of those served on New Orleans’ famous Grilled Shrimp. The dish is garnished with a few grilled scallions and finished with Queso Fresco cheese. The waffles are wonderfully sweet, crispy on the exterior and moist and soft on the interior. The lobster is perfectly poached and full of sweet buttery flavor and texture. The scallions bring just a touch of bitterness and the melted cheese creates smoothness to the dish. This is one of the most memorable lobster dishes I have tasted in a very long time and should not be missed.
Remember the raves of Chef Kardos’ hamburger at Harvest Supper in New Canaan? The “Saugatuck Butchery Dry Aged Burger with Hand Cut Fries” at Nola is even better. It starts with dry aged beef from Saugatuck Butchery and then topped with slices of Sugardale bacon, XO Beemster cheese, oak tree shitake mushrooms, black pepper mayo and served on a Challah roll from Wave Hill Bakery. The flavor of the meat is outstanding and the toppings are perfect complements. The cheese is flavorful and the sautéed mushrooms add an earthy tone. The thick-cut bacon is perfectly cooked but I found it a little too salty for the other ingredients. The sweet Challah roll and the pepper mayo are both great ways to envelop this fantastic burger. The hand-cut curly fries are scrumptious, fun and a wonderful addition to the burger; and the burger is a fantastic accompaniment to the unique varieties of beer.
The draft beers feature eight unique varieties including Maine Beer Company Mean Old Tom Aged Stout, Two Roads Workers Comp Saison, Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale, Schlitz Lager "60's Formula," Berkshire Brewing Drayman Porter and Sixpoint Brewery Righteous Rye Ale. Ten wines are available by the glass, plus forty wine labels ranging in price from $28 to $100.
After a couple of months Nola Oyster Bar is producing some incredibly delicious food with inspired twists on New Orleans’ classics.
Nola Oyster Bar
68 Washington St. - Norwalk, CT - (203) 957-3352