It’s about time a little bit of The Big Easy made its way to the northeast, and Nola Oyster Bar has done just that. This coastal cuisine restaurant brings with it a welcome change of scenery to the South Norwalk dining landscape. However, it’s more than that—with the addition of touches of New England and the eastern shoreline, diners can expect to experience a wonderful trifecta of flavors without leaving the state of Connecticut.
Nola’s interior offers comfort in the absence of pretense. Two main dining areas—one on the lower level and a raised level dining area with an open display kitchen—seats 75 patrons. The raised level also features a high top marble communal table for that get-to-know-your-neighbor kind of dining. There’s also a private dining room which can seat an additional 50 people.
Seafood is of course featured prominently on Nola’s menu, and it’s more than just oysters. Diners can start the night off right with a Chilled Seafood Tower featuring a bevy of seafood delights, from chilled shrimp to oysters to king crab legs. If eating till you burst isn’t on the agenda, try a small plates selection such as the Roasted Nantucket Bay Scallops with crispy potatoes, roasted cabbage, crème fraiche and caviar or please your palate with Olive Oil Poached Tuna Crostini with spicy mayo, hot pickles and frisee.
There are a few standouts on the menu, which is updated daily. Something that you don’t come across on a table every day turned out to be my favorite bite of the evening. Poached Lobster & Cornbread Waffle sounded like a culinary disaster waiting to happen. Not averse to sampling the dish, I decided to allow the flavors to speak for themselves, and boy, did they ever. It was a “whodathunkit?” moment, to be sure. This is not your obvious choice of foods to pair together, but it just works. Savory meets sweet as the butter poached lobster and the slightly crunchy waffle combine to make this one pleasing dish.
As a recent Brussels sprouts convert, I find myself constantly scouring restaurant menus looking to get my next fix of that wonderful little cabbage look-alike vegetable. Nola satiated my compulsion with a bowlful of Fried Brussels Sprouts that nearly compelled me to pop them in my mouth one-by-one in rapid-fire succession. With bacon, maple syrup, cider vinegar and pistachio nuts in the mix, how can you go wrong? Referring to the sprouts and their popularity at Nola, General Manager Greg Pettinella quipped, “This is our crack.” He was so right. They’re enough to make anyone become a Brussels sprouts addict. Present company included.
Nola tips its culinary hat to New Orleans with its wonderful take on Shrimp & Grits. It’s a flavorful smoky dish that will have you believing that Mardi Gras is right around the corner. Creamy and buttery grits are topped with well-seasoned shrimp, then draped with slices of smoked ham. It’s a succulent rendition that should definitely please the shrimp lovers in the house.
For the carnivores, Nola offers, among other items, a Dry Aged Beef Burger that comes shrouded in tangy Vermont cheddar along with mushrooms, bacon, fronions (fried onions, for the uninitiated) all pulled together with black pepper mayo served on a brioche. It amazes me how an oyster bar—a place that would be more at home preparing fare from the ocean—could produce a burger of this caliber. Moist, tender and popping with flavor, I for one would venture back to this particular oyster bar for this particular burger without hesitation.
Signature menu items include Spicy Seafood Gumbo—a lobster broth based gumbo loaded with the good stuff, Black Kale & Squash with toasted hazelnuts and pepitas and Griddled Scallops, to name a few. With a menu that is updated on a daily basis, staples are good to have, but so is the element of surprise. That Roasted Skate Wing with creamed leeks, oak tree shiitake mushrooms and stewed mussels that you had last week may not be on the menu next week. Will they still be serving the Clam Poutine with hand cut fries, clam gravy, bacon and cheddar that you fell in love with on your last visit? Well, anything’s possible. To be on the safe side, I suggest you visit Nola Oyster Bar post haste . . . and then visit again. And again. Eat the menu, before your favorite dish is gone.