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A NOLA Seafood Bar Is Ready to Open in Fort Greene, at Last


Photo: Hugo Yu

As Hisham “Ham” El-Waylly, Anoop Pillarisetti, and Michael Tuiach were putting together the menu for Strange Delight, the New Orleans seafood-and-cocktail bar they are set to open on May 15, they faced a crucial question: “Do we have too many oyster dishes?” They’re served on the half-shell. There are oysters Rockefeller — made, in the style of Galatoire’s, without bacon or cheese — and fried oysters served with rémoulade. In lieu of po’boys, there’s a fried-oyster loaf à la Casamento’s, here made with thick-sliced milk bread, Duke’s mayo, pickles, and shredded iceberg. Did they really need more? Maybe, they thought, they should ditch the oysters Bienville, an archaic preparation that even they had seen only a few times in the wild.

“We were all ready to cut it,” El-Waylly says. Then, Pillarisetti recalls, they ate their version: “We’re like, ‘This one has to stay.’” Bienville is made by ladling a shrimp sauce — thickened with roux and often cooked with green onion, white wine, and cheese — over an oyster, then broiling till browned. At Strange Delight, cooks will add crab and make the sauce more like a seafood stew.

Pillarisetti — who grew up in Alexandria, Louisiana — is conscious of the way the Big Easy gets Cinco de Mayo’d into a theme-park version of itself, something they’re aiming to avoid. “It’s about doing our best to pay respect and re-create some of these things,” Pillarisetti says, “without being like, ‘We are a New Orleans restaurant: We’re Saintsville and have fleur-de-lis and Mardi Gras–colored walls.’ ”

Those following along at home know Strange Delight has been gestating for a few years. Pillarisetti and Tuiach had talked about opening something together as far back as 2019, but by 2021, Pillarisetti — who has worked at places such as Momofuku, PokPok, and Shake Shack — was longing for a project tied more directly to Louisiana. Soon, El-Waylly joined, too. A couple of research trips to New Orleans and several pop-ups later, the trio signed a lease. To help run the show, they brought in kitchen manager Michael Yi and general manager Eva Pudick.

The restaurant itself is divided into two main spaces. Up front, there’s an open kitchen, all electric, with an oyster shucking station and a PizzaMaster oven left by the previous tenant they’re using for broiling. There are a handful of seats there, but most of the tables are in the back, which gets splashed with sun from the skylights. (In a small hallway in between, they’ll stock wines selected by Miguel de Leon, the sommelier who is a partner at Pinch Chinese; cocktails like Sazerac and Gin Fizz riffs come care of John deBary.)

In addition to oysters, there is plenty of shrimp — fried, barbecued, in a sandwich with giardiniera — but not everything is pulled directly from the Crescent City. Grilled oysters can be had with Randazzo’s-esque spicy tomato sauce, while Peconic Bay escargot casserole is a new invention. So is the fish, to some degree: Black-cod amandine pays tribute in equal measure to trout amandine and Nobu’s miso black cod. “I don’t want people to think that we are embracing this static notion of what New Orleans dining is,” Pillarisetti says. “Oysters Rockefeller, charbroils — all of these things are evolving there as well.”

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Chris Crowley , 2024-05-06 14:00:25

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