STRANGE DELIGHT IS BRINGING THE NEW NEW ORLEANS TO NEW YORK

Sometimes it’s easy to think New Orleans’ cuisine only consists of the classics — gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish on every corner — all wonderful in their own right yet staid in their honored status. But something has been happening in New Orleans: Look closer, and you’ll see chefs there are being far more playful with the city’s culinary traditions, like with artichoke hearts “on the half shell” at Hungry Eyes, the red bean salad at Rosella, or karaage frogs legs at N7. They are taking the bones of Cajun-Creole mainstays and creating something new.

While some of that energy has migrated to our city (hello, Kjun), it feels like it has truly arrived with Strange Delight (63 Lafayette Avenue, near South Elliott Place). Ham El-Waylly, Michael Tuiach, and Anoop Pillarisetti, who hails from Louisiana, have created a riff on the classic oyster houses of New Orleans, taking inspiration from tradition without getting stuck in it. Things are still New York prices, but the team manages not to sacrifice the party. You walk into the noise of the kitchen, funk classics blaring, piles of seafood wherever you look. Strange Delight is bringing the new New Orleans to New York.

The vibe: The first thing to note is the fragrance of pure seafood and butter, which is at least a sign that they are doing things right. The second thing you’ll notice is that, despite only being open for six weeks, it’s packed. At 9 p.m. on a recent weeknight, there were still walk-ins waiting by the door, and butts in every conceivable seat, from the counter seating and high-tops by the open kitchen in the front, to the dining room and bar further back. While every restaurant claims to want to be a neighborhood spot, Strange Delight seems remarkably successful early on. I overheard multiple bar customers mentioning they lived nearby and were there to check out what the hype was about. And there was a mix of ages and races that, unfortunately, can be hard to come by in the more gentrified parts of Brooklyn.

There are subtle nods to New Orleans all over, like the white tile lining the walls, reminiscent of the oyster bars shouted out on the menu. Still new, its New Orleans vibe extends to service, which is warm and friendly but perhaps a tad too leisurely for New York. Or maybe it’s us who could stand to slow down.

Where to sit: While sitting at the counter certainly is closer to the action and may include a conversation with one of the chefs, on a busy night the front room feels more overstuffed than pleasantly packed, with servers turning sideways to squeeze by each other next to the high-tops that the corridor is maybe too narrow to accommodate. The back rooms have more breathing room.

What to eat: Almost half of the menu is devoted to oysters and shrimp in various preparations, with vegetables and a few whole fish offerings among the larger plates. The move is absolutely shared plates for the table.

Oysters come raw, or in five cooked styles inspired by mother locales in New Orleans. The raw oysters are paired with the platonic ideal of a cocktail sauce. However, the Oysters Rockefeller and Bienville are almost too loyal to their origins: When put up against a meaty Gulf oyster those techniques shine, but against a smaller one from the Peconic Bay, the oyster gets almost completely lost under piles of broiled spinach or sherry-heavy mushroom sauce. The winner by far is the spicy bbq oyster, inspired not by New Orleans but by Randazzo’s spicy tomato sauce. Caramelized tomato, butter, and Calabrian chile melt into the kind of stuff you want to spread on every spare bit of bread or crudite left at the table.

A New Orleans vibe pairs well with the city’s current insatiable need for seafood towers. Strange Delight’s are modest as towers go, at $35 for a single and up to $160 for a large, and offer far more than a few cold, limp shrimp. Fresh seafood is accompanied by shrimp remoulade, smoked fish dip, and crudo, all of which are available to order on their own. The smoked fish dip in particular is a fantastic appetizer, which comes with fried saltines.

And then there are the revelatory sandwiches. Look, I am a po-boy purist, but even I can admit that swapping the Leidenheimer loaf for house-made milk bread makes for a shockingly good dressed shrimp sandwich, messy and soft in all the right places while the shrimp loaf maintains a thick crunch of cornbread coating. Also, because it’s New York, there are luxe add-ons available, like caviar and blue crab, for any dish. So yes, you can add caviar to the sandwich. But like most caviar add-ons, it’s unnecessary.

The first bread basket is free, served with a tub of soft butter, with any further orders costing $8. Do not pay $8 for another bread basket.

Get there early: Things were still bumping until closing time, but anecdotal reports say that some of the larger fish dishes tend to run out, so if your heart is set on blackened swordfish belly or a stuffed whole snapper, make your reservation on the earlier side.

What to drink: While there’s a selection of martinis and natural wines to go with a seafood tower, it’s remiss not to try one of the New Orleans-inspired cocktail offerings, like a take on a Sazerac made with cognac, or a Ramos gin fizz for two. There are also hefty non-alcoholic offerings, including a hurricane and soda made with Pat O’Brien’s mix so you can still feel like you’re making a bad decision.

You can’t skip dessert: The meal ends with complimentary bread pudding, made with that same house-made milk bread, and Sazerac custard. It’s easily one of the best bites in the house, and you can’t beat the price, though if it ever ceases just showing up at the table unasked for, you should just pay for it.

2024-07-09T16:26:49Z dg43tfdfdgfd