When you enter the Naked Oyster Cocktail Eatery at 200 Crown St., you might mistake it for yet another bar trying to be trendy in the late-night scene of downtown New Haven. The lounge chairs, curtains, loud music, and dim lighting look like any other after-9 p.m. spot featuring overpriced cocktails and pea-sized servings. However, the Eatery has a few things going for it that you wouldn’t guess from its cliched décor.
The drink menu provides the first clue: the Eatery has over a hundred different types of vodka, some from as close as New Haven and some from as far as Vietnam. Next comes the oyster offerings: The choices range from your typical New England finds (Cape Cod, Rhode Island) all the way to the West Coast (Washington and Oregon). The best by far were the Blue Points, probably because they were freshly picked from the Connecticut coast. Every weekday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the Eatery holds happy hours and offers its oysters for one dollar each.
Once cooked, however, the seafood loses its sparkle. The clams in the Clam Bianco ($11) were overcooked and when prepared in fried form, (Fried Clam Platter $12), were hard to distinguish from batter. The peppercorn steak ($17) wasn’t the best piece of meat one can find, but was good, and when paired with its delicious sweet mustard sauce, was hard to stop eating.
The Eatery finds its stride when it ditches the dishes you can find at any seafood joint and takes a risk in the cuisine it claims to provide: “French Louisiana Fusion.” I was lucky enough to go when the soup of the day was Cajun Chicken Corn Chowder with Smoked Bacon, and it was possibly more amazing than it sounds. It not only had a perfect chowder consistency — not too watery — but it was the perfect combination of salty and sweet. A spiciness lingers in the background but never plays a lead role. What makes it stand out is the chicken meat scattered throughout, which adds a delightful texture to the expected potato and bacon pairing. The only downside was the overcooked corn kernels which were mushy and forgettable rather than tender and ready-to-be punctured (but that detail can be easily fixed). The soup is a meal in-itself — both because of its entrée size and diverse ingredients — and goes for the measly sum of $4. In economic terms, this is called consumer surplus, because I definitely would have been wiling to pay more.
The chowder justified what the owner, Abram Ozerk, claimed was why his restaurant was nothing like anything else in New Haven. It’s “five-star food for one-star price.” Although the décor and the menu are at times hit-and-miss, the hits are worth a trip to the Naked Oyster Cocktail Eatery.